We were just about to cross to that next cool part of our lives as a married couple –the time when you could take off without the kids for a weekend or more. Then I jinxed it. By saying it out loud.
“Lauren will be in kindergarten this fall. I think we can leave the kids with a friend and go away!” I said to my husband.
And just like that, type 1 diabetes entered our lives with Lauren’s start of kindergarten diagnosis. Goodbye parents-only trips and hello traveling alone when the kids can’t come.
We did a lot of trips with both kids but I mourned our ability to head off on our own. I had no family members willing to step up and learn what they needed to for Lauren to stay with them. Cell phones weren’t even in use back then and it all just seemed impossible, except when she was at camp for two weeks every summer, her safety and well being totally depended on us.
But wait a minute there. What’s that I said about camp for two weeks?
It took me three full summers of sending Lauren off to the Clara Barton Camp for Girls with Diabetes to realize that there was our chance to get away! At camp, Lauren would be perfectly fine while my husband and I enjoyed some alone time. I was doing what was best for her by bringing her to camp and it was time to use that camp time to pamper myself, to run off somewhere with my husband, to just plain take a parent vacation.
I found a friend to take my other daughter, who does not have diabetes, and I booked a trip to the Mount Washington Hotel in New Hampshire complete with a tennis clinic, lovely dinners and, most importantly, just the two of us.
And I never felt so much as a pang of guilt.
Look, we parents work hard in this D-world raising a child with a chronic disease. It can put a strain on any relationship. If you’re single, it can make single parenting double challenging. While our kids may never get “ a day off from diabetes,” we parents need it, and should take it when we can.
Here are some steps to take when planning your parent vacation:
· Discuss with the camp. They are used to this and will let you know how they get in touch with you and when if there happens to be an issue. If you are not new to camp you can find another camp friend parent who will stand in as a “closer-to-camp emergency parent” should the need arise. You might consider switching off covering for one another. Camp will tell you that lots of parents are on vacation and they’ve got you covered. Another piece of advice, tell them they don’t have to call you unless it is a true emergency. Let them make the blood sugar decisions. They’re good at it and you need a break.
· Plan ahead – or don’t! If you have time, find the place you want to go and book early so you can arrange your dates around your child’s camp dates. Be sure to have time to get back for the closing campfire; an event you won’t want to miss. Any pangs of guilt you had about having fun while your child was at camp will evaporate when your child sobs, “I don’t want to come home!”
· Be spontaneous. If you didn’t plan ahead and the idea hits you last minute, just do it. Pack a bag, pick a spot on a map and head there. Camp, spa, adventure, recline; just head out and do what you like. Remember spontaneity? It’s pretty awesome to feel it again.
· Purge your guilt. It’s a hard job being a parent, much less parenting a child with diabetes. Just like when you are on an airplane you need to put your own oxygen mask on first, you need to be sure to take care of yourself first in order to be a strong parent. If you are in a relationship, you need to keep that relationship strong. If you are on your own, you need to breathe, relax and regroup.
The first summer we did it, I mentioned it as an aside as I booked our trip. When we got to the hotel, the bellman smiled as he walked us to our room and said’ “Ohh, room 400? Special occasion?”
I said, “ummm, no?” somewhat confused.
Room 400 was usually saved for honeymooners. Hearing my tale, the reservationist took it upon herself to ask for us to be upgraded. Chilled champagne greeted us. For days, we played tennis, made new friends, took bike rides, went on hikes and walks, and, thank goodness, remembered that we actually get along.
We came back ready to face the next 12 months of diabetes parenting and started planning the next summer’s trip.
Use camp not just for your child but for you too. Your entire family will be the better for it.
By Moira McCarthy Stanford