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!
Our sixteen year old son was processing our decision to send him to a new place after wilderness. His stay was thirteen weeks or ninety-two days in total. It was a long time however you choose to look at it. We were proud of his progress and the changes he made and so was he. The summer season was winding down and fewer boys remained at the wilderness therapy program. He became a leader by default at the end of his stay. Not his strength, but when put in that position did amazingly well.
We put the finishing touches on the paperwork for the school/residential treatment center while still back at home. We made arrangements to fly into Utah, drive to Idaho, pick up our son, drive back to Utah, drop him off and then return home. All in just over 30 hours. Whew!
There was a contract in place between us and him about the expectations that were set for the transition. No cell phone use, for us by choice and for him as part of the deal. He would get a short five minute call with his one positive friend back home. It would be monitored and made once we arrived at the new school's parking lot. Sort of a carrot for him, to make sure things went smoothly during the transition.
The graduation from wilderness would take place on a Thursday at 10am. We were asked to arrive at 9:30am at the main headquarters. We flew into Salt Lake City the night before, drove 1 1/2 hours and stayed at a Motel 6. It had been years since I had done that and while it was clean enough, it was more sparse than I recall. We didn't sleep much and woke up at 4:30am. We decided to hit the road and drive the rest of the way into Idaho before the sun came up.
We were both nervous and excited about our reunion and transport. When we arrived at the tiny town where the wilderness program was headquartered we looked for somewhere to eat breakfast. There were only two restaurants: a Chinese restaurant and a basic egg and pancake joint. It opened at eight o'clock exactly which worked great for our schedule.
After our quick bite, we drove to the headquarters and filled out the final release and questionnaire. We waited for our son's van to arrive from his campsite about forty-five minutes away. The graduation was for just two boys: our son and one other. The staff showed short but meaningful slide shows filled with pictures of their personal adventures. What a change our son had made in appearance and attitude. We were so happy to be getting him back after ninety two days in Idaho. One journey ended and the next one was about to begin. We know we made the right decision. We saved his life.
We both agreed, it was school number one! Beyond a shadow of a doubt. Just like our Education Consultant said, it was all about the people! The place had a wonderful home like feeling that seemed like "just the right fit" for our son. It would be a big change from wilderness but kids that entered from that arena, often did very well when they arrived.
The second school felt like the town from the movie, Pleasantville. Very clean, almost to a fault, without any personality at all. The admissions team basically phoned the tour in and was certainly not the "A Team"! They didn't seem to understand what we were looking for at all. The one highlight was meeting two of the boys who were students there, but even they had an edge that we couldn't see our son being with. We were happy that the decision was so easy for us after visiting in person!
We headed home in a whirlwind and by next morning our Education Consultant called and was in total agreement with us. The paperwork was the next hurdle! Luckily most of the documents were ones that the wilderness program needed, so I just had to create a new folder on my computer, make a copy and send them off. Next, get some money from the college fund. It was incredibility expensive, but as I've said before, college wouldn't even be an option without having success in this new school/treatment center.
We wrote our sixteen year old a long letter, sharing all the wonderful things about his new placement. Horses, basketball, positive environment and a one of a kind "calf program". Each boy was given a new born calf to care for. What an opportunity! The boys mixed the formula and fed their calf, three times a day. It taught a huge lesson in responsibility and caring. We added cut and paste pictures into our email letter and sent it off to him.
After we had our weekly therapy session over the phone, on what would be our final session of the wilderness program, we all were ready for our next adventure. Ground rules were set about the transition and this time we were doing the transport. At least that was the plan. Stay tuned to see how we all faired.
Happy to be moving forward,
The next step was figuring out what aftercare program was the best fit for our sixteen year old. He was on board, but we would have to visit a couple places first to check them out. We had a meeting with our Education Consultant and went over lots of ideas and requirements.
I tried to get a feel for what was out there and did some Google searching myself to see how these therapeutic boarding schools and residential treatment centers worked. They all had therapy components and schooling, too. We needed success after all the years of mis-steps for my son. Learning issues aside, he was a bright kid, only he really didn't know it.
We narrowed our choices down to two and scheduled a quick trip to visit both schools on the same day. We had interviews by phone to see if they had room and if they thought our son was a good fit for them. We looked at their websites and arranged the last minute travel plans. Our son was going to need a good week to ten days to process where he was headed according to his wilderness therapist.
We flew out late one afternoon and stayed at an inexpensive airport hotel. At least it had a decent free egg breakfast in the morning. We drove our rental car about an hour and arrived ready for our tour. It was a small town in Utah and had a nice feel when we arrived. The people wet met were very friendly and nice. They offered us water because it was rather warm, even for 8:30am. We told them we had arranged another tour at 1pm, about twenty minutes away, with another school, so everything was out on the table as far as our plans.
We chatted, asked questions, took notes and answered questions. This was new to us so we had to learn a lot about this decision process. We took a walking tour and met more of the staff. Then we talked with some of the students and asked them some questions. The boys were forthcoming and said they were enjoying their experiences so far. We asked who had been to wilderness and they all had. One boy went twice. We did not ask what there issues were, but they genuinely seemed to be happy and open with us. Our tour came to an end and we said our goodbyes.
We had time to pick up an apple and some chips and hit the road for the second school. This one was very well manicured and groomed on the outside. We met some folks but something was amiss from the moment we arrived. They had a sign welcoming two folks, but it wasn't our names on the board. Okay, that's fine, but where were those people? We then realized they sent their "B" team to meet and greet us. We didn't even meet the person who interviewed us on the phone just days before. It was rather odd and disappointing.
We did get to meet more boys. We did more talking and asked and answered more questions. We were getting the hang of this process now. Our time was up and we had to head back to the airport to catch our flight home. We got into our rental car and on the count of three we both agreed to say the program out loud that was our choice. "One, two, three......" Come back tomorrow to see which one we chose.
Feeling pretty certain,
One of our "heavy" discussions at the family therapy session at the retreat was about what happens after wilderness. Our son lobbied hard to go back to his public high school in the SF Bay Area. We knew that would NOT work. There would be too many triggers and he was not strong enough to combat those negative temptations.
He said that he felt it was still a good fit for him. We reminded him that he didn't even attend the school he liked, so why would that work this time around? Our sixteen year old was very emotional, yet was able to share some of his "raw" feelings with us. There was progress being made. This was a kid who never cried openly, until now.
Many or even most of the kids in wilderness programs go to an aftercare program of some kind. It might be a therapeutic boarding school or a residential treatment center. There were many such places in the West to choose from. Lucky for us, we had an excellent Education Consultant on board to help us select the best place for our son. This was a whole new world that we knew nothing about. But as we shared with other parents in the same boat, we started to learn new things everyday.
Part of the process our family went through was how we took the new information in, and got comfortable with those ideas and plans. Within a week, once we returned home, our son was on board with NOT coming home right away. He had come to terms with his needing more support and help with his many issues. How brave he was in his new decision! We were able to talk about a "list" of his desires for his upcoming transition from wilderness to an aftercare program. NO uniforms was on the list, but we knew that polo shirts might be a reality. Oh well, he could handle it!
The shocking part for us as parents was the "unbelievable cost". Think to yourself how much a school like Stanford costs per year and add more $ on top of that and you might be in the ball park. We had a college fund set aside, but there would be NO college if we didn't get through this next phase of our son's education. So we will take a penalty hit on taxes, so what! It will be worth it in the long run for his success in school and his self-esteem and self-confidence.
We called our Education Consultant and gave her a list of needs. She then spoke with the wilderness therapist and field psychologist to sort out the kind of learning and support our son needed. Decisions, decisions.....What's next in this amazing journey will be coming up in the next blog post. Stay tuned.
"What did you feel when you first saw us, as the van drove down the hill to the Family Spark camp site?" we asked our sixteen year old son?
"I was excited, just like Christmas morning!" was his answer.
That stopped us cold in our tracks! WOW! HOW ABOUT THAT? It gets me all choked up thinking about it again.
It had been eight weeks since we had all seen each other from the time he began his wilderness therapy journey in Idaho. We then asked, "Do you hate us for sending you?" fearing what he would say.
"No, I was surprised that it was happening, and the first couple of days were surreal, but no I don't hate you." he said in a matter of fact response.
"It was the hardest thing we've ever done, but it was the last resort." we said with heavy hearts. We wanted to make sure he understood our side of the event. It was not taken lightly at all! He had to know how much we loved him.
That conversation was one of many that we had like it, asking and answering queries on both sides of our worlds. And they all happened without the distraction of a phone or other technology or substance in the way. Our son had clear eyes for the first time in ages. It was a pleasant and refreshing occurrence . It's like we were able to go backwards to a more innocent and younger time with him.
Over the course of the next few days, we had many group activities. We play acted the time when the "wheels fell off the bus" for us as a family. Each of us took turns as we role played the other, to see what we must have gone through. We watched and observed the other families and could see some similarities in many of they stories. We were not alone.
We participated in equine therapy and tried to maneuver a horse, who behaved much like our son had: stubborn and defiant. That was very interesting and revealing. We learned about non verbal communication from the therapists. We did an obstacle course while we were blindfolded one at a time, using only verbal directions from only one of us, to avoid the obstacles. We learn to work together as a team. We analyzed every action made and every word spoken. There was so much symbolism and meaning to it all. And it was exhausting but a wonderful few days.
The best part was that we were smiling with each other and laughing again, as a family unit. It had been a long time since those days. It was going to be difficult to say "so long", as the end of the retreat got closer. One more hug, one more story, one more day......OUR TIME TOGETHER DID FEEL A LOT LIKE CHRISTMAS MORNING.
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!