Back to school is time when most kids get excited about seeing friends on regular basis, a new grade with new studies, new classrooms and new teachers.
But for parents of children who live with diabetes, it's less than exciting. It means taking the responsibility of teaching a new teacher, staff or nurse the protocol for handling diabetes. I have the unique perspective of having been there and now having the ability to talk with my mom about what it was like for her.
From the beginning, my mother's goal was to raise me to be independent. For example, I went to diabetic camp when I was 7, but that was not where my mother wanted me to spend every summer. She had spotted a camp in Maine that would foster skills like sailing, canoeing, archery, hiking and many other activities.
The camp had international appeal to her. Many campers were global transports for the summer, and most of the counselors were home grown, meaning that most had been campers and had stayed to become counselors. For my mother, this was more important than diabetes camp.
During the school year, the goal of everyone having little notice that I had diabetes was fundamental. The primer for everyone who worked with me was a big rusty metal picnic basket with wooden handles to seal the top! Inside, it had peanuts, peanut butter crackers, those awful tasting 6 oz. cans of OJ, chocolate sticks, probably slim jims and all things processed to handle sitting there for a year!
My picnic basket traveled with me from preschool til the 6th grade. While not the high-tech gear of today, it was a critical piece of information from my mom to the school, teachers, nurses and camp counselors. Taped to the lid were the doctor's number, Mom's office number, home number and instructions on how to treat a low blood sugar.
What I remember most about the instructions was the large print that read: Angie can take care of herself, just give her a snack and continue as normal as possible.
A classic story about my picnic basket was when hurricane Agnes hit Pennsylvania in the early '70s. I was at Charlestown Day Camp, and my father came home from camp and said it had been flooded with 9 feet of water. Tents were missing, and parents were going to be spending the rest of the week helping track down the lost items along the creek. He sadly told me the picnic basket was gone.
About two weeks later, someone called our house to say they had found my picnic basket, some two miles downstream, and had called from the number from the instructions on the lid. Mom went and picked it up and opened it to find everything dry!
Special treatment can bring isolating feelings. The one thing I can say about my youth is that I never felt different from my friends or classmates. My mother never brought me to school during her meetings with the teachers. She would drop me off the first day of school, where I met with the nurse and teacher that day.
My mother's key advice to parents is to never project your own fears onto your children. Having reached an age where I have the ability to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of my past, I understand what she means. I never saw limitations because I had diabetes. I learned what my own limitations were by trying it on my own. And no one had to treat me differently because I had diabetes.
Published On: August 21, 2007