Maybe it is your first time having your son or daughter away from home or maybe you are an old-hat at the process, no matter, having a child that lives with type 1 diabetes out of your care can be an emotional endeavor.
One of the most fun ways that I have found to help both myself and my children cope with separation anxiety is creating a 'Diabetes Camp Fun Box.
I take my worry and turn it into a positive by creating something that I know my child will love and remind them of how much mom and dad care. On the other hand, my children know that saying good-bye for the week is temporary and they immediately start looking forward to the fun things that mom is sending up during their week-long stay.
The box is simple. Just a couple of inexpensive photo boxes commonly found at stores like JoAnn's, Hobby Lobby, IKEA or Michael's Crafts. I found my boxes on sale for $2.00 each at Michael's Crafts.
The nice part of these photo-boxes is that they are durable enough to withstand quite a bit of wear and tear and cute enough to be used just about in any room of the house. I also like that they fit neatly on kids bookshelves, so when camp is over, the leftover contents or any new camp related memorabilia can stay carefully tucked away inside their own bedrooms.
Notice that metal bracket? Carefully cut out a piece of scrap paper to add your child's name to the box by inserting it into the top of the bracket. Add a piece of clear tape over the entire label to help avoid it from slipping out. One part of camp is that with so many kids living in a small-sized cabin, everything should be labeled to prevent loss.
Have one of these handy - dandy label makers? I love this! We use this on everything diabetes - related, especially when my kids are away from home. Bonus is that it saves a ton of time hand-writing each child's name. Just print a bunch of labels ahead of time and have them ready to go for when you need them.
Another fun way to personalize the top of the box is to use alphabet stickers or vinyl lettering. Any color and any style goes. I like to place my child's name on the top of the box along with a quirky title like 'Oldest Daughter's Totally Awesome Camp Stuff!'
You can also add your child's favorite stickers. Is he into Star Wars? Or Legos? You could write "Austin's Cool Camp Adventure" and his favorite super heroes doing camp things. See- I could make these for boys too!
Once you have your box, you can start to plan all of the fun things that you would like to add. Here are some suggestions:
Postcards: Pre-address, pre-stamp and pre-return address each card. I always attach a sticky giving my kids direction on where to fill out their message. The comical part of the post cards is that they always end up arriving after the kids return home. They love seeing their own mail in the mailbox and it turns into a fun game of 'Can I get the mail?'
Look for inexpensive items that your kids can share with their cabin-mates. Truthfully, not every parent sends a care package or even a letter. The fun multiplies at camp when you can send some things that everyone in the cabin can share. The glow in the dark bracelets (package of 12) are especially nice during the Dance night. Tattoos are easy to share and kids love helping other kids put them on. Sidewalk chalk is fun and easily rinses off. The girls can even color their hair temporarily with chalk. It's all about creativity and being kind to one another. What a nice lesson for such a small investment. Each of these items are only $1.00 and you can find them in the Target Dollar Spot.
While I was at Michael's Craft store, I found several cool things in their dollar section as well. The journal is a great way to have your child record their camp memories during quiet time. The notecards can be shared with friends and the stickers were a mere $.44 in the clearance section. Fun and simple.
Michael's Craft store also had a specific section on Kid's Camp supplies. I found this pillowcase with a fabric marker for $3.50. The pillowcase is meant for auto-graphs from friends around the camp. What a neat keep-sake for your child to use all year long.
Last but not least, look around your own home for things that you might already have and can send to camp. Extra school supplies, leftover bubbles, nail polish, small games, playing cards, a Frisbee or a jump rope, all make for fun things to do with friends while at camp. The goal is not to spend a lot of money or try to outdo other parents, but to help you and your child feel safe and secure in knowing that he/she is having a wonderful experience while away from home.
When I am done finding little treasures for the box, I tuck in a card and add a colorful ribbon to close the box. If you choose to use the photo boxes like the ones that I used, you can fit one box perfectly inside a USPS Large Flat Rate Box. The boxes are free at the USPS and shipping is one flat rate with a quick delivery time. I like to send it about three or four business days ahead of my child's arrival to ensure that it will be there while my kid is still there!
Another idea is to drop the box off at camp check-in with a note of when you would like it delivered to your child's cabin. Last year, we tried this method and I chose Wednesday, as it seemed to be the day where both girls might need a pick-me-up. Make sure you still address the box to your child's name, cabin name and even counselor's name if you have it. In that way, nothing is lost. Our camp has over 350 kids coming during the two weeks of diabetes camp. That's potential for a ton of confusion.
However, it worked out perfectly and both daughters felt so special in knowing that mom (and dad) were thinking of them. I felt great in knowing that they were in good hands too.
Other ideas to help beat the homesickness bug:
1.) Have your child pack a favorite stuffy. Trust me when I say that everyone brings a stuffed animal. Even the counselors pack their most beloved and well-worn stuffed animals.
2.) Bring a picture of mom, dad or even the family pet. One child last year packed a picture of her big cousin because in her words, "He is so brave. He even went to COLLEGE!".
3.) Tuck in a special blanket. Most campers just bring sleeping bags, but some are wise enough to know that weather changes often. Sometimes the most comfortable sleeping is with a light blanket. It is even better when it is a comfort object.
4.) Pack batteries and lots of them. Some kids are used to sleeping with a night-light. Let your child use their flashlight under the covers. If the batteries die out, just replace them the next night. By the end of the week, your child probably won't need the light. It just is nice to know that it is available.
5.) Tuck love notes where your child will least expect them. One mom that I know tucked notes into her child's socks. I like to tuck a heart into each days' Ziploc bag of clean clothes. Some parents write notes into their child's toiletry kit. Just a sweet reminder that you and your child have a special bond.
Whatever you do, try to enjoy your child's new independence. Give yourself a pat on the back too. You did a great service by sending your child to camp!
As always, Kids first, diabetes second.