It's easy to look at children and imagine their lives as simple. It's easy to think that their concerns couldn't be as deep or strongly felt as yours. Who knows why? Perhaps because they are smaller or maybe they seem protected simply because of their age? I did a Google image search on the word 'innocent' and the majority of the images that it returned were of children, I think because that is how adults think of them.
Most parents go to great lengths to protect their children from the world for as long as they can. I always imagined that it would be another child, the Internet or some other outside influence that I could not predict and not defend against that would show my kids the world for the first time. Maybe it would be an image online, a hateful thought or the brutality of another - I didn't know. I do know that I expected this to happen, but not this soon and not this way. Children should get to learn about life's truths slowly, not all at once and not so young.
Arden was recently invited by a friend to a sleepover party. She has slept away at her Aunt's house many, many times in the past and I have a rather foolproof system for managing BGs during these times so we didn't think twice about allowing Arden to attend the party. I have to admit that I imagined that we very well may hit a speed bump during the evening. I considered that Arden may get uncomfortable at another's home, that party food may mess up BGs to the point where they become difficult to manage and I was even ready for her to just not have a good time. I thought any, all, or some of these possibilities may prompt Arden to ask to come home.
But it wasn't any of those things that caused her to text me and ask to be picked up.
I didn't ask why she wanted to leave when she texted, I just told her I'd be there and came as soon as I could. Arden met me at the door with her sleeping bag and pillow when I arrived, she even tried to walk past me to our car as soon as the door opened. I stopped her and said that we could leave but first I wanted to understand why she wanted to go. We went back into the house, put down her things and retreated to the backyard where we could speak in private - we sat next to burning fire pit and I asked her why she wanted to leave.
In the minutes that followed I had the most mature conversation with my daughter that I've ever had. She wasn't uncomfortable at her friends home, that's not why she asked to leave. It wasn't because she was having difficulty managing her blood sugar, it was 115 when I arrived and she had been at the party for over four hours. It was none of the things that I expected and nothing that I could offer a concrete fix for. Arden was scared of her diabetes. Not the management of it, not of dying, she wasn't specifically afraid of any one aspect of her disease... just afraid of the unknown that it brings to her.
One of the best parts about being a kid is feeling invincible and never once having to consider that anything in the world can fell you. It's that gift that allows kids to jump from trees without pause. They never think that anything bad can happen to them. Diabetes took that from Arden. She wasn't worried about a low or a high, not about a bolus or an alarm. She was in fact, completely confident that the plans we had in place were going to keep her safe, healthy and happy - but she couldn't plan for the unknown and that concern was too much for her to bear.
I thought about reassuring her and then trying to get her to reconsider but instead, I looked at Arden and did the only thing that made sense. I gave her a hug and told her how proud I was that she called me. I reinforced that there isn't anything that she can't tell me, and I made sure that she knew her feelings were safe with me. We finished speaking, played with the embers in the fire for a few minutes and then went home empowered, not defeated.
My wife will be very excited when she reads this next part because I think it means that the almost twenty years of effort that she has put into me, may finally be paying off.
As a man I always find myself wanting to fix things for the people I love, but often that inclination means telling people that their feelings aren't valid. "Don't be scared" and "This isn't problem" serve to diminish feelings and I'm really proud to tell you that I didn't say anything like that to Arden as we spoke. I'm even more excited to say that as I listened to how Arden felt, I really understood her feelings and I didn't have the desire to bend and manipulate the situation to accommodate those feelings. I just let her feel, and I listened. It took me until I was in my forties, but I think I'm starting to get it. I'm not here to fix anything, my being here fixes things.