Hey D Families: It’s time for a Diabetes Vacation for the Caretakers. No guilt allowed.

June 25, 2012By 4 Comments

There’s something I say often, and I truly believe it: I can never take time off from continuing to work toward a better life and a cure for diabetes, because – put simply – my daughter never gets a moment off.

But that’s not entirely true about me. Because over the years, I’ve learned a simple fact: parenting a child with diabetes, no matter what their age, is crazy hard and seemingly endless, yet vitally important to get right. To be honest, no one can keep that pace up 24/7/365 and do it well and not fall completely to pieces.

That’s why I learned early: D-parents need a vacation from diabetes.


 I know, I know: there’s sooooo much guilt with this. Well tell ourselves: well if our loved one doesn’t get a moment off, why should I? If they can never let their mind wander completely away from diabetes for even two hours, why should I get a weekend, a week or even two weeks off?

Here’s why: because we can and because we must. Caring for our children is one of the most complicated and important jobs on earth. Often, life depends on it. We insist that airline pilots rest; so too must we D-Parents.

That said, it’s not easy to do, but it can be done. My family was not blessed with relatives who wanted to step up and learn how to take care of Lauren, so the idea of leaving her with a relative was just never a possibility. And while I had (and have) a few good friends willing to learn, I always felt kind of guilty leaving her with them more than a few hours or one overnight with me close by. So for me, the idea of ever taking some time off from our new life with diabetes back in 1997 seemed impossible.

And then I brought her to diabetes camp. The first year she was only six, back in the days before rapid acting insulin and pumps on little kids. Her meal plan was complicated yet precise; each day was about chasing not one or two “insulin peaks” but five or more (between regular and NPH it seemed like a peak was always coming). When I dropped her off at camp, they asked me if I wanted them to call with highs or lows or check of the box and let them deal with it.

I pushed away the pen to check off “don’t call me,” and the lovely nurse checking us in, a woman with Type 1 herself, put her hand gently over mine and looked me in the eye.

“You know,” she said, smiling. “It’s a long, long year caring for your child. We know what we are doing here, and this is a chance for you to catch your breath. If there were ever a true emergency we’d call. Why don’t you think about taking a little diabetes vacation while she’s here?”

I teared up. For 10 and a half months, I’d been my little girl’s life support. I knew her not just emotionally, but on a physiological level that other parents just could not understand. I had things moving along pretty well. Give up control? Take time off? No.

I said no. And the nurse held my hand a bit tighter, in a more soothing than urgent way, and said again, “You need this break. It’s the best thing you can do for your daughter.”

And so I said yes. The first day home was odd. I wasn’t so much worried about her as I just felt like something was missing. But I’ll be honest, by the third day, I was a bowl of jelly. I had no idea what anyone’s blood sugar was. I didn’t care what time it was. If my older daughter was hungry, we could just eat whatever we wanted (those were the days of strict meal plans).  And there’s an underlying message to the child with diabetes in this parental Diabetes Vacation: you CAN and you WILL survive and thrive without your mom and dad by your side. It’s so important for kids to realize that from the start.

All that became clear during my “vacation.” And by the time the two weeks passed and it was time to pick Lauren up, I felt renewed.

I felt ready to face Type 1 diabetes in my daughter again. Because now, I knew that in 11 and a half months, I’d take another break. And it would be a great thing for my daughter. It was, for the 11 years she was a camper I savored my time off (It took us four years before we realized we could go away overnight while she was there! Lightbulb moment!) I was confident she was safe and happy, and I even told all my JDRF partners that those two weeks were off-limits. I didn’t talk, think or work diabetes. Not one bit. At the end of the two weeks I was not only ready to get back into my D-Mom care role, I was refreshed and ready for another year of volunteering, fundraising and charging toward better treatments and a cure.

Now Lauren is an adult. While I still worry, the majority of the diabetes duty is hers alone. So this year, I’m twisting things a bit. Rather than look for time off, I’m reaching out for time on; time on to help the other D-parents who need help and a break out there.

My first big “Time on” will be next week, when I head to Orlando to be part of the amazing Friends for Life Conference. At FFL, over 3,000 D-family members will converge to bond, learn, play, learn, bond and be inspired. I never went when Lauren was growing up: FFL always fell while she was at camp (camp girls are very insistent on going the same session each year), and since that was my “diabetes vacation,” I just could not go.

But two years ago, I went alone (as part of a JDRF group). I was amazed. Oh, what we missed. If I could turn back time, I’d start Lauren in a different session and make FFL a part of our lives. But I cannot. So this year I’ll be there, with my husband, to help guide other families, and to volunteer our time to make the event run smoothly (although I have a feeling it would even without us! They know what they are doing).

I also am going to tell my local D-Mom friends of younger ones: If you need a mini-vacation, call me. Imagine if all of us long-timers reached out to just one D-family we knew and offered those parents a weekend off without worry? I’m thinking the national stress factor would decrease expidentially.

So if you are the parent of a little one – find a way to take a Diabetes Vacation, be it camp (camp rocks! I cannot say it enough), with the help of family or by reaching out to a fellow D-Mom.

Our own health, our kid’s health and our entire families will be the better for it. No guilt about that.

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Comments (4)

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  1. Christina says:

    Great Post! I know this is all true. I know that If I don’t take care of myself I will fail my kids. During the HAWMC there was a prompt about a “Dream Day”, many bloggers wrote about the day Diabetes would be irradiated. I wrote about a day I could spend away from diabetes and I still feel guilty for writing it or even thinking it. Your words ring so true – “Why should I get a break when they don’t?”
    The simple truth is I get all foggy headed and crazy like if I don’t take at least an afternoon a month when someone else is in charge. I often feel weak for needed the recharge time but I know I will get burnout if I don’t take it.
    Thank you for writing this wonderful post.
    I added your blog to my blogroll and Google Reader so I can visit again. I got here from Twitter initially. Gonna work backwards when I have time to learn more about your life with diabetes.

  2. Hallie says:

    Ive totally got tears in my eyes. Over three years in and no vacations here. She’s too young for camp still and not even my parents will watch her overnight. Your words just really struck me. I do need a break! But I feel so guilty about taking one!

    • Moira says:

      Hallie DO IT! If you lived near me I’d take her. Let’s find a nice D-Mom with nice kids to help you out! You need it — for your daughter <3

  3. Ann says:

    Hallie where are you from?

    Today is Phil’s 23rd birthday.
    In 6 weeks he will have his 22nd D anniversary.

    He attended Camp MIdicha at age 7 and 8.

    A wonderful and exhausting week off each of those years in two different locations. Back then they would wake the kids in
    the middle of the night to check themselves. At home, he was lucky that I would check b/sugars for him while he slept. Daytime activities, season change, illness, or something was up and he was talking in his sleep or his heart rate was super quick and I would know to check him. The times in the middle of the night would vary, as early as 1 am or as late as 4:30 am, it just depended on how that day went.

    Then something as simple as a growth spurt could suddenly throw everything off. Six week dose increases of 1/2 unit to a unit of insulin became a way of life until puberty hit. Than it was leaps and bounds and a lot of incredible guts to keep up with and walk a fine rope. We survived and got novolog from a GP as our team thought he was too sensitive to R insulin to even be put on novolog. Doing what felt right with a GP was a good step, followed by a switch of teams into a diff. health system, because I sought out a group of D moms getting together and got some advice, and quickly we were onto our next phase of D. Leaps and bounds to better insulins and a pump by 9th grade.

    Having him go on the pump was like having another parent jump in after the initial tweaking was done.

    My parents did step up when Phil hit age 10. He checked his own blood sugars, drew insulin up and gave some of his own shots, it just depended on the day as he knew we would help him anytime, and of course would watch to make sure the right amount of insulin was going into the syringe. They parents picked all three kids up in Niagra Falls that summer of 1999, and my brother met them back in RI. They took care of all 3 kids for two weeks. They all survived that D vacation while my hectic life continued in MI. My parents drove them back to Niagra Falls, telling me they are all great kids and I did a great job with them and she doesn’t know how I do it day in and day out. It made me proud of the kids and I know the kids needed as much of a break as I did.

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