When I began the hunt for the perfect school for my daughter for kindergarten, I went through the typical checklist that every parent goes through: the school’s ratings in the state, feedback from parents of children who attend the school, extracurriculars, diversity, academic standards, and how involved parents are in the school. But for me as a mom of a child newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, my number-one priority was the nurse.
One week after my daughter was diagnosed in 2019, I lost my job at a marketing agency. My daughter hadn’t even gone back to preschool yet, so my anxiety about her being under someone else’s care pretty much disappeared when I realized I could be in control of it every day. Even when she went back to preschool, because I hadn’t found a job yet, I was a five-minute drive away in case of an emergency. And there were a few emergencies. Low blood sugars, stubborn highs, and the dreaded running out of her “meat sticks” or beef jerky — her safe snacks.
Three months later, around October of 2019, I was once again gainfully employed at a large convention hotel, and Piper was thriving back at preschool. The director of the preschool did a phenomenal job with her diabetes care, and once Piper was on a CGM (continuous glucose monitor), things were pretty smooth-sailing. I had a wonderful work-life balance, where my boss understood that Piper could have an emergency at any given moment, and she was very understanding if I had to step away from the desk to help treat a low, or even leave early in case the situation called for that.
In January of 2020, after extensive research, I had settled on a wonderful school for Piper to start attending in the fall for kindergarten. There were two nurses on staff. A friend of mine had a son who attended there, and a classmate of his has type 1 diabetes and gets amazing care. I was feeling confident about the path ahead and excited for Piper to experience her first day of school.
Then in March of 2020, the pandemic came roaring in. The hotel industry fell flat, and after five months of wonderful employment, I found myself out of a job again. The day I was furloughed, I called Piper’s dad and told him I would be out of work for at least 16 weeks, which led right up to when she’d start kindergarten. So it only made sense to pull her from preschool and keep her home — number one, to keep her healthy and safe, and number two, to save us all that money.
No one could have known that by August 2020, we’d be making the decision to have Piper do her kindergarten year virtually. I, along with so many parents, didn’t get that classic first day of kindergarten drop-off memory to store away. Her kindergarten year began and ended on a tablet.
Being home with her this last year has been nothing short of a silver lining. Her dad and I have been able to manage her diabetes care between our two houses and she’s stayed safe and healthy all year. Not even a single cold or ear infection.
This fall, for Piper’s first grade year, everyone will be back in the classroom. Which I am ecstatic about, because I am not cut out for homeschooling! I’ve been running my small business in tandem with trying to help her through classwork, and towards the end it got so daunting that I thought, “They won’t flunk her from kindergarten, right??” I’m ready for her to have the classroom experience. She’s an only child, and that’s been rough on her this last year, so I’m excited for her to be around friends during the day.
But… letting her go back to the classroom means letting go of the control I have over managing her diabetes.
When she’s with me — because I’ve been caring for her around the clock for the last year — diabetes has become almost an afterthought, and I don’t stress so much about it. Now, I’m already feeling the weight and heaviness of sorting out a 504 plan, writing out instructions for the school nurses, prepping low treatments for each classroom she can potentially be in, thinking about carb counts for lunches, and worrying that she’ll forget to take her CGM to the playground.
I read once that people with diabetes, or caregivers of children with diabetes, make an additional 180 health-related decisions a day compared to someone without diabetes. Piper’s been diagnosed for almost two years, and it’s hard to remember life without it already. It can envelop every choice you make.
But I know that going back to school in the fall is what is best for all of us right now. She needs her friends and a classroom environment, and I need eight uninterrupted hours to get my work done. I know that the nurses at her school are fully capable, and the best way for me to feel at ease is to establish a good relationship with them in the months leading up to her attending in person, so that I can relax when she’s not 20 feet away from me.
If 2020 taught me anything, it’s that kids are stronger than we give them credit for, teachers do more than we give them credit (or pay them) for, and parents are superheroes. We’ve all worked together in a fine balance of trust to get through the most unexpected year ever. And when first grade rolls around for Piper and I watch her run into the school with her backpack, I’ll breathe an immense sigh of relief.
Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the “typical” experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring.