When I dropped my daughter with type 1 diabetes off at George Mason University four years ago — 500 miles away from home — I was at first confused.
Looking around, I saw the vibrant campus Lauren had fallen in love with. I saw the quick jaunt she could take to get into the middle of Washington, D.C. I saw the bevy of other rising freshmen, all as nervous and excited as she was. I saw the dorm room she’d make adorable with vibrant florals.
But where, I wondered, was my dorm room? After all, she needed me there to keep her safe and healthy.
Of course I’m joking, but that college drop-off can come as a shock. All our children’s lives (diabetes or not), we stand as their first line of defense, as their protectors and (whether they like it or not) guides. Then, suddenly, we’re going to just drop them off and drive away? Like, into the sunset? Yep, it’s jarring.
But it doesn’t have to be. I joke about wanting to stay there, just out of sight but close enough to whisper “did you check?” and “did you bolus?” But I really was ready to let her go. Because our job as parents is just that: to raise them up and set them free. Even — it’s true — with diabetes along.
How does a parent do it? It’s a process that begins well before that college drop-off day is even on the horizon. For us, it meant slowly letting go, through the early years, the challenging teen years, and right up until that day came. It might even have started when she was just 11 years old. We live about three miles from our beloved beach club, and like all the other kids her age, Lauren wanted to ride her bike there. In the moment of that first ask, I wanted to scream “NO!” (What if she was low on the way? What if she was high? What if she dropped her meter or missed a turn or ran into the boogie man?) But I thought about it. She knew her diabetes and was smart about it. Her friends were all on board with her needs, having grown up by her side. And hello, Mom? She wasn’t asking to ride into the tundra for a month. The route was heavily lined with houses. She knew every corner. It was going to be fine.
So that day, as she pushed off and pedaled away, may very well have been the start of her journey toward college and, yes, an independent life.
Through the years, we did more and more. The seemingly endless prom weekend. The four-night trip to New York City for Model U.N. with no nurse and no me. The two-week stay in Washington for a media conference her junior year, when she took more responsibility for her own daily care. And through it all, little, if any, judgment from me. Because what I realized was this: Perfection isn’t a steady line on a CGM graph. It isn’t an A1C. It’s not even a pristine set of lab panels. Perfection is my daughter’s absolute joy in embracing her college life and now her future working on Capitol Hill. Perfection is my ability to support her but not nag her, to encourage in every way, not just in a “diabetes way.” Perfection is her happiness, despite diabetes.
And in a big way, I have her adult endocrinologist to thank for that. You see, when it was getting near time for my child to go off to that college, she wasn’t in exactly “diabetes self-care nirvana.” In fact, she wasn’t doing well in that area at all. And so, when that endo asked me if I had any questions, we had a conversation like this:
Me: Would you let someone with her A1C go off to college 500 miles away?
Dr. Wonderful: Oh! I knew they asked for SAT’s, but I was not aware they asked for A1Cs!
Me: Okay, let me rephrase that. Would you let someone with her lack of attention to her daily diabetes care go off to college?
Dr. W: Well, as it happens to be, I have a test to determine if they are ready. Shall I administer it? (I nod my head wildly in agreement as he turns to my daughter to speak). Lauren? Do you want to go to George Mason?
Lauren: Yes! With all my heart!
Dr. W: Mom, I’ve completed the test. Would you like the results?
Point taken. Because really, it was time for her to go and time for me to begin the actual process of letting go. And so, on that August day four years ago, we moved her in, stocked her up with glucose tabs and hugs and then drove off, with her fading in our rear-view mirror.
I did have one request of her though: just check in with me each morning. I didn’t want to admit it to her, but I wanted to be sure she was alive each day (she’d cringe if I told her that, I thought). And that first next morning, she complied. With a text that said this:
“Hi Mom! I didn’t die so don’t worry!”
My girl — she can make me laugh (and figure me out) even at the toughest times. Which makes letting her go all the easier. I remembered her endo telling me that too — that she’d guide me through this journey and that I should let her do just that.
He said this, too, while patting my hand: “Your girl is ready to fly.”
Right he was. I’m so proud of letting her go. It might just be the most loving thing I’ve ever done.
About the author: Moira McCarthy is a reporter and magazine writer whose daughter (now a recent college graduate) was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in kindergarten. She blogs about daily life, advocacy and other topics at DespiteDiabetes.com.
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.