Today, as I think about the summer ahead, I want to celebrate friends. I hope you’ll read this and then share a “thank you” to a friend who has made a difference in your life or the life of your child with diabetes, and then share this link with them. There really should be a “National Friend to a Person With Diabetes Day.” Hello? Hallmark?
I can remember the moment as if it were right now. Lauren was just at the age where we’d allow her – along with friends – to wander past the pool area of our private beach club and out onto the sand beach without parents. It wasn’t far: if a parent stood at the club gate or up on the deck, they could spot their child and every move the child was making.
But to the kids – little as they were – it felt like a great adventure. They’d make “forts” in the giant barrier rocks; they’d watch the tourists all covered in oil (la la la). Whatever: they loved going over there sans parents.
Of course, we had that added layer of diabetes to consider. Lauren was still pretty little, but she had something more valuable than the most advanced glucose meter or the smartest CGM in her “pocket.” Even at a tiny age, she had friends who “got it.”
So one day the girls were all over the beach doing whatever, and suddenly, two of them came RUNNING from the beach in a way that just screamed “Danger.” Everyone looked up from their books or knitting or laps or tennis and watched as Kelsey and Breezy ran directly to me.
“It’s Lauren!” Kelsey said, grabbing my hand and dragging me along, somewhat breathlessly. “She’s low. She felt it but we didn’t want to risk her walking back here yet. You have to HURRY!” Breezy was grabbing my other hand, pulling me along.
Over at the beach, Lauren was laid out like a princess. Her good friend Emily had tucked a towel under her head and was stroking her face, as if to sooth her. Liz was squatting next to her, holding a juice box to her lips.
“We got it from someone on the beach,” Kelsey explained. “We had glucose tabs but we wanted to make sure!”
Lauren looked up and me and I could swear she winked. She was fine. Yes, she’d been low. Later she told me she probably could have just had a glucose tab or two or walked back over to me, but when she said “I feel low,” her group of friends sprung into action. And she said she just knew she had to let them help her. “So they’d know they could, Mom.” It all made sense.
Did I mention this group of girls were all of eight years old at the time?
I had known it before, but I realized it that day: Lauren was blessed with her amazing group of friends. From the day she was diagnosed (when they were all kindergarteners or around that age), they not only accepted that one of their tribe had something new to deal with; they learned all they could and stepped up and protectors, listeners, providers and guards. Oh, and most of all friends.
They’ve stuck with her over the years, too. Our glory years of the JDRF Walk, when our team was huge and brought in a ton, came much thanks to that group of friends and their families (and our adult friends as well). As Lauren grew and wanted more freedom, I had an ace in my own pocket: at least one of those close, smart, caring friends was almost always with her. It was like sending along a spare pair of my own eyes, and it helped me say “absolutely” many times in her life. (Like the first time she went to a movie without parents along. Or the first time bowling. Or the long, long bikerides that gang used to take (that always included a “snack stop” at the Dunkin at our local hospital. How funny is that?)
She added some friends as she grew up too. In high school, I could always count on Ben and Sully to have Lauren’s back. Lauren would tell me how, when she was in a phase of just not wanting to check, Ben would check his own blood sugar first, so she’d not feel alone. Both are off serving and protecting now, and you have no idea how my heart soared when I got a donation to my Ride to Cure Diabetes from Sully, who is away on active duty. Now those are some friends who stick. And who get it. And how about her prom date and still good friend Ryan? Ryan withstood me showing him how to use a glucagon, and then came up with his own amazing plan: every few hours, all night long, he’d text Lauren. She’d feel her phone buzz from inside her cute clutch and — as every teen would do — immediately open it to see who was texting her. It was Ryan, and it said “Your meter is right here. Now check.” Lauren said it was so cool — how he helped her take care that night in a sensitive and private way. They are friends to this day, and I’m happy about that.
Even when Lauren went off to college, I knew the girls — and guys – were always checking in on her via facebook, texting or Facetime. I’m not sure I’ve ever come out and said it to the girls but I say it now:
Without you girls, I’m not sure I’d have been able to raise Lauren as such an independent, self-assured, worldly young woman with diabetes. So thank you.
Which makes me wonder about what it means when a parent is afraid to let their child go off and play with other kids. I totally get it: it’s our job to worry and to protect. But I wonder if by easing children into playgroups and playtime and time just alone with friends as they grown, we might be doing one of the best services we can do for our children with diabetes.
Because with mommy right there, kids are never going to step up and take charge. But with a little breathing space and a decent amount of education, they are going to do just that.
When Lauren went off to college I feared a lot, and a big part of it was not having Holly, Kelsey, Breezy, Emily and Liz along to watch closely; to grab a juice box from a total stranger and yes, to tuck a towel under her head and stroke her cheek if she just needed soothing.
But Lauren had learned well from her dear friends. And soon I was hearing new names. Like Deanna. And the Katies. And more Laurens. And Nick. Now, she still has that same group of great friends whom I call the “Since the sandbox gang” But she has another quiver of pals to count on as well. One thing I have to laugh at is Nick. Nick is more than just a friend you see. And here’s a funny thing about that: when he asks her to remember her Lantus, it’s caring. When I ask, it’s nagging. I’m fine with that, by the way.
Friends who get it. Freedom to let them take charge. Now there’s a diabetes tool every person needs.