She was eight years old the first time we put her on a bus and sent her off to a weekend diabetes camp. It was only for two nights, but I was sure it would drag on for what seemed like a year. I will never forget how nervous I was…
Had I packed everything she would need? Would someone check her glucose level between bedtime and breakfast? What if she got homesick? Would she need a reminder to brush her teeth? How would she get her hair into a ponytail without my help? Would she let someone else change her pump site?
My heart was racing as the bus pulled away. So many “what ifs” ran through my mind. For the next two days, I watched the clock and scoured her itinerary, thinking about what she was doing and hoping everything was going okay.
She looked different to me when she was getting off the bus a few days later. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but there was something new. She seemed older…mature…more grown up. In the days that followed, I noticed small things that she hadn’t done before. Things like counting her own carbs at mealtimes and asking to wear her pump on a clip instead of a pump pack.
Fast forward five years, and she has now attended three different diabetes camps. It doesn’t seem to matter if she’s gone for two days or two weeks, she always – ALWAYS – comes home a little wiser and more confident. She experiences things we can’t offer her in our day-to-day life. Things like rock climbing, zip lining, and horseback riding. She is able to assess situations and troubleshoot without her mother hovering, and she learns new things from other people who have their own unique experiences with type 1 diabetes.
At camp she is surrounded by other kids who understand the intricate details of her routine. No one bats an eye at finger pokes and blood drops. No one bothers her about her what’s on her dinner plate, and no explanation is necessary if she needs to stop an activity to manage a low blood sugar.
Reminders of camp are scattered all over her room. The name tags hanging over her bookcase; the art projects sitting on shelves; the cubby filled with card games, puzzles, and paper scraps with phone numbers of friends. Camp is engraved into the person she has become. She carries her experiences with her everywhere she goes, and she’s always ready to share a story if given the opportunity. Camp re-energizes her when she feels alone, and teaches her life skills the other kids at her school don’t need to know.
As a parent, camp helps me rejuvenate as well. I struggle with guilt admitting that, but it’s true. I feel guilty knowing that her time at camp means I’m going to get a “break” from the daily diabetes grind, because she never has a chance to escape it. Diabetes doesn’t take weekends and holidays off, and it never takes a vacation. It’s there every time she eats something. It’s there when she hangs out with her friends, and it’s there every time she slings her supply bag over her shoulder to go anywhere. It’s there when she wants to go swimming, wants to go to a sleepover, or wants to sit quietly to draw. It’s always there…which is why we’re so grateful for diabetes camp!