Elizabeth Stone said, “Making the decision to have a child — it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ” And she’s right. It’s cliché as can be, but the moment that James was born I knew my life would never be the same.
From early on, I was his main caretaker. When I went back to school to get my master’s degree, I had to leave him for a stretch of, I think, about six hours a couple times a week. The first day I wanted to die inside. I had never been away from him that long. Of course, I got used to my classwork, and James was fine. In fact, he was spending time with his grandma and his dad, so he was great! It was my heart that was breaking, though it eventually got easier.
I kind of thought from that moment on that I understood separation a little bit and that it wouldn’t get to me anymore. I was both right and wrong.
Since grad school, many things have happened. James has been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, and we have had more children. Their father and I have taken couples trips together, and I think they are wonderful. I guess I’ve really internalized the (healthy) mind-set that other people’s influence and care is good for my kids. Also, I truly believe that a strong marriage is essential for our family, and these trips really help with that. I’ve felt fine about leaving the kids.
I suppose that’s why my feelings about this most recent backpacking trip are confusing to me. James and his dad prepared all week for their trip. They’ve done weekend excursions before, and those were really no big deal for me. I didn’t think a longer trip would be different.
Even as the car drove off, I didn’t feel any special heart pulls or anxiety. It wasn’t really until that first night that I started really missing James. And worrying about him. I know that Craig is an impeccable caretaker and an amazing parent. I had been without James before (on trips with Craig and some by myself), so why was I worrying so much this time?
And then I realized it wasn’t worry. It was the lack of worry that was incredibly different to feel. I have become accustomed over these long years to spending considerable time caring for James and, even more so, to devoting mental energy to thinking about him. While I’ve had periods of my life when I’ve gone without this worry — notably my own solo trips — I’d never had all of my regular responsibilities except his care. So I was still doing my mom thing in every respect except… James.
Right now I’m smack dab in the middle of it. The realization hits me when I plan a meal but don’t need to worry about timing or portion size. It hits me when I take the kids to go somewhere and don’t need to bring a glucose meter or a juice box. It hits me especially at night when the house is quiet. I don’t need to go into the kids’ rooms to know that they’re going to be just fine. There are no doctors to call, supplies to order, devices to charge, faces to anxiously scan, or powerful feelings of worry to soothe by presenting a facade of tranquility.
It’s like I just realized that diabetes is really hard. It’s almost difficult to say this. I’ve been the face of positivity and optimism in the midst of diagnosis. I’ve always said we have a good life and we do. SUCH a good life. But maybe it’s okay to say that it isn’t always an easy one? Maybe knowing that it’s hard but good makes it even more beautiful.
I want to do two things right now. I want to be even more mindful of how much work it is to manage diabetes and to be even kinder to myself and especially to James as he starts taking more and more responsibility. And I want to hug that kid, hold him tight, and reminisce about what it felt like that first time when I realized that my heart is now walking around outside of my body.
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. Jen and Kim are real moms of kids with type 1 diabetes and have been compensated for their contributions to this site.