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.
Our first night at the Family Spark therapy retreat went by quickly and we wokeup at sunrise, ready to start the day. The first group activity was "hand washing". The entire group stood around a hole in the ground while one of the boys (our son this time) squirted a tiny bit of camping soap into our open palms. Then we started saying our "hopefuls", going around the circle with anticipations of the day in front of us. As that was happening, a water pitcher was tipped with water spilling out to activate the soap in our hands. We scrubbed and rinsed and listened to the thoughts and hopes of the group. This ritual happened before dinner as well, but the topic changed to "thankfuls". It was a nice ritual. Everything we did had meaning, even the simple tasks.
"Hopefuls and Thankfuls" were just the beginning of our sharing. We had mindfulness, "highs and lows", and many other topics that were selected by whatever boy was in charge of that session. Listening to everyone's words was very powerful. It sent messages of healing, growth and new understanding. Some of the parents wrote things in their notebooks, others just listened intently. Most of the boys picked up rocks from the ground or fidgeted with strings and made bracelets. There was a lot of ADD (attention deficit disorder) in this group!
Lots of new facts came out of these deep discussions. One of the things we learned about was the fact that our son lost his second retainer before being sent to wilderness. Those retainers weren't cheap, let me tell you. He got his braces off after a long 2 1/2 years, earlier in the springtime. The orthodontics made room for two teeth that he was born without. At age 21, he would have implants to fill those eyeteeth gaps. In the meantime, he was fitted with custom retainers that had two false teeth attached to make his smile complete. He admitted to losing his retainer just two days before he left for wilderness. It happened at a park while he was busy partying!
In the group sharing we learned about natural consequences. The lost retainer became one for him. It would be replaced at a later date, and he would have to go without for a while. I was unhappy about the expense, but it's amazing the things one can let go of when dealing with bigger issues.
One of the group questions was "What was it like when you saw your parents from the van, when arriving at the Family Spark setting?" My son's answer will amaze you. Come back tomorrow to hear what he said. Bring a hankie!
He walked towards us, a bit scruffy and a bit dirty but he was wearing a million dollar smile. We hugged. It was so nice to see him. He actually seemed happy to see us. He had been in the wilderness program for eight weeks. It was a long time.
He was a little shy at first. His pack was giant and really dirty on the outside. His hair was getting long. There was a coat of dirt and grime over all of the boys, even though they did take a shower every week. For some reason, this week they didn't get one. It was the high desert after all and not the Hilton! We showed him to our tent. He was very happy to be given a cot for a couple of days and not have to sleep on the ground.
He seemed very relaxed. We could see in his clear eyes that nature had a positive effect on him. It replaced the omni present technology world he left two months prior. Our son answered our many questions about the camping and other activities the group did every week. There was lots of hiking, but they also did equine therapy, white water rafting, mountain biking, canoeing and rock climbing. Every activity had a purpose of how it related to self improvement, introspection and getting along with others. Positive behaviors replaced negative behavior in thoughts and deed.
After about one half hour the entire group of parents and boys joined in a circle to kick off the first of many circles. One of the boys led us on a mindfulness and breathing exercise. Another led the introductions so we knew why each teen was there at wilderness. Each parent then explained what reasons brought their family to this place as well. We were beginning to feel each other's pain. And we were certainly not alone.
As the sun was setting, we reflected on the "highs" and "lows" of the day. Each person took a turn sharing and when they were done, they "passed" to the next. We heard a word shouted out every now and then by members of the circle, "Aho!" It means "I agree" with what was just said. Most of the boys chimed in and we parents added our "Aho's" as well. When it came time for me to express my "high", it definitely was seeing my son smile. Something so simple, yet so powerful and beautiful, made me happy and teary at the same time.
We were so happy to be together. What happened over the next few days was life changing and wonderful.
About half way through the wilderness program there is an opportunity for parents to come and spend three days in nature with their kids. It is "comfortable camping". It is better than the kids normally experience in there day to day existence, and for the parents is considered "camping with therapy"!
Our trip to "Family Spark" was full of emotion. We flew into Idaho the evening before our expected arrival. We took a walk and then had a very pleasant dinner at AppleBee's! We were expected to meet a shuttle at 8am. There was lots of anticipation in the air.
In the elevator in the morning we saw a couple that had some new REI looking clothing on. I was about to say "wilderness" under my breath, but as expected they ended up on the shuttle with us! The small bus was filled with 19 parents in total. We shared the hour and a half drive together without much interaction. We soon would be sharing our deepest feelings and emotions.
When we arrived at the wilderness program headquarters, we were given large totes to put our non camping clothing and any electronics we brought with us to go into storage for 3 1/2 days. No cell phones, no iPads, nothing but what was on the packing list. It was camping 101 for some. As a group we formed a circle and introduced ourselves briefly and say what our reason for sending our son or daughter to wilderness was.
People were very emotional and the stories were similar, yet individual too. Then we split into a "boys group" and a "girls and younger boys group". We headed off into the high desert for a reunion and a new beginning. I have never been with a more nervous group of parents, including ourselves.
We arrived at our family retreat area that had six large canvas tents and plenty of shade trees. It also had a barn like structure for cooking and a wooden outhouse situated at the far corner of the property. There was no electricity and no electronics were allowed. Peace on earth! For as far as the eyes could see, there was NOTHING. Nothing but nature. Beautiful rolling hills and mesas and lots of cottonwood trees and other ground cover. You could hear the wind blowing in the distance.
We chose our tent and took our bags and placed them inside. There were three sturdy cots lined up ready for our family to camp together for three days. No wonder we were nervous! Then the parents all gathered under the large shade structure and saw a van in the distance. That van was carrying all of our sons! You could hear a pin drop.
The van slowly drove down the hill to the gate. We saw the doors open and out came some boys who picked up their large and heavy backpacks out of the back of the van. The group looked grimy, yet smiling, most carried long walking sticks. The families all took part in embraces. It had been at least seven weeks since everyone had seen each other. It was eight weeks for us. What was our reunion going to be like?
Check back tomorrow to find out.
Filled with emotion, yet hopeful -
This was a tough day on our end. Our son was at a wilderness program in Idaho on his 16th birthday. We were able to scan a birthday card for him and they would print out on his end. You are probably thinking what kind of birthday is that? Well, again we had to take our emotions out of it. As hard as that was to do, we had to focus on the fact that he was actually able to have a 16th birthday. It was not the ideal situation, but hey, difficult times require difficult decisions and that was our summer in a nutshell.
They did have a cake for him. And he wasn't the only kid to have birthday away from home. He was safe and learning things about himself that could serve him well in the future. There was so much to be grateful for: a new day, a new chance to grow, a new perspective and outlook. We were in a parallel process with him, complete with a full of a gambit of emotions.
As the weeks went by, we were able to finally have a phone call with him and his therapist. Everything was always monitored. We he heard our voices for the first time, he immediately broke down into tears. He was extremely emotional during our therapy call. It was shocking, yet touching, because it meant he was actually feeling something.
He stuck to a script of topics and questions. We let him do most of the talking. It wasn't social, but with our limited time, we had to discuss the important reasons we sent him. He said he didn't want to lie to us anymore. He admitted to pushing us away. He said he missed us. Wow, absence does make the heart grow fonder.
The biggest revelation was that he said he didn't realize until he was away, that he did in fact, love us. He tried so hard to keep us at arm's length during the past year, that he rejected the two people who cared for him the most on this planet. And he slowly was opening up his feelings. Very slowly. Another biggie was that he said didn't hate us for sending him. Deep down he had to feel a big relief for not to be living the life he struggled with at home: the negative friends and the negative behaviors. It was exactly what his psychiatrist said it would be: a re-boot!
Happy Birthday Son!
To be continued......
We had plans to go to our cabin for the 4th of July. Originally it was supposed to be with our son and a friend and her mom, but since we had a massive change of events, it became a small family gathering. We did have one uninvited guest. Just before our first weekly phone call with our son's wilderness therapist, a rattlesnake showed up near an old BBQ pit by the cabin.
A rattlesnake always adds a high level of excitement to anyone's day, that's for sure. We had the call and then dealt with the snake later. Well, I actually took pictures from inside the window of the capture and re-location. The snake now has a new home six miles away from the cabin and was last seen happily slithering down a hill. Disaster diverted!
The call went well. We liked his new therapist and felt that we could all do some good work together. It was not going to be easy or quick, but baby steps in a structured environment. We would be receiving letters from our son during his first few weeks of wilderness to help everyone ease into a new "normal". We in turn would answer back. It was old fashioned communication at it's best. His letters were handwritten and we were pleasantly surprised at his "nice" printing and how legible it actually was. We complemented him on what a good writer he was. It had been a long time since we had seen any of his school work, so we had no idea he could write that way.
As I look back on that particular week, I remember feeling very emotional and "raw" inside. I went swimming at the local pool everyday. It is a huge, old time pool with a one foot shallow end that goes up to nine feet in the deep end and has a diving board to boot. I tried to take in the beauty of the local mountains near the cabin and relax as best I could. It was a really "weird" time, but our son was safe and we were all adjusting to our "new" surroundings.
There were no fireworks for us on this particular 4th of July, that is, the kind we had been dealing with from his behavior at home. It was a new beginning, a re-boot, a time for healing. Our son's sixteenth birthday was coming up. How would that be for him in the wilderness? How would it be for us, without him at home? Come back to find out!
Feeling relief and rebuilding new strength,
One of the self-care ideas I had was to start a walk on Fridays for anyone with anything that they were battling. My family's personal struggle is too much technology started taking over our lives. I've had a few different folks join me, but one stand-out friend who comes religiously! We need more people like that in the world, believe you me!
My doggy loves to come along and I like any excuse to walk her. My friend and I chat about what's new in my family's journey and other pressing events. During our walk on this particular Friday morning, I got a call from a number in Idaho.
"I better answer it", I said. It was the Wilderness Program, saying "Everything was fine", but wanted to know if I had received the "parent packet and log-in info for the website".
"YES, I had". I neglected to respond back to their email, so they were checking to be sure.
"Oh, also to let you know your son did well last night (his first in the wilderness) and he participated in the evening group chat, but was a little quiet." What a relief to hear that news! It was still a little bit hard to grasp that we did in fact send our almost 16 year old off to a wilderness program, out of state. I needed all the good news I could get! And so the walk continued.
I have many people who virtually walk with us on Fridays too! Sometimes I'll FaceTime them or text them as I am starting or finishing to include their energy and support. I know there are people who wish they join us, but because of distance or other restrictions, can't make it. I just want you all to know that I'll be walking every week for you, even if you can't be there in person.
Staying strong and still walking,
My teenage son and the two interventionists were on their way to Oakland. We received a text from the "lead" Tyler, when they arrived at the airport. We received another text when they made it through security. And more followed, when they touched down in Las Vegas, the stop on the way to Idaho. Similar texts came they were taking off again, landing and had arrived in Idaho. It was so nice to get these updates through the early morning hours.
We had so much support from our friends and family during this emotional time. They checked in with us throughout the day to see how we were doing. I am saying right now, if one can share hard times with others, it comes back to you big time. People do care and we were so grateful to have "our village". Even with the support, the hours seemed to move in slow motion. We tried to go back to sleep but it didn't really happen.
And then around 12:30 pm, California time we received a call from Tyler. He let us know that our son was successfully delivered to the Wilderness Program, safe and sound! Whew, what a relief! He shared that our son was completely compliant and polite during the trip. The transport went very smoothly.
The only question that our son asked was "How long will I be gone?"
The answer, "A short time". The real answer was most likely between 6-12 weeks. But I'm getting ahead of the story. Be sure to keep following the MY WARRIOR MOM LIFE Blog to get all the details!
Tyler asked if we had any questions for him.
"Did our son know what was happening? Was he suspicious at all?"
"No, he was very surprised", was the response. "He was very quiet, the whole way there".
"Did he sleep on the trip?"
"Yes", according to Tyler. (No, when we later asked our son. He just pretended to be asleep.)
"Did he eat anything?" we asked. "No, not really", according to Tyler. (So much for the bottled water and Hershey's bar I sent along!)
"Did he take his retainer, with his two false teeth attached to it?"
"No, he said he lost it", said Tyler.
(After a couple of years of braces, this was the second custom retainer that he lost in just a few months time! And this one was only two days old! What? That was $700 down the drain! I was angry after hearing that! More on that later!)
We thanked Tyler and told him that he was one of our "angels"! We said that we would be happy to recommend him and his company's services to anyone needing a transport team like we did. Tyler was happy to help. He would turn right around and do the same trip in reverse to make it back home later that same night. Within days, I filled out the questionnaire sent by the transport company and gave everyone high marks!
Within moments of our call with Tyler, we received a call from the Wilderness Program saying that our son was being checked in and about to pick up his clothing and gear. Shortly after that he would be examined by the staff physician and would join up with his new group. I could feel the numbness of our exhausting day beginning to wear off. Whew, what a relief! Our son was safe!
What would this new journey hold for our teen? Would he be angry with us forever for sending him to a Wilderness Program without his knowledge? Could he understand why we decided to send him? So many questions were in the air. Stay tuned to find out the answers.
Full of hope and relief,
The night of the transport finally arrived. I had spoken to the Lead Interventionist earlier in the week as to what to expect. He was so nice and caring and it made it a lot easier to know what was going to happen, in advance. There would be two men, both trained professionals in this field, to make this transport work. Neither would lay a finger on our son. They use encouraging words and positive speech to get a kid from Point A to Point B. And they have years of experience. Some might have even been a troubled youth in their own past.
In our case, Point A was a small town in the San Francisco Bay Area and Point B was a small town in southern Idaho. It was all planned out. They would arrive at our house at 3am. We would meet outside to go over the "script" and get on the same page with them. At this time, we put our little doggy in our car, since we were going to leave the premises in a bit, too.
As we greeted the two men, we saw how calm and confident they were. We hugged them immediately because we had come to think of them as our "angels". I had read testimonials from other parents who had been through this exact moment and one of them called the men "angels". So we did too. And that's how we were able to get through this most difficult moment. One of the toughest since we had been parents, without a doubt!
We were very concerned that our son would be angry with us and not go along with the plan. We had no idea what his reaction would be and how long it would take to get him out of the house. The average time is about an hour or so, we were told. They always have a Plan B, just in case there is resistance. The goal was to take an early morning flight out of Oakland International Airport. At no time would our son be left alone. One man drives, the other takes the plane and a third man meets them on the other end to drive the rest of the way to the Wilderness Program.
The four of us walked into our son's bedroom (the room without a door). I turned on the light. He looked pretty much awake and sat up, a little surprised. I said in a calm voice (I never knew I could be an actress until this moment), "Leo and Tyler are going to take you to a Wilderness Program today and they will take very good care of you. We love you". My son rolled over towards his wall and then I caught a glance and a wink from Tyler". I think he meant, "We've got this".
We left the house very quickly and started driving towards the downtown area of town. It was surreal and very emotional. All the time we had been trying to decide what to do for our struggling teenager was coming to a climax. In less than twenty minutes we received a text that they were "On our way". What? How is that even possible? "The phone is on the charger". OMG! That hasn't happened in two years. How did they do that?
I was able to pack our son a small bag, for the trip. In it was bottle of water, a candy bar and a Star Wars book. He left with the clothes on his back because he would be given everything he needed at the Wilderness Program once he arrived.
Come back tomorrow to see how the rest of my son's trip went. Were there any hiccups on beginning of his new journey?
Feeling HUGE relief and a bag of mixed emotions,
We completed all the paperwork for the Wilderness Program. We arranged for the transport company to come and take our sixteen year old son, in the middle of the night, without his knowledge. And yes, it is absolutely the one of the most difficult decisions a parent can ever make. But we had a chance to save his live. That's it.
We had to think of it in a positive way. His life was spiraling downward. We were finding out about alcohol incidents that previously had been just marijuana use. Our house was like a hotel to him during the three weeks of summer vacation. He slept there, ate a late night meal there and was gone for the rest of the time. With who knows whom and who knows where. He was checking in less and less and I was always worried.
I called his friends, I texted his friends. They were really getting annoyed with me asking questions, but what else could I do? He seemed depressed and anxious at the same time. On the afternoon before the "big night" he asked me to take him to get some electronic supplies. I reluctantly said, "Fine." On the way out of town, I rear ended a tow truck in front of his old middle school. Things like that happen for a reason. Thankfully, no one was hurt, but when I asked my son to retrieve our license plate which fell of the car into the intersection, he said, "No way, do you want me to get hit?". WOW, thanks for caring, is what I felt. He got out of the car and started walking home when I told him that I wasn't taking him to buy anything.
I tried to not think about what was ahead later that evening, so I went to try my hand at the game of pickle ball with a friend. It was a great distraction and an awesome workout. I ran into a couple of moms who were from our nursery school many year ago. As we talked, they asked about our son. I told them the whole story. Talk about stopping a conversation. I was very emotional.
The night before that we had a nice dinner with our son and the friend who took him to school during the last weeks of his freshman year. It was a thank you dinner to the friend and we all had a great time. Except, we knew what was coming and they did not. It was so hard not spilling the beans and acting natural, but we hung on and were able to do it. We talked about fun things we liked to do and of the future. It was surreal!
For some unknown reason, our son was home by 8:30 or 9pm the night of the transport. He watched some movies on his phone in his room and then started making grilled cheese sandwiches around 11 or 12 pm. I heard cereal being poured into a bowl after that. There were lots of noises coming from the kitchen. I tried to sleep but couldn't. I had an alarm set for 2:55 am. The guys (two large men: one played in the NFL and the other was bigger!) texted to say they would be arriving at 3 am. As soon as they arrive, we would go over the game plan first before anything else, outside the front gate.
Come back to the blog tomorrow to hear how it all went.
Trying to stay calm,
After filling out the LONG online application for the Wilderness Program our son would be going to, we were given a TO DO list a mile long to make it happen. And we had to keep all of this a secret and under wraps or he would resist. The list of things we needed to get accomplished was scheduling a physical exam with the pediatrician, getting an up-to-date dental exam, ordering another retainer (since he lost one previously) and a finding a host of other things that needed to be scanned. I needed to find his report cards, student ID and get images of the front and back of the health insurance card. We needed to re-arrange big money and free up some room on our credit cards in order to pay for everything.
It seemed overwhelming but it actually gave me an action list of things TO DO each day, so I was occupied. The last thing I wanted to do was to tip our hand and give away the Big Secret. So, we went on lock down. Any conversation we had with friends and family was on a different topic. No more posts on Facebook. The hardest part was that I still had to converse with other parents of our son, since he went "missing in action" a number of nights. I told them nothing.
My son would take his cell phone, but then go to places that had little or no coverage. He would take an extra charger, yet his phone would go "dead". What a pain it was to try and communicate with him. Things couldn't get worse, could they? YES! However, I knew we were on the right track, when at my son's physical appointment, I asked to speak privately to the Doctor before he gave the exam. I told him what was up, and he firmly "shook" my hand when I told him our plan. "Way to go!" he said. I felt empowered. This was the same doctor that examined our two day old infant son and said he was a bit jaundiced so, "Give him a sun bath" for a few minutes. The same doctor that treated a young boy with the stomach flu and pink eye. Now we were dealing with not going to school, screen addiction and marijuana. How did this happen? No one tells you it actually gets harder, not easier!
The last piece of the puzzle was giving the final okay to the Wilderness program and setting up the transport company. It was getting down to the wire. There was one final spot saved for our son for the end of June or we would have to wait another month to begin. NO MORE WAITING! We confirmed the dates and then had to get through three seemingly long weeks without giving the secret away. Find out if we did it in tomorrow's blog post.
Breathing a sigh of relief,
It was strikingly clear that our decision was the right one. Wilderness it was. But how would we know which one? Our Education Consultant said it was all about the people. And she knew most of them working at these places, from her years in the field. She also said don’t go looking around the internet because they can all paint a wonderful picture with a well done website, which made perfect sense.
I wanted to get a sense of what the therapy part of the Wilderness programs were like, so a family member gave me a set of videos from their child’s experience six years before at a program in Utah. I watched it and started to get sense what a gift the nature component played in helping kids. Their brains needed to have the serenity of the earth and it’s elements to relax and change.
The world was moving too quickly for some and out of control for many, including my son. Along with his ADHD which appears to create a lag in his development, so does using massive amounts of technology. The cherry on top was the abuse of substances like marijuana. So my fifteen year old was at least two years behind in his emotional development. WOW!
I was at my rope’s end so I posted something on Facebook that showed my vulnerability. It said something like: "Not sure what the future holds, private school, boarding school or wilderness?" Very simple, but lots of my friends responded. “Hang in there!” and “This too shall pass” were in the comments back to me. And then along side of my posting was an ad for Blue Fire Wilderness. It said something like “Wilderness Therapy Programs can help get kids and teens lives back on track - Call today”.
So I called. A very sympathetic voice answered and talked with me for about forty-five minutes. He was so caring and helpful by answering my questions that I wanted to check it out. In fact he told me he knew our Ed. Consultant. So we mentioned this place to her and though it was fairly new (since 2014), it was in the same location as a well known program before it, so she knew a little bit about it from that perspective.
We filled out the online application which is daunting to say the least. I was like a “mad woman” typing quickly to fill in all the questions of what led us to the position we were in currently. We did compare it to another program that our Ed. Consultant suggested and it was a toss up. Both were exactly what we were looking for. The tipping point had to do with Equine Therapy and the activity based model that Blue Fire Wilderness used.
The other program was outstanding and I also filled out an application there, too. Boy what a ton of work, but it was formalizing our need to send our son. A big question was the cost. These places are not cheap. Seriously, not cheap (over $500 per day, yes per day!) We are still waiting to hear if were will get any compensation from our insurance company, but we worked on our finances and increased our line of credit and we were off to the races. It's only money right, when you are talking about saving your son's life?
Come back tomorrow to see how we kept this secret in the weeks before the admission date was scheduled. There were many ducks to put into a row, it kept us all very busy!
As each day ended, I would take a deep breath and say to myself, "Well, got through another day". Honestly, that is no way to live! The stress was killing us! We had to come to a decision of how we were going to get more help, and quick.
We talked to therapists, consultants, school administrators, friends and fellow parents about private schools, boarding schools, boot camps, alternative schools and wilderness programs. We continued to encourage our son to go to his weekly therapy session that cost a bundle. We read books and blogs about teens. We talked to family members who worked in schools and in counseling. We had to exhaust all possibilities before making the last resort decision of wilderness.
Then as the session with our son's psychiatrist was finishing up, the Doctor called me into the office, alone.
"Did you know that your son was HIGH today for his appointment?" he asked.
"No, really?" I sighed. "Well that's it. He is so going to Wilderness!" I exclaimed.
What a blow that was and how sad I felt. This was not going to be easy, but we had no other choice. It was a matter of saving his life. He was only fifteen!
The next day I called a "transport company" recommended by our Education Consultant. They explained how they worked and what was involved in getting our son to a wilderness program. I took notes so I would remember, because my brain was now in a huge blanket of fog. I asked some questions and went online to fill out the application and paperwork.
Wow, this was getting very REAL! But it actually was decided for us. NONE of us could continue to deal with the day to day "BALONEY" (you fill in any word you like here) that consumed our family. It had to stop and we needed more help.
That weekend I made another call, too. This one was to the Wilderness Program we selected. There were many considerations. Come back to tomorrow to find out how we chose the place we did! "Hello, my son is flunking out of school and smoking marijuana everyday and never gets off his phone......Can you help us?"
My son has a friend who is just plain awesome. She cares about him and she stays above the fray! She is a gift. How so? Well it goes like this.....
My son decided that going to school wasn't in his wheel house. He decided to just stay home. I would call his absence into the office or I would let the record show that he didn't attend. I did it both ways. Finally I got a call from the Administration. Wow they noticed. How about that? They didn't think he was a real truant, just someone failing his classes. Hmm....This went on for weeks. He didn't get arrested. He didn't go to school. I just stayed home from work to watch him. A really productive time for me and for him too!
So, as the school year was coming to a close, with just three weeks left, my son's friend pounded on the front window of our house! I answered the door and she said, "I've come to take your child to school!" I said, "Come on in....go get him!" Off they went. He was so happy to have someone care, that it was totally worth it!
As so, she was able to do what no one else had be able to do. She got him to school. Day after day, she knocked at 7:20-7:30 AM and they walked, or rode bikes, and he went to school. It was a miracle. Then one day, she didn't arrive....well, you can guess the rest....he didn't go that day. She had overslept and was so apologetic when we saw her the following week.
During my daily noon time walk, I saw some high school kids hanging out near the creek, a couple blocks away from campus. Who were they? Yup, our son and some of his not so good influences. So while he was getting TO school, it didn't actually translate to his going to his classes. I didn't even care, he was out of the house. I was getting really tired of his Freshman year!
Our goal was to get to the end of the school year in one piece. And we had other plans starting to formulate. Come back tomorrow to find out what we where up to! Countdown......
Still caring and hopeful,
The weeks following our Spring Break Disneyland trip were up and down and it became very clear that we needed to take care of ourselves. I asked my therapist what exactly does "take care of yourself" really mean? She explained it was about doing things that you like, along with getting plenty of exercise. I've also heard it explained like when the flight attendant tells parents to put the oxygen mask on first, then assist your child. You come first, or you can't help your kid!
The community pool up the street re-opened in April. I began swimming in that pool five to six days a week. My routine was not hard core, but a slow and steady series of laps that were more like "water aerobics". Sitting elementary back stroke, breast stroke and a rock climbing motion through the water were just a few of the moves I did. I would increase my time each day until I reached an average of 45 minute work-outs. Boy, did I feel good after getting out of the pool. The water had a calming effect that I was craving. It was my much needed escape.
Another activity that I enjoy is shooting baskets. So after leaving the neighborhood pool, I would pass a school yard that had many basketball hoops. What do you know? There were some basketballs lying around. So, I started to shoot. First close up shots, then free-throws and then further away, three point style. I didn't make them all, but I shot and shot until I made 50 points (25 baskets). That activity felt good too. I was beginning to get the idea of self-care.
I was actually enjoying myself in the middle of a "teenage storm" at our house. I still felt crummy a lot of the time, but as I tried to "be in the moment" and "put one foot in front of the other". I was beginning to feel a little bit of relief, too. In fact, I highly recommend that you find your own personal activities to aid you in the self-help arena. What types of activities or hobbies give you pleasure? What is something that you've always wanted to take up? Or, what things have you put aside from your past that you can re-kindle? I was finally understanding what people meant when they told me "take care of yourself".
Keeping my eye on the ball!
Disneyland is the happiest place on Earth! So what better way to get our family mojo back but to take a driving trip from NorCal to Anaheim during Spring Break. We had the brilliant idea of inviting our nephew to join us and that turned out to be a life saver. We had such a great time and a week of togetherness and happiness. But could it last?
Our son and his cousin have a special relationship built on a time when he lived with us for one and half years in his early 20's. He was getting on his feet after some tough times, but we all enjoyed our shared time together. The two are about ten years apart and our son looks up to his "chill" cousin (that's a good thing!). They both love computers, gaming and have similar music tastes, so the long drive was very pleasant surprise. We have always said that our son travels well! And that was the exact case with this adventure.
The trip almost didn't happen. The Friday before the vacation, our son decided he would just stay home in bed and not go to school. It was becoming a regular practice but there was not much we could do about it. He was bigger than we were and he ignored any attempts in regular conversation. The practice of the day was "just keeping the peace". After 3pm (about the time school would have be out of session), our son came out of his room and started watching Star Wars movies in the family room. He seemed happier and so "we ran with it". After watching about three different movies, we said that we were going to change gears and turn on something else.
It was not clear what triggered his rage, but he didn't like what we said and threw the remote control from the TV at us. It missed the TV, but hit one of us. It was escalating quickly. I said that I was going to call the Police and he rushed us trying to get our iPhone. We were very clear with him that if he demonstrated any physical behavior it would result in our calling the cops. He said he was leaving. I've never seen him move so quickly, but he put on shoes and grabbed his backpack and he left the house.
The police showed up right away and another cop car stopped our son and told him to get in. It was not something that we took lightly but we were showing that if we said something, we meant it and they wouldn't be just "hollow words". Our son was very polite and listened to the officers as they said this was a warning and his behavior was not acceptable. We were in fact making a strong point, that our safety was paramount.
This happened about ten pm on that Friday night. The next few days were peaceful and quiet. We had no idea if our trip on Wednesday would even be possible. But as with many things, as time passes by, so do ill feelings and actions. Our nephew showed up at our designated departure time and off we went as planned a few days after our traumatic incident happened.
Our new tone was set and we showed him that we would be setting boundaries that couldn't be broken. It is a really hard thing to admit that we had to call the cops on our son, but we know it was the right thing to do.
As we were standing in line to meet Darth Vader and saw our son's smiling face when he met the Star Wars icon, we knew that at least for a moment, we could be happy together. Inside this young person was someone that was lost and needed to find himself again.
The trip was a success and we headed home after a few days at the Happiest Place on Earth.
Full of Love,
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!
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