This is the week we begin to pack for sleepaway camp.
Let me tell you, when we first started doing this whole sleepaway camp thing, I was terrified. First of all, I had never been to sleepaway camp. My family and I lived at the Jersey Shore, and both of my parents were teachers with the summers off. So neither of them ever felt the need to send me away, nor did they have the money to do so.
After Wendy had been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, I did a lot of reading about how to be a supportive parent, and one of the suggestions was to send your child away to a diabetes camp. As luck would have it, the one camp the book mentioned was in New England, called the Barton Center for Diabetic Girls. We decided to give it a try.
The Barton Center is a unique place. It is named after Clara Barton, because her birthplace is on the site of the camp. You may remember that she was the founder of the American Red Cross. It’s a camp exclusively for diabetic girls, ages 6-16. Wendy naturally wanted to go as soon as she was old enough at 6 years old. At the time, she had been a diabetic for roughly three years and had her kidney transplant about a year prior.
As you can imagine, I was super nervous. We had never had the opportunity to be away from Wendy since her illness because there were a lot of medications to be taken, as well as monitor her insulin needs. One of the features of the camp, though, is that there is a doctor on site and a nurse in every cabin, to administer medication both by mouth and with injections. Knowing that Wendy was going to have that kind of monitoring made me feel a little better.
She was going to go away for the “short program”, which was only five nights. It’s meant to ease girls into camp without too much worry about homesickness. Five nights felt like an eternity to me. What in the world was I going to do with myself?
Packing for camp is its own sub-special category. Finding clothes for five days that you don’t care what condition they return in, ripped or stained, or better yet, lost. Sandals, shower shoes, sneakers, a caddy for toiletries, sunblock and bug spray to round out the list. Oh, and a flashlight, and extra batteries. All of these things dutifully labelled so that the chances are better that you might get them back. Ha.
We drove Wendy the four hours from our house in Vermont to camp. She was excited and nervous. I was nervous. We got to camp and had to wait in line to see the nurse. I had all of Wendy’s medications, i had filled out all of her paperwork, I had signed all the releases. We had a cold pack for the liquids, a ziploc bag for the pills. It took twenty minutes to go through everything, and while I did, Michael took Wendy to her bunk to make her bed and place her Teddy.
The time had come, time for us to leave. Leave my little girl that had gone through so much, that I woke up every morning at 2 am to check her blood sugar, that I had spent every day fixing her meals, counting her carbs, giving her the right medications before and after her meals. I was handing her off to smiling teenagers and a nurse. I thought I might just die on the way home. Wendy was very brave, she said her goodbyes, and went in the cabin, but before we got a few steps, she ran out and gave another hug and another kiss just to be sure. She had tears in her eyes. i had tears in my eyes. Michael did too.
Then we left.
Ok, now it’s time to tell you the first thing we did when we got home. Michael and I ate ice cream sundaes for dinner. Mint chocolate chip ice cream, m-n-ms, hot fudge, whipped cream, and a cherry. Something we could never do with a diabetic daughter. We also went away for a night to the North Shore of Massachusetts. We walked around Salem, famous for its witch trials, and popped into book shops and candy shops and read when we wanted to, ate when we wanted to, relaxed with no schedule of medicines or insulin. We re-set, we relaxed, we re-energized. Five days later, we were ready to get her.
I was so excited to go get Wendy from Campj I didn’t sleep the night before. I had missed her, and I was ready to see her. When we arrived, she was weeping, WEEPING, huge tears coming down her face, and I thought, “Oh My God, what have we done?” We had made a mistake, she was too young, we should have waited.
She was weeping because she didn’t want to leave.
Finally she had found a place where she didn’t have to explain blood sugars and insulin, or be different. Everyone was like her. Everyone checked at the same time, everyone got insulin at the same time, everyone knew the deal. Wendy was one of many, even if she was the youngest one. And they laugh, and sing, and make crafts, and play silly games, and go horseback riding, and have “hands free dinner” and are just kids without explanations. She had never been so happy since her illness began. She begged us to let us stay longer, but it wasn’t possible that year. The next year she went for two weeks, and has continued to do so for the many years after.
If I were to ask her where her favorite place on earth is, she would say camp.
So this week, I again lay out the dozen pairs of underwear, the dozen pairs of socks, the toiletries, the sandals, the sneakers, the flashlight with batteries, the bug spray. Teddy still goes too. And I miss her, I MISS HER. Every day of those two weeks. But I know that it’s good for her, it’s good for both of us, to have this experience.
(And Michael and I still have hot fudge sundaes for dinner on the first night she’s away.)