It was around 7:30 pm and we decided to drive around and check out all the Christmas lights and decorations folks had put up in the neighborhoods. The amazing part that this was Thanksgiving Weekend and the lights were already up in mass! It was spectacular!
One of the staff at the RTC (residential treatment center) told us about a drive-thru light experience in a nearby town. What the heck! When in Rome........do as the Romans do! We pulled up to the "Festival of Lights" and paid our $7 (per vehicle). We were instructed to tune our car radio to a particular FM station. Christmas music surrounded us! Off we went on a slow driving journey around a darkened golf course transformed into a magical light experience. It was amazing and FUN! Reindeer and elves and snowmen and Santas were all a glow! It was something we will never forget. And we enjoyed it as a family!
On the way back to the RTC, we had a family meeting. This was part of a contract we all agreed upon before our visit to Utah. This type of meeting is something the boys do every evening. We also did a version of it called "nightly check-in" at the family retreat in Wilderness with our son and the group at large. It's a nice way of re-capping what worked and what needed improvement during our day. Some of our comments are below:
"It was a good day. We talked about lots of different subjects. We achieved our goal of having fun! We listened to each other. It was one of the best days together in a very long time."
"It was nice to be able to open up and not hide anything. We did a pretty good job of listening to each other. I can't think of anything I'd change. I can't wait until tomorrow."
We arrived back at the RTC and checked our son in. We gave the staff in charge a short summary of our day and then said our good-byes for the night. We would head back to our hotel and see our son bright and early at 9am the next morning.
The new day began at the local iHOP. Our son just realized what the letters in iHOP stood for: International House of Pancakes! It's funny what we tune into in our environments. There was every kind of pancake imaginable on the menu. Our son's choice was "Red Velvet" pancakes. We had "Senior Samplers", a combo of eggs and pancakes. We felt like we went backwards in time. We were not sure when the last time we went to an iHOP had been.
After breakfast, we headed to the Aquarium. It may not be the Monterrey Bay Aquarium, but it was this one was really nice. It was built in 2014 and had some wonderful exhibits and displays including a shark walkway that is sort of creepy and fun at the same time! We had a great time! We were able to experience another day together and enjoy each other's company. We were so thankful.
Our day continued with some lunch and another adventure drive, this time towards the Sundance Resort. We found out quickly that the "back way" was closed for the season, so we stopped at the turn around and took some quick family pictures. Our smiles showed genuine happiness! We just might have captured THE picture for our Christmas card this year.
As the day concluded we were all becoming exhausted and a little quieter and introspective. Our time together was coming to an end. I think I know how Cinderella felt when the clock struck twelve! Would this new enjoyable way of being a family, simply disappear? Or would we be able to build on this weekend for our future growth as people and as a family? We said our "so long for nows" (much better than good-bye!) and left with a few tears. Our son re-joined his group of boys and watched an Adam Sandler movie.
"See you in a month! We'll be back at Christmas!"
We took a morning flight to Salt Lake City from Oakland International Airport. Picked up the rental car and headed south to begin our 2 1/2 day visit with our son. We had our family Thanksgiving meal the day before and so did he with staff, other students and some parents at his residential treatment center. We heard they had a feast and lots of pie!
We were filled with excitement and anticipation when we arrived to pick him up. He was ready and greeted us warmly with hugs. We signed him out and were reminded of our mutual contract, signed verbally over Skype earlier in the week. Our son agreed to it also. He was to never leave our sight. If there was a bathroom break, we stood outside of the door. I am glad to say we never had a problem and it went very smoothly.
We headed out towards one of the big malls in the Provo area seeking a movie theatre. There are plenty of Cinemark Theatres throughout the area to choose from. We decided to have some dinner before seeing Thor: Ragnarok with Chris Hemsworth. We were all very happy to see each other after our last visit for Parent Days a month before. The conversation was a bit one sided with all of our questions, but we are working on communication, so there is room for improvement.
After the dinner (we had burgers) and the movie we made some family phone calls. Our son is not supposed to use any technology, so I dialed and held my iPhone within range of all of us in the car. We talked to Grandma and some cousins and everyone was happy to hear from our sixteen year old. From our parking space at the mall we saw what looked like an obstacle course of Christmas lights. Cars headed toward the "Enter" sign and turned off their headlights and zigged and zagged through the maze of flashing and pulsating lights. I googled the attraction and was surprised to see that it cost $25 per car. It seemed a bit high priced.
We headed back to the RTC (residential treatment center) to return our son by 9 pm and checked him in with staff. On our way we had a required "family meeting" which covered: What went well, what didn't go well. We each took turns answering those questions. The goal for the weekend was to "have a good time", so we were definitely successful on the first night. We said our goodbyes, shared some hugs and would return in the morning for our next adventure.
We headed back to our Holiday Inn Express and were happy to be able to spend time with our son. It felt like a long time since we enjoyed a movie as a family and had a meal without technology in the middle of it. The next morning we had plans to check out the Provo Recreation Center. "WOW" is all I can say! What a place! It had everything and the price was right! A day pass was $5 for adults and $4 for under 18.
We took a tour of the place and decided to come back in the afternoon after lunchtime. We played ping pong, pool and table top shuffleboard (not sure of the real name of this fun game). We swam in the pool, floated along the lazy river, jumped off the cliff (platform), sped down the water slide, climbed the rock wall and fell back into the water. It was so much fun! There were tons of families there too!
To be continued.....(find out what else we did during our Utah visit in the next blog post!)
As they say on postcards, "We are having a great time and wish you were here......"
Thanksgiving is next week and I want to take a moment to give thanks! I am grateful for so many things. We spoke by Skype with our sixteen year old today and he is continuing to do well at school. There are a few minor things that he is working through, rule oriented and getting assignments done, but all are handled in a way that shows growth is happening. He remains upbeat and looks great.
1. I am grateful for a new beginning. It has been a wild ride this year, but BlueFire Wilderness helped save his life. Our son admitted to spiraling downward just before we sent him at the end of June. By the end of his thirteen weeks in Idaho, he was able to see that his negative behaviors and negative friends were NOT good for him.
2. I am grateful for his new environment in Utah. It's very costly and further away in distance that we would like, but he is SAFE and following a program which will help him learn (school stuff) and succeed. He says he'd rather be home, but he enjoys it and knows he has work ahead of him.
3. I am grateful to the countless friends and family members who have cared enough to listen to me. The topic of a struggling teen is not for the faint of heart. We have opened up and in return have received so much. I know we are not alone!
4. I am grateful for my BLOG. Thank you My Warrior Mom Life readers. I know many of you personally (see #3) and others I do not, but I can't tell you, how much writing about our story has helped me. It is a release putting it into writing. I feel free-er because of it. I hope you will keep reading and sharing with others. I know I can help many people along the way!
5. I am grateful to be able to BE PRESENT. Sure, I'd like to check out sometimes, and honestly do occasionally, but being mindful is so important to my everyday existence. All we really have is TODAY! I am going to live it!
6. I am grateful to be able to WALK and TALK. "One foot in front of the other" has been a mantra of mine for the past six months or so. I __________ (walk, talk, swim.....fill in the blank), because I am able! For that ability, I am grateful.
7. I am grateful for HUMOR. They say that "laughter is the best medicine". That is for sure! Even in the darkest moments, I have been able to laugh. It is vital to my personal mental health. Know any good jokes?
8. I am grateful for HUMILITY. I have been blessed to be "good" at many different things. School and athletics came easily to me. I did work hard and practice too, but I am grateful for those gifts. Not everyone can claim them, for example: my son. It's taken me a long time to understand that.
9. I am grateful to be HAPPY. Some days I miss my son terribly. Other days, I do my daily tasks and keep moving forward without realizing it. However, I am glad not to feel that pit in the bottom of my stomach, morning, noon and night. I can BREATHE. That is true happiness to me.
10. I am truly grateful to have a partner who is on this journey with me, every step of the way. We are in a "club" we didn't sign up for. We are stronger for it. We are survivors. We are not perfect. We are able to ask for help. I am so fortunate to have you by my side! Thank you!
Happy Thanksgiving to all of you! I am only one Mom of millions, but I remain a
When my son came out of the Wilderness Program at the end of September, he was pretty scruffy. Before heading to the new school, he was able to take a really long, hot shower at our hotel. On the packing list was an electric razor. They don't allow regular blades, as you can imagine. After he cleaned up, he looked amazing! WOW!
But his hair was still long, about shoulder length. I didn't really mind it that length. He looked good. But we were sure surprised when we heard from his therapist that all the boys just had their haircut, a few weeks into his stay at the Ranch. When our Skype call began, what a sight he was! Short hair! He said he hated it! Another WOW! He looked good. It was a little short on the sides and a tiny bit longer on the top.
These haircuts were part of the program and to have self-respect for caring how one looked. I liked it, but I'm a parent! Each generation has their fads. Remember how long everyone thought Elvis wore his hair? And the Beatles? And the hippies in the late 1960's? We hardly think about it anymore. We didn't even flinch when our son asked for purple hair, or other colors in the past two years. We didn't need to make that one of our battles!
But I can see how differently he acts with this new shorter hair cut. There is a sense of "clean-cut-ness" to make up my own word! So the sixteen year old is clean shaven AND short-haired! What a change from four months ago. His last hair cut was for his 8th grade graduation. And with that haircut, the purple dye was added by our loyal hair salon owner friend. She even came in on her day off to help us out! What a pal!
Now we hear that the boys at the Ranch are participating in "No Shave November". It raises awareness for cancer patients. I'm all for that! We hear that some of the staff members are joining the boys on this one! Way to go guys! One week in the month down, three to go! I'll keep you posted to how it all goes!
Until then, "keep it short on the sides"!
From the John Waite song MISSING YOU:
"Everytime I think of you, I always catch my breath
And I'm still standing here, and you're miles away".
I have many MOM moments like this because my son is at an RTC (resdential treatment center)/school in another state. I'm sure it's natural, but every once in a while that feeling of "missing you" comes over me.
I know he is safe. I know he is doing well. I know it's WAY BETTER than just four months ago, but it still gets me. There is a bittersweetness too it all, he is only sixteen. I also realize this is not a permanent state and that he will come home again. It won't be anytime soon, however. Until then, the house is quieter and much neater. I don't go to Safeway every day to shop for groceries. The water bill is lower, but the little everyday activities are not the same in our house. We could have used his help with the decorations and the treat or treaters on Halloween, that's for sure.
I am sure on his end, he is thinking many of the same thoughts about being away from home. Yes, he has structure and lots of people who care around him. He is doing a lot of fun activities: a ropes course, lots of board games, feeding his newborn calf and hopefully some school work. I wonder if he gets sad at night when he goes to sleep? I wonder how often he thinks of his doggy at home and the way she "growled" at him when he tried to pick her up? I wonder how much he misses his old life, even if it wasn't working, because it was easier?
I write this blog because I want to help others going through struggles with their teenagers. I also write it to help myself, because it does. Right now I have a lump in my throat and a few tears in my eyes, but that's okay. I will be okay. I have to be!
Reflecting on life,
P.S. And the weekly letter just came from the Ranch, from our son and it's super cute. He says he's making friends, just got a job as a manager filling the calves food and is having a really good time! I am a Happy Mom!
It is the end of the 31 day Ultimate Blog Challenge and I have enjoyed writing about our story everyday this month. I will continue with the My Warrior Mom Life Blog on a less frequent basis, but probably not every day. For those who have been regulars, thank you so much for joining me on this journey. For those who have stopped by now and then, thank you, too. I hope you will visit again soon!
For the final day of October, better known as Halloween, I want to write about our wonderful visit with our son for Family Days last week. Each quarter the school has an event where parents come to the campus and engage in workshops and talks with a theme related to helping us with our struggling teenagers. This quarter the topic was "Boundaries". We listened, shared and practiced. Everything about the three days on campus had meaning and purpose. It was very well organized and obviously was well thought out and executed.
The biggest take-away was that we are NOT alone. There are MANY families in our same boat. There were other parents going through similar situations AND other teens going through rough patches, too. We felt the power in the process and were open to learning what we could in our few days in Utah. We didn't know what to expect, having only experienced a family therapy retreat at our wilderness program in August. We were sure that it would be beneficial and help re-establish boundaries for our family.
We ate meals together, played games together (including Knock-out on the basketball court) and helped feed our son's calf early one morning. It was so nice to be a family again. We met other families from all over the US. We learned that many of the boys had also been to a wilderness experience and were now doing well. Our son was doing well. He smiled and talked and played. WOW! What a difference even in the short time at school (about one month's time). We were very happy. We felt like we were living a miracle, and yet stay so grateful and humble.
But as our three days came to an end, we experienced something that really knocked our socks off and brought us to tears. The boys performed in a variety show. Some played music and and sang. Others performed skits from famous musicals or shows they enjoyed like a scene from Monty Python and the dance from Michael Jackson's Thriller. Since our son was a newbie, his participation was limited to the last song they all performed together. They lined up around the stage in white t-shirts, black pants and smiling faces.
Then the music began and it was a well known song that immediately gave me chills and began my flow of tears. The boys started singing the recognizable lyrics made famous by the band Journey in the early 1980's. When they got to the chorus and sang "Don't stop believin'" it was clear they were telling us parents to NOT GIVE UP on them. They were working hard to earn our trust, set their lives straight again and head towards a brighter future. But we MUST do it together.
Just a small town girl
Livin' in a lonely world
She took the midnight train goin' anywhere
Just a city boy
Born and raised in south Detroit
He took the midnight train goin' anywhere
A singer in a smokey room
A smell of wine and cheap perfume
For a smile they can share the night
It goes on and on, and on, and on
Don't stop believin'
Hold on to the feelin'
Don't stop believin'
Don't stop believin'
Hold on to the feelin'
Up and down the boulevard
Their shadows searching in the night
Living just to find emotion
Hiding somewhere in the night
Working hard to get my fill
Everybody wants a thrill
Payin' anything to roll the dice
Just one more time
Some will win, some will lose
Some were born to sing the blues
Oh, the movie never ends
It goes on and on, and on, and on
Don't stop believin'
Hold on to the feelin'
Don't stop believin'
Don't stop believin'
Hold on to the feelin'
I won't stop believing! Thanks for reading and for your support!
The process for parents with kids at a wilderness program, therapeutic boarding school or residential treatment center is plain and simple. Change is necessary. It isn't easy but, if the kids must change, so must the parents. It's called a Parallel Process.
There are dozens of recommended books that are important to read and take to heart. I have listed some of the books that I am currently reading. They can help parents and families see what changes may be necessary to have positive outcomes. This list is just a starting point for self-discovery and breaking old patterns. They are filled with many valuable lessons and practical advice. I will be adding more titles in future blog posts, but for now I suggest this short list of books that I have liked:
The Parallel Process by Krissy Pozateck, LICSW
Growing Alongside Your Adolescent or Young Adult Child in Treatment
Not By Chance by Tim R. Thayne, Ph.D.
How Parents Boost Their Teen's Success In and After Treatment
The Family Crucible by Augustus Y. Napier, Ph.D with Carl Whitaker M.D.
The Intense Experience of Family Therapy
The Journey of the Heroic Parent by Brad M. Reedy Ph.D.
Your Child's Struggle & The Road Home
I Don't Have to Make Everything All Better by Gary Lundberg and Joy Lundberg
Six Practical Principles that Empower Others to Solve Their Own Problems While Enriching Your Relationships
Are there any books that you recommend to other parents with kids in treatment that you want to share? I am asking for titles of some of your favorites. Please comment below.
Hopefully changing for the better,
Routines are seldom exciting. Routines can be rather dull. But our new routine was different than most because our son is away at school. And the school is more than just the normal boarding school because they deal with struggling teens. There are lots of rules and expectations of how to get along. There are levels that one moves up through to get more privileges and freedoms.
Our son began at Level One which is better than some. Since he went to a wilderness program he jumped ahead of the Orientation Level. I'm not clear on all the aspects of the levels but, there is information in the Parent Handbook that explains it all. Frankly, it's a lot to digest. Happily, our son is doing what he's supposed to to and getting along with staff and peers. The main thing that he's lacking is the ability to open up.
Why does he have to open up you might ask? Well in addition to school, they are teaching communication skills, values and goals. In order to move forward, one needs to learn to get to the root of why their parents sent them there. Or as if often referred to in slang, "when the wheels fell off the bus". The new setting gives the students a chance to work on self-improvement by doing daily and weekly chores among other activities.
Some of the chores include doing their personal laundry weekly, cleaning the house they live in. And yes, that means the bathroom and vacuuming, as well as making their beds daily. Everything needs to be tidy and neat. Try that with any group of teenage boys and you might have some difficulties. But if you want to move up to another level, then these things get done. And a habit will become routine when practiced daily and weekly. So there is a lot of repetition and learning by doing. A mom's dream environment.
Keeping a schedule can create good habits. They rise at seven am, they take care of personal care, then PE! After that, they eat breakfast. Then they feed their calves. A little housekeeping and then some therapy with their personal or group therapist depending on the day of the week. A little free time, lunch, shower and then school. What? Yup, they go to school beginning at 4 pm every day.
More about that tomorrow, so come back to read about how this school turns education on it's head!
We received our first letter rather unexpectedly. It came as email attachment. When I double clicked on it, I saw a handwritten note about twelve lines long. It was a bit faint and was obviously scanned by the staff at the residential treatment center (RTC) where he is now located. We later found out there is a weekly assignment for all the students to send a letter to their parents.
The best part of the letter is reading how much he says he misses us. Awwww..... What more can a parent ask for? As a general rule and something I believe in doing, when one receives a letter, one must respond back. Years ago when I held a "cute" letter writing club for my son and his fellow first grade classmates, I made them take an oath stating just that. "If I receive a letter in the mail, I promise to write that person back." I'm sticking to that pledge, after all, everyone enjoys getting mail!
And so, we began to write our response back to our sixteen year old teen. We answered a few of his questions about how grandma was and the dog, too. We also asked him a few questions of our own. The primary reason for this letter and future ones to come is therapeutic in nature, however. Social and personal business aside, this will become a way to address many of our family issues, including topics of social media use, negative friends and technology addiction.
We are all settling into our new life with our son being gone at the RTC/school a couple of states away. Our first letters were warm and friendly. There would be plenty of time for our therapy assignment letters. Next up was to write an "impact letter" to our son. We were able to use the same one we sent to him for wilderness, but added an addendum of things to made it current. We send our letters by typing them and then using email. On the other end, it gets printed out and handed to him, when the staff does mail call.
Our communication will also include Skype calls for weekly therapy, along with old fashioned letter writing. Sometimes it's easier to write things than it is to say them. It's nice to have a combination of both. We are all trying to improve our relationship! That's what he has told us and many of the staff at his new RTC. Moving forward!
We started our four hour car trip to Utah feeling happy and hopeful. There were many little signs of the positive changes made in wilderness by our son. One amusing example was the variety of music that he now wanted to listen to on the radio. He admitted to liking so many more songs and artists than before. He even was into the Taylor Swift song! That would have NEVER happened before. In wilderness the boys had a few favorite stations that were on during road trips.
Another example of a change was that he wanted to buy a couple of paperback books and after we did find a store, he asked to turn off the radio so he could read his book. What happened to my son? He was also talking and answering questions. He was so happy to be out of the wilderness after ninety-two days! He then admitted to be exited about the new school in Utah. WOW!
We drove through Salt Lake City and went by Temple Square. Very impressive indeed. We were having an old fashioned road trip. While getting gas we had fun people watching, too. Our son's wilderness therapist gave us one big warning, to not over do it on the food. One stop at Starbucks for a cold drink. An awesome pizza dinner. Probiotics twice a day. All was good.
We did make an important stop at the best outlet mall I've ever seen. It had all the big names: Nike, Gap, H&M, Polo, Columbia and lots more. We had either purchased or pulled from our son's closet, all the necessary items on the packing list for the new school. There was limited space so we had to count up the pants and shirts. They provided the polo shirts and PE clothing, but it was up to us to supply the rest.
He tried on all the clothes and left tags on just in case they didn't fit. He didn't care for a few of the shirts or pants, so we did buy a few things on sale, outlet style. We got some great bargains! And he was happy to have a little control back in the area of picking his clothing after months of wearing outdoorsy clothes that were chosen for him. We packed the unwanted clothes in a spare bag to take back home.
There were two phone calls to friends that were approved beforehand and they went well. He arrived at the school, strong and ready to begin. Off he went with the admissions director in a golf cart, shortly after we checked in to the office. We filled out the remainder of the paperwork and had a session with his new therapist. We liked her a lot.
The best comment of the day was, "I wish you would have sent me to wilderness when I was a bit younger, so I could have more time with you now." He was getting it. We were relieved. We knew it might not all be a picnic down the road, but the transition went as well as could be expected. We said "So long for now, we'll see you soon!" A new day has begun, for all of us!
I am Warrior Mom. I am a self proclaimed Techy and I'm NOW calling a halt to the excess use of it! Let's put some balance back into our lives, especially our teens!