I would ramble through the brush, sing with the birds, and talk to the trees, confident in my place in the world. I was sure of my abilities to navigate the obstacles in front of me, tackle challenges, and take risks, always protected by the safety net of my purple whistle on a shoelace. My dad wanted me to know I could take care of myself, to have confidence and respect in my own ability.
I found out, a decade and half later, that he would wait for me to get just out of sight, and then he would follow me. It was a tremendous gift, especially when you consider how many terrible renditions of the soundtrack of the Little Mermaid he was likely subjected to. This confidence and trust in oneself and this feeling of comfort in the natural world is a gift I have always wanted to give my children, so, once we started having kids, it was a priority to stay in touch with nature, to take the time to get away.
Having chosen to raise our family in a city like Los Angeles, we knew we would have to seek out opportunities for our kids to get outside and learn to be good campers. And then, two weeks after the birth of our third baby, our 3 year old, Penny, was hospitalized and diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, an incurable auto immune condition that, while manageable, comes with a lot stress, worry, and equipment.
In the first few weeks after diagnosis, it was overwhelming just to leave the house. The needles, the fear, and the tiny glass bottles of insulin seemed to tether us to home. Luckily, at some point we realized that it was even more important to go on adventures, to go beyond self-imposed limits, and prove to ourselves and our children that new challenges don’t stop you, they move you forward with even more ferocious energy. We just had to relearn how to go adventuring when Type 1 is your sidekick.
We don’t venture quite as far off the beaten path anymore, but we are getting braver and bolder every day. For now, we go on day trips, and we travel with the normal stuff, plus all of her medical supplies, a kit we carry with us and a duplicate in the car. Being prepared helps ease the worry. Plus, good campers are always prepared.
There will be a time when it will be important for her to start to learn how to do self care, but for now, we think the important work of childhood should be her main focus, so we try to move quietly in the background. Like parental ninjas we are constantly checking blood sugar, giving injections, sneaking glucose tabs into her hand if we think she might go low, all without interrupting her play. We stay in the care-taker shadows so she can sing with the bird and talk to the trees.
We prioritize adventures and time outside, even though they present challenges, because we believe it is critical for all of our children to develop a love and respect for nature, and while that is made more complicated by Penny’s condition, it is even more crucial. These adventures allow her to feel safe, strong, and capable, to believe in herself and her ability to to navigate obstacles, tackle challenges, take risks.
We refuse to let Penny feel limited by Type 1. She will live with Type 1, the worries, the long term consequences, the constant management for the rest of her life, but she will also know that she is strong, capable, and that the whole big wide world is there for her to explore. Penny is a good camper. And if anyone knows where I can find a purple unicorn whistle, let me know.
Kate lives in Los Angeles with three delightfully unruly children, a remarkably patient husband, and incredibly well-mannered dog. In addition to being her daughter’s pancreas, she writes thing for various corners of the interwebs and makes theatre. She blogs about real life in a big city surrounded by small people at www.notsurehowtodayends.com.