During our weekly therapy Skype call with our son, he told us some sad news. His first adopted calf, "Cheese" died. We were shocked. We knew from the previous week's call that "Cheese" was sick and not wanting to eat, and yet he had been doing a bit better. This news hit us like a ton of bricks.
Cheese was "given" to our son to take care of as part of the experiential learning opportunity called the Calf Rescue Program at Discovery Ranch. It's a wonderful chance for the kids to learn to care for, have empathy for and have big time responsibilities. The boys feed the newborn calves, no matter the weather and the calves depend on the boys for survival. There are so many lessons to learn: empathy, caring, service and thinking about something other than yourself. Many of the boys may have attachment issues as well as others things like: abandonment, loss and grief. This unique program can help with many of those issues, too.
We met "Cheese" at our Parent Days visit, last October, when he was just a week old. My son fed him a bottle three times a day. As "Cheese" grew, he was moved to the junior lot. During this time, our son's "job" at the Ranch was Feeding Manager. He was in charge of filling the bottles with special formula, with the help of the other boys. They also had to make sure the animals had water, hay and clean pens and hutches.
Unfortunately, there were other calves that died recently, too. But life goes on, and our son recently received his second calf. Hopefully this calf will be stronger and more able to survive. Life is full of lessons when you care for living beings. Loss is one of the toughest of all.
We know our son did a good job caring for "Cheese". RIP "Cheese". We will miss you. You felt like part of the family. You even made the back of our Christmas card this year.
With a sad heart,
It has been a little over six months since my son went to a Wilderness Therapy Program and then a Residential Treatment center after that. He celebrated his 16th birthday in the Idaho desert. He has been sober for that whole time and without using any electronic devices, so his brain is getting a chance to not only re-boot, but to thrive. It has been completely worth the enormous expense, financially and emotionally. We are now living in a place of strength instead of fear.
People have called us brave as parents. Some have said they could never do what we did. But, last June were at the end of our ropes and frankly, life wasn't a bowl of cherries during our son's early teenage years. We had no more options. It is tough to be a teen these days. There is so much going on: instant communication and news, pressures about one's future, social anxiety, depression AND digital addiction. We worried about what he was watching, what he was playing (video games), who he was texting, who he was hanging out with......the list goes on.
We tried keeping the "conversation" going. We tried to meet his friends, get to know their parents, provide activities that we could do as a family, eat dinner together. As things went south, we knew things were getting "unsafe" for our son. His local high school wasn't helping matters either. There was an abundance of marijuana and other drugs. My own fear escalated on a daily basis. I sought help to feel better and learn new strategies to cope.
The more I shared about the situation, the more I discovered that I am not alone. I met parents in the same boat, school wise, drug wise, technology wise. The more I opened up, the more others shared their similar stories with me. Wow, there is a BIG club out there! Layer by layer, as we found our way with the help of many professionals, our lives began to lighten up. We sent our son away, which led us to begin the process of amazing self discovery. We can flip this boat around! We can do it. We don't have to be afraid. We will get stronger. And stronger. And stronger.
Yes, there are days that aren't as good, emotionally. But there is strength in numbers. We met some great parents at the Wilderness Retreat. We met some great parents at the RTC (residential treatment center) Parent Days. We have learned that there are phases one goes through in this CLUB. Yes, there is relief initially, then it turns to acceptance and then it turns into strength. We are so much better for having been through all of our challenges. It's called living! We love our son. We miss our son! But we have him back as our son! And he is alive! And he is thriving!
No situation is perfect. We aren't perfect. He isn't perfect. We will make mistakes, he will make mistakes. We can learn from them. We can discuss our feelings and emotions. We will grow! Of course, no one knows what the future will hold for any of us. We take steps forward and a few steps backwards. That's okay. We have a lot of information we didn't before. We are not alone. Our journey continues. One day at a time. One step in front of the other. Breathing! Being grateful for what we've been through.
I am strong! I am no longer afraid.
I am standing tall!
It was around 7:30 pm and we decided to drive around and check out all the Christmas lights and decorations folks had put up in the neighborhoods. The amazing part that this was Thanksgiving Weekend and the lights were already up in mass! It was spectacular!
One of the staff at the RTC (residential treatment center) told us about a drive-thru light experience in a nearby town. What the heck! When in Rome........do as the Romans do! We pulled up to the "Festival of Lights" and paid our $7 (per vehicle). We were instructed to tune our car radio to a particular FM station. Christmas music surrounded us! Off we went on a slow driving journey around a darkened golf course transformed into a magical light experience. It was amazing and FUN! Reindeer and elves and snowmen and Santas were all a glow! It was something we will never forget. And we enjoyed it as a family!
On the way back to the RTC, we had a family meeting. This was part of a contract we all agreed upon before our visit to Utah. This type of meeting is something the boys do every evening. We also did a version of it called "nightly check-in" at the family retreat in Wilderness with our son and the group at large. It's a nice way of re-capping what worked and what needed improvement during our day. Some of our comments are below:
"It was a good day. We talked about lots of different subjects. We achieved our goal of having fun! We listened to each other. It was one of the best days together in a very long time."
"It was nice to be able to open up and not hide anything. We did a pretty good job of listening to each other. I can't think of anything I'd change. I can't wait until tomorrow."
We arrived back at the RTC and checked our son in. We gave the staff in charge a short summary of our day and then said our good-byes for the night. We would head back to our hotel and see our son bright and early at 9am the next morning.
The new day began at the local iHOP. Our son just realized what the letters in iHOP stood for: International House of Pancakes! It's funny what we tune into in our environments. There was every kind of pancake imaginable on the menu. Our son's choice was "Red Velvet" pancakes. We had "Senior Samplers", a combo of eggs and pancakes. We felt like we went backwards in time. We were not sure when the last time we went to an iHOP had been.
After breakfast, we headed to the Aquarium. It may not be the Monterrey Bay Aquarium, but it was this one was really nice. It was built in 2014 and had some wonderful exhibits and displays including a shark walkway that is sort of creepy and fun at the same time! We had a great time! We were able to experience another day together and enjoy each other's company. We were so thankful.
Our day continued with some lunch and another adventure drive, this time towards the Sundance Resort. We found out quickly that the "back way" was closed for the season, so we stopped at the turn around and took some quick family pictures. Our smiles showed genuine happiness! We just might have captured THE picture for our Christmas card this year.
As the day concluded we were all becoming exhausted and a little quieter and introspective. Our time together was coming to an end. I think I know how Cinderella felt when the clock struck twelve! Would this new enjoyable way of being a family, simply disappear? Or would we be able to build on this weekend for our future growth as people and as a family? We said our "so long for nows" (much better than good-bye!) and left with a few tears. Our son re-joined his group of boys and watched an Adam Sandler movie.
"See you in a month! We'll be back at Christmas!"
We took a morning flight to Salt Lake City from Oakland International Airport. Picked up the rental car and headed south to begin our 2 1/2 day visit with our son. We had our family Thanksgiving meal the day before and so did he with staff, other students and some parents at his residential treatment center. We heard they had a feast and lots of pie!
We were filled with excitement and anticipation when we arrived to pick him up. He was ready and greeted us warmly with hugs. We signed him out and were reminded of our mutual contract, signed verbally over Skype earlier in the week. Our son agreed to it also. He was to never leave our sight. If there was a bathroom break, we stood outside of the door. I am glad to say we never had a problem and it went very smoothly.
We headed out towards one of the big malls in the Provo area seeking a movie theatre. There are plenty of Cinemark Theatres throughout the area to choose from. We decided to have some dinner before seeing Thor: Ragnarok with Chris Hemsworth. We were all very happy to see each other after our last visit for Parent Days a month before. The conversation was a bit one sided with all of our questions, but we are working on communication, so there is room for improvement.
After the dinner (we had burgers) and the movie we made some family phone calls. Our son is not supposed to use any technology, so I dialed and held my iPhone within range of all of us in the car. We talked to Grandma and some cousins and everyone was happy to hear from our sixteen year old. From our parking space at the mall we saw what looked like an obstacle course of Christmas lights. Cars headed toward the "Enter" sign and turned off their headlights and zigged and zagged through the maze of flashing and pulsating lights. I googled the attraction and was surprised to see that it cost $25 per car. It seemed a bit high priced.
We headed back to the RTC (residential treatment center) to return our son by 9 pm and checked him in with staff. On our way we had a required "family meeting" which covered: What went well, what didn't go well. We each took turns answering those questions. The goal for the weekend was to "have a good time", so we were definitely successful on the first night. We said our goodbyes, shared some hugs and would return in the morning for our next adventure.
We headed back to our Holiday Inn Express and were happy to be able to spend time with our son. It felt like a long time since we enjoyed a movie as a family and had a meal without technology in the middle of it. The next morning we had plans to check out the Provo Recreation Center. "WOW" is all I can say! What a place! It had everything and the price was right! A day pass was $5 for adults and $4 for under 18.
We took a tour of the place and decided to come back in the afternoon after lunchtime. We played ping pong, pool and table top shuffleboard (not sure of the real name of this fun game). We swam in the pool, floated along the lazy river, jumped off the cliff (platform), sped down the water slide, climbed the rock wall and fell back into the water. It was so much fun! There were tons of families there too!
To be continued.....(find out what else we did during our Utah visit in the next blog post!)
As they say on postcards, "We are having a great time and wish you were here......"
From the John Waite song MISSING YOU:
"Everytime I think of you, I always catch my breath
And I'm still standing here, and you're miles away".
I have many MOM moments like this because my son is at an RTC (resdential treatment center)/school in another state. I'm sure it's natural, but every once in a while that feeling of "missing you" comes over me.
I know he is safe. I know he is doing well. I know it's WAY BETTER than just four months ago, but it still gets me. There is a bittersweetness too it all, he is only sixteen. I also realize this is not a permanent state and that he will come home again. It won't be anytime soon, however. Until then, the house is quieter and much neater. I don't go to Safeway every day to shop for groceries. The water bill is lower, but the little everyday activities are not the same in our house. We could have used his help with the decorations and the treat or treaters on Halloween, that's for sure.
I am sure on his end, he is thinking many of the same thoughts about being away from home. Yes, he has structure and lots of people who care around him. He is doing a lot of fun activities: a ropes course, lots of board games, feeding his newborn calf and hopefully some school work. I wonder if he gets sad at night when he goes to sleep? I wonder how often he thinks of his doggy at home and the way she "growled" at him when he tried to pick her up? I wonder how much he misses his old life, even if it wasn't working, because it was easier?
I write this blog because I want to help others going through struggles with their teenagers. I also write it to help myself, because it does. Right now I have a lump in my throat and a few tears in my eyes, but that's okay. I will be okay. I have to be!
Reflecting on life,
P.S. And the weekly letter just came from the Ranch, from our son and it's super cute. He says he's making friends, just got a job as a manager filling the calves food and is having a really good time! I am a Happy Mom!
It is the end of the 31 day Ultimate Blog Challenge and I have enjoyed writing about our story everyday this month. I will continue with the My Warrior Mom Life Blog on a less frequent basis, but probably not every day. For those who have been regulars, thank you so much for joining me on this journey. For those who have stopped by now and then, thank you, too. I hope you will visit again soon!
For the final day of October, better known as Halloween, I want to write about our wonderful visit with our son for Family Days last week. Each quarter the school has an event where parents come to the campus and engage in workshops and talks with a theme related to helping us with our struggling teenagers. This quarter the topic was "Boundaries". We listened, shared and practiced. Everything about the three days on campus had meaning and purpose. It was very well organized and obviously was well thought out and executed.
The biggest take-away was that we are NOT alone. There are MANY families in our same boat. There were other parents going through similar situations AND other teens going through rough patches, too. We felt the power in the process and were open to learning what we could in our few days in Utah. We didn't know what to expect, having only experienced a family therapy retreat at our wilderness program in August. We were sure that it would be beneficial and help re-establish boundaries for our family.
We ate meals together, played games together (including Knock-out on the basketball court) and helped feed our son's calf early one morning. It was so nice to be a family again. We met other families from all over the US. We learned that many of the boys had also been to a wilderness experience and were now doing well. Our son was doing well. He smiled and talked and played. WOW! What a difference even in the short time at school (about one month's time). We were very happy. We felt like we were living a miracle, and yet stay so grateful and humble.
But as our three days came to an end, we experienced something that really knocked our socks off and brought us to tears. The boys performed in a variety show. Some played music and and sang. Others performed skits from famous musicals or shows they enjoyed like a scene from Monty Python and the dance from Michael Jackson's Thriller. Since our son was a newbie, his participation was limited to the last song they all performed together. They lined up around the stage in white t-shirts, black pants and smiling faces.
Then the music began and it was a well known song that immediately gave me chills and began my flow of tears. The boys started singing the recognizable lyrics made famous by the band Journey in the early 1980's. When they got to the chorus and sang "Don't stop believin'" it was clear they were telling us parents to NOT GIVE UP on them. They were working hard to earn our trust, set their lives straight again and head towards a brighter future. But we MUST do it together.
Just a small town girl
Livin' in a lonely world
She took the midnight train goin' anywhere
Just a city boy
Born and raised in south Detroit
He took the midnight train goin' anywhere
A singer in a smokey room
A smell of wine and cheap perfume
For a smile they can share the night
It goes on and on, and on, and on
Don't stop believin'
Hold on to the feelin'
Don't stop believin'
Don't stop believin'
Hold on to the feelin'
Up and down the boulevard
Their shadows searching in the night
Living just to find emotion
Hiding somewhere in the night
Working hard to get my fill
Everybody wants a thrill
Payin' anything to roll the dice
Just one more time
Some will win, some will lose
Some were born to sing the blues
Oh, the movie never ends
It goes on and on, and on, and on
Don't stop believin'
Hold on to the feelin'
Don't stop believin'
Don't stop believin'
Hold on to the feelin'
I won't stop believing! Thanks for reading and for your support!
The process for parents with kids at a wilderness program, therapeutic boarding school or residential treatment center is plain and simple. Change is necessary. It isn't easy but, if the kids must change, so must the parents. It's called a Parallel Process.
There are dozens of recommended books that are important to read and take to heart. I have listed some of the books that I am currently reading. They can help parents and families see what changes may be necessary to have positive outcomes. This list is just a starting point for self-discovery and breaking old patterns. They are filled with many valuable lessons and practical advice. I will be adding more titles in future blog posts, but for now I suggest this short list of books that I have liked:
The Parallel Process by Krissy Pozateck, LICSW
Growing Alongside Your Adolescent or Young Adult Child in Treatment
Not By Chance by Tim R. Thayne, Ph.D.
How Parents Boost Their Teen's Success In and After Treatment
The Family Crucible by Augustus Y. Napier, Ph.D with Carl Whitaker M.D.
The Intense Experience of Family Therapy
The Journey of the Heroic Parent by Brad M. Reedy Ph.D.
Your Child's Struggle & The Road Home
I Don't Have to Make Everything All Better by Gary Lundberg and Joy Lundberg
Six Practical Principles that Empower Others to Solve Their Own Problems While Enriching Your Relationships
Are there any books that you recommend to other parents with kids in treatment that you want to share? I am asking for titles of some of your favorites. Please comment below.
Hopefully changing for the better,
Routines are seldom exciting. Routines can be rather dull. But our new routine was different than most because our son is away at school. And the school is more than just the normal boarding school because they deal with struggling teens. There are lots of rules and expectations of how to get along. There are levels that one moves up through to get more privileges and freedoms.
Our son began at Level One which is better than some. Since he went to a wilderness program he jumped ahead of the Orientation Level. I'm not clear on all the aspects of the levels but, there is information in the Parent Handbook that explains it all. Frankly, it's a lot to digest. Happily, our son is doing what he's supposed to to and getting along with staff and peers. The main thing that he's lacking is the ability to open up.
Why does he have to open up you might ask? Well in addition to school, they are teaching communication skills, values and goals. In order to move forward, one needs to learn to get to the root of why their parents sent them there. Or as if often referred to in slang, "when the wheels fell off the bus". The new setting gives the students a chance to work on self-improvement by doing daily and weekly chores among other activities.
Some of the chores include doing their personal laundry weekly, cleaning the house they live in. And yes, that means the bathroom and vacuuming, as well as making their beds daily. Everything needs to be tidy and neat. Try that with any group of teenage boys and you might have some difficulties. But if you want to move up to another level, then these things get done. And a habit will become routine when practiced daily and weekly. So there is a lot of repetition and learning by doing. A mom's dream environment.
Keeping a schedule can create good habits. They rise at seven am, they take care of personal care, then PE! After that, they eat breakfast. Then they feed their calves. A little housekeeping and then some therapy with their personal or group therapist depending on the day of the week. A little free time, lunch, shower and then school. What? Yup, they go to school beginning at 4 pm every day.
More about that tomorrow, so come back to read about how this school turns education on it's head!
We received our first letter rather unexpectedly. It came as email attachment. When I double clicked on it, I saw a handwritten note about twelve lines long. It was a bit faint and was obviously scanned by the staff at the residential treatment center (RTC) where he is now located. We later found out there is a weekly assignment for all the students to send a letter to their parents.
The best part of the letter is reading how much he says he misses us. Awwww..... What more can a parent ask for? As a general rule and something I believe in doing, when one receives a letter, one must respond back. Years ago when I held a "cute" letter writing club for my son and his fellow first grade classmates, I made them take an oath stating just that. "If I receive a letter in the mail, I promise to write that person back." I'm sticking to that pledge, after all, everyone enjoys getting mail!
And so, we began to write our response back to our sixteen year old teen. We answered a few of his questions about how grandma was and the dog, too. We also asked him a few questions of our own. The primary reason for this letter and future ones to come is therapeutic in nature, however. Social and personal business aside, this will become a way to address many of our family issues, including topics of social media use, negative friends and technology addiction.
We are all settling into our new life with our son being gone at the RTC/school a couple of states away. Our first letters were warm and friendly. There would be plenty of time for our therapy assignment letters. Next up was to write an "impact letter" to our son. We were able to use the same one we sent to him for wilderness, but added an addendum of things to made it current. We send our letters by typing them and then using email. On the other end, it gets printed out and handed to him, when the staff does mail call.
Our communication will also include Skype calls for weekly therapy, along with old fashioned letter writing. Sometimes it's easier to write things than it is to say them. It's nice to have a combination of both. We are all trying to improve our relationship! That's what he has told us and many of the staff at his new RTC. Moving forward!
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!