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,
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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