We just had our 16 1/2 year old son's six month review with the residential treatment center (RTC) where he has been since the end of September. Overall it was good. Progress is being made, even if it is slow at times. He is making friends and his peers enjoy him and his sense of humor. He is respectful to others and he follows the staff's prompts when given. He might even be described as one of the "chill" kids at the Ranch (I've been told that's good). He is participating in his many assigned therapy sessions: Social Skills, Processing, DBT (Dialectical behavior therapy), Intervention, Drug and Alcohol, Ropes Therapy, Equine Therapy, and Adoption Group. Those meetings take place over the course of four days in his week and the rest of his time is filled with PE, his new Cross Country 5K team practices, daily chores, his latest job as "Chores Assistant Manager", study time, school and meals. Whew! Sounds exhausting, right?
He has shared with us that he has at least one thing per day that he looks forward to. He writes us weekly letters (they are obligatory), writes in a daily journal (also obligatory), does his own laundry, including changing the bed sheets on Saturdays! We have a weekly Skype therapy call with him and his therapist. He has begun to keep a small piece of paper in his pocket with some "TO DO" items that he has written on it. Progress!
He is taking baby steps towards re-establishing his Level 2 by fulfilling requirements of "having meaningful conversations" with staff and getting signatures toward that goal. By taking a look back at the paragraphs above, one might think "I couldn't do that". You might be right! Making changes in ourselves can be uncomfortable. We may move the needle on the ticker only slightly, but it is moving. Most of us would respond in a positive manner to some type of external motivation. My son has always been a challenge in that department.
I remember when he was little, I read that if you offer kids "stickers" for cleaning their room then a parent will see success with that chore. Nope, didn't happen. At a time when money might seem like a motivator, I offered matching funds for whatever he put into his savings account at the bank. Nope, later I discovered that he drained that bank account without my knowledge. We tried good ole fashioned bribery. Nope. If you do this, then that "good thing that you like" will happen. Nope. Nothing we could connect as a "carrot" was enough. It was frustrating and head scratching! I even had years of experience working with kids (granted, they weren't my own!) as a sport coach to draw from. Not much worked.
Well that motivation piece stands out today as one of the continuing goals at the RTC. He knows that when he gets back to Level 2, he will get his permanent retainer back in his mouth-the one with the teeth on it. He will also get to participate in additional Cross Country practices OFF campus. He will get to do what they call "Short Trips" into town to get a burger or ice cream. He will get to go to the Music Room to listen to music or learn to play an instrument , and he will be allowed to have some FREE TIME. He knows all of this, yet he is on his own time clock in getting things done.
So, we tried a different approach this week. We let go. Our weekly letter to him was loosely based on a blog post I read from an awesome website/blog I recommend called: Hands Free Mama by Rachel Stafford. The message was simple. We love you today. We are proud of you and how you are handling your current environment and surroundings. We told him that he shouldn't take our continual encouragements as our disappointment with him, but use them as a reminder of what awesome possibilities he has inside of him! We wrote that we know he will contribute his many gifts to the world!
We will visit him next week for his "two day" Spring Break recess. We have no idea if he will be a Level 1 or 2. We have no idea if we will stay close-by to the Ranch for daily visits (from 9am-9pm) or if we will visit some of the amazing National Parks, like MOAB in Utah. We know for today that we will get another chance to be with him! We will have fun together as a family, sharing time and conversation and delicious meals. We also know that his level advancement will come in due time. His retainer WILL happen. He will DO school, whatever the form of completiton happens to be. It's all good. And at the same time, he IS growing up!
His motivation will most likely be internal. He may focus on details, or he may not. The journey is his. Ours may be parallel, but it is different. We can not become solely outcome based! We need to enjoy the progress we have all experienced and recognize that we have an awesome son! We love him TODAY! He is beginning to believe in himself and that is worth celebrating!
We arrived in Salt Lake City, Utah at 1:15 pm on a cold February day during what has become to be known as "Ski Week". We rolled our carry-on luggage with us to the Hertz member rental car pick-up area and selected one of the last cars available. This is one of the best ways to rent a car! We use our credit card miles and combine that with being a Hertz Gold Member to get a FREE car! The check out line was slower moving than usual because of the many hopeful skiers arriving in Salt Lake City. Utah is known for having "The Greatest Snow on Earth" and a winter storm was on it's way over the next few days!
Our son's school (RTC or residential treatment center) is a bit less than one hour from the SLC Airport, so we had to pick up the pace to get there by the 2:30pm start time for Parent Days. We were very excited to see our 16 1/2 year old! This was one of the longest stretches we experienced without seeing him in person in the last eight months. Sure we had our weekly Skype therapy calls, but it's not the same! He has been gone from home since June 29, 2017. First for Wilderness Therapy in Idaho for 13 weeks, then in Utah at the RTC. We did not see him at all last July. It was especially hard since he celebrated his 16th birthday in the high desert of southern Idaho. We saw each other at the Wilderness program's Family Spark Therapy in mid August. And again, as we picked him up in Idaho at the end of September to take him to the RTC in Utah. We had our first Parent Days in late October. We visited during November for Thanksgiving and in December for Christmas. January had no visit. Finally, we were going to see him again in February. Each visit has been special! Each visit has gotten better.
After driving like Mario Andretti, we arrived a few minutes late, to the Introduction and Welcome Session for the Parents. Right after that we headed to the indoor Horse Arena and saw our son! He gave us warm hugs and seemed excited to see us! My hug for him was a double! The first activity was a riding exercise where a team of three boys had the task of "penning" one or hopefully two calves, that were currently at the back of the arena. Each team was on horseback and came up with their own strategy for getting these calves into the pen. Our son's team was first up. In a matter of 40 seconds, they had one blue colored (spray painted on their backs) calf in the pen. One boy guarded an open area to head the calf into the other direction. The other boy rode behind the calf towards the pen. Our son gave the calf the final push. Their teamwork and communication worked well and they were immediately successful and very happy.
We watched many other teams doing the same task, alternating the blue colored calves with the pink and green colored calves. Then each team completed a second round. A score-keeper used a stop watch to count the time it took for each group. This was the first time our son did this exercise and he was pleasantly surprised to come in third place with his team-mates. They earned a special breakfast with the two head honchos of Equine Therapy: Jerry and Lynn. Both of the Equine men are popular figures at the Ranch, so that prize was considered top notch!
Dinner in the Gym was next on the agenda! The outdoor BBQ grill was in full swing to feed all the parents, kids and staff! Chicken and ribs and salads were on the menu, topped off with delicious baked desserts! We ate with another family and shared some of our experiences. Many of the boys headed off to get ready for the evening performance of "Newsies", our son included! This was the most amazing component of positive involvement by our son yet. He NEVER would have joined in a show like this at home. He was a member of chorus in elementary school and for one semester in middle school, but frankly he lip synced and yawned most of the time. He was just biding his time to be able to earn a trip to Disneyland as a reward for participation. He never made it.
This was different! He sang, he did choreography and he took his part in the show, very seriously. According to him, he was in almost every scene, which was true! And he loved it! The cast rehearsed every weekend for five to six weeks or so. The other kids had some fun scenes and many were drama kids for sure. Not so for our son, yet he was part of the experiential learning that comes with doing a show. We smiled and laughed and loved every minute of it! What an evening to behold.
Fast forward to the end of the week when the boys were cleaning the Calf-A (cafeteria) and they all broke out into spontaneous singing. They had such fun with the numbers from "Newsies" and it was contagious. A quick thinking staff member caught it all on video on their phone and it was put into the slide show which ended our Parent Day event. What a kick the boys got out of seeing their fun captured and shared. We were so happy to see our son smile and enjoy his new found camaraderie!
For a full run-down on February Parent Days, click on this link to read the blow by blow.
That evening we took our son to a movie and dinner and returned him at 9pm. He was still at Level One. The next day was the same: pick up and return. This time our hugs were "so-long until next time" type embraces. We will be heading back to see him in the early part of April for a 4 day visit. And we are keeping our fingers crossed that he will earn his Level 2 back in time so we can explore MOAB!
Still feeling positive,
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!