INDEPENDENCE WITH T1D

As parents, our children— our babies— moving into adolescence, teenage years, and then— gasp— adulthood is a difficult transition for any parent. Throw Type 1 into the mix, and the thought of sending them out into the world can be downright terrifying.

Living in Amsterdam, Carson has gained independence a hundredfold. Approaching 13, it’s that time in his life for that to happen naturally… but additionally, the lifestyle here in the Netherlands encourages and allows kids to do things on their own, with a safe and friendly environment in which to do it.

I have always considered myself a “free range mom,” siding heavily with the opinions of Lenore Skenazy, who in 2008 was dubbed “America’s Worst Mom” by the media after she publicly allowed her then nine-year-old son to take the New York subway by himself. She was lambasted with accusations of abuse and neglect, but went on to spearhead the “Free Range Kids” movement, encouraging parents to allow their children to play without constant supervision. It’s still a controversial topic, but I’ve leaned in the free-range direction since Carson was an infant. When his dx came down, it was a crushing blow for many reasons, not the least of which was that my “free range” mentality seemed now out of reach.

After almost three years, I’m finally realizing… it’s not.

I admit, I definitely stick much closer since his diagnosis. Without Type 1, our life would, it goes without saying, look dramatically different. I could easily have seen him playing all day— for days on end, even— with friends around the neighborhood, or surfing, skateboarding, whatever… without knowing where he was and not giving it a second thought… but not with our good ol’ friend T1D. However, since we’ve been here I’ve found myself slowly starting to come around and get more comfortable with his being out there on his own, T1D and all.

Whether it’s an increase in his maturity and responsibility, me getting over my own fears, or a combination of the two, I’ve recently found myself feeling ok with him doing things like riding his bike to school (about 4 miles) or to the trampoline park, or taking the tram to his boxing gym, with nothing but his phone, some euros, and, of course, his fanny pack containing all his diabetes supplies. It feels great to let go and “let grow,” and know that he is not only ok, but will take care of himself. Last month, he took the metro (subway) to the heart of the city with a friend to an arcade, returning at 10 pm, and my anxiety about it was at a low that made me proud of us both (don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t nonexistent, but manageable). He knows to stay in touch, I follow his location with my phone, and he does a “test and text” check-in with his bg number on a regular basis (we are currently using finger pricks, rather than a CGM, at his preference). Every time he comes home from these outings with numbers right on track, it helps me rest assured that next time he is out on his own, he isn’t just ok, but taking good care of himself.   The greatest reward, however, is the feeling of confidence it gives him.

Of course, things haven’t always gone perfectly during my hesitant venture back into free range parenting. There was the time in Berlin when Carson and a friend skateboarded to a coffee shop to get their mums coffee and pastries in the morning (sweet, right?) and his “fanny pack of life,” as we call it, was left behind on a table. The boys called an Uber, went back to the coffeeshop and there it was, right where he left it, thank goodness. Of course when traveling I bring plenty of extras of everything, so it wouldn’t have been a complete disaster, but it’s definitely not what you want to happen! Another time, in Rotterdam, his phone died and we couldn’t find each other. He ducked into a skate shop, asked to use their phone, and called me. He is proving to be resourceful and, luckily, isn’t shy. With each of these minor mishaps he has shown me that he can figure out a solution, and I become more and more confident that he is able to navigate the world, and his T1D, without me by his side.

Of course, there are still fears. Lots of them… but those fears exist for every parent of a child who is beginning to gain their independence. They’re going to continue to do more and more without us, there’s no way around that, and all we can do is hope we’ve trained them well enough to get along without us. Our T1D kids just have a few more things to worry about, but they can do it! We’ve raised them to do it. We’ve taught them how to do it. Believing in them is really believing in ourselves, and the job we’ve done.

Well done, parents.

Dove Braunstein is Carson’s mom and Team Captain of Team El Niño, winner of the JDRF 2017 Top Gun Trophy as #1 San Diego Walk Team with over $62,000 raised for T1D Research. Dove, her husband Blake and their son Carson have left the friendly confines of San Diego to live for a year in Europe and she will be sharing their adventures and challenges of managing T1D in their new home country of Holland.