Parenting: A Delicate Balance

Dinner is done, piles of dishes flanking the sink.  The kids have been good about cleaning up for the last few nights, so I release them -- a vacation treat.  They head down to the beach, the three of them piling in the car together, my oldest at the wheel, my youngest asking to take her bike so her brothers can help her practice.

She’s still very wobbly on the bike, at that stage when she can balance and she can pedal and she can steer straight, but only just barely.  And her dad is tired of running along beside her in that stooped position, his back aching as he cheers her on, releasing the bike -- but still running behind her so she doesn’t know that she’s on her own.  Frankly, he’d rather do the dishes with me.

Besides, this is a special moment for these kids:  My oldest is heading out into the world, going away in just a few days to a five week music camp where he’ll play and play and play piano until the small muscles in his arm will pop out in a freak show, look-what-I-can-do kind of way.  

So, her oldest brother will help her bike.  She adores and trusts him.  He would never let her come to harm.  She knows this.  And he’s young enough that running while half folded over will do nothing but make his blood sugars go lower:  Like his younger sister, he has Type 1 Diabetes.

This is how I find them, in the parking lot of the beach, with my oldest running and running, holding the bike the whole way, my other son running alongside him, both of them cheering their sister on, telling her that she can do it.

But he never lets her go.

“You have to release the bike,” I point out.

“But she might fall,” he worries.

I’m confused.  Here I am, about to release him for five weeks.  Five weeks that he has to fully manage his diabetes on his own.  A young diabetic kid in a strange city.  It’s not that I don’t trust him -- I do.  He manages his blood sugars at school and I rarely, if ever, have to step in to help him.  He talks to his teachers about how his diabetes impacts his work -- if it does -- and if he needs any accommodations.  He’s an excellent self-advocate.  No, I’m not at all worried about him.  I’m just worried about diabetes.  I’m worried about life.  His blood sugars have never been stable at night; it’s a roller coaster of up and down, sometimes frightening me with lows that I haven’t been able to predict.  I’m scared about what might happen when he’s sound asleep. Of course, we’ve created protocols and back up plans.  Doesn’t matter.  Inside, my stomach still flutters.  I anticipate a hospital visit.  And yet, what choice do I have, really?  Have him stay home, with me hovering around him for always and ever?   A bleak view for all of us.

“She probably will fall,” I echo.  I think about the scrape from when she fell last time, the one that she talked about and fret over for several days.  “And, yet, I’m letting you go to music camp.”

He pauses and nods, thoughtful as always, but continues to run holding her bike, folded over on himself like a paperclip.  I can see that this job is not for a overcautious sibling; it will have to go back to dad.  Because parenting requires a kind of controlled release. It is a careful balance between two opposing tensions: to keep them safe and let them go, to release the bike and have the wound care close at hand, to send him to music camp and create the safety plan.  And through it all, my job is to catch my own breath, release the grip of my own anxiety and trust my children to take their next step.