This past month has been a very exciting time for my 17 1/2 year old son! He has started a new program in a new area of Utah. This program is what is known as a "Step Down" program in the treatment world. It is a small co-ed, boarding prep school with only 37 total students and a place of many possibilities towards a bright future! Much of what he learned at his Residential Treatment Center (RTC) will be put to the test quite quickly! It will be a perfect place to practice!
We left the Ranch last week on a Thursday and drove down to Southern Utah with a car full of clothing, boots, binders and memories! The exact day and time of the departure was kept under wraps by the staff, as close to the last minute as possible, so the students keep participating and working on their issues. In my son's case, he had a vague idea of when he would be leaving, but not the exact day and time. We challenged him to continue to put in the work, in what would be his final weeks of his almost 17 month stay. He was ready and we were ready! He had learned all that they could offer and succeeded in many aspects during his time there.
One of the biggest achievements was that he finished Geometry, and took his final test (a re-test) and passed with 100% on his next to last day! Days earlier he had only scored a 47% on that same exam. In fact he passed three tests during his last week, which helped quite a bit. He had been ready to give up and accept a half credit for the course just weeks prior. But we as parents and his therapist pushed him into getting the studying done! We told him that if he completed Geometry, he would never have to take that class again, ever! Geometry was not his favorite subject (and who can blame him for thinking that!) but he did get the job done and WOW you could see his pride and excitement when he told us all about it on his final day at the RTC. My son also shared he that decided to skip his team's basketball game (his did have a sore wrist, but still getting off campus was always a treat) and so he hit the books in order to finish this daunting math class! It was one of the first times that he directly saw the pay-off for actually doing the difficult work! It was a huge accomplishment!
Another big moment for the kids leaving The Ranch is coming up with a "brand" and having it burned into the wall at the entry of the Administration Building and another on a take-away plaque to keep. There are so many unique symbols from every boy who had left prior to my son. It is considered a very special ritual and as we were landing at the Salt Lake City Airport, his therapist texted pictures to us. We would miss that moment in person, but would be able to participate in the "Goodbye Group" with his fellow students, many staff members and mentors.
As we entered the Bunkhouse, where my son had lived since the very end of September 2017, he warmly greeted us with the biggest smile imaginable! He remembered that is was my birthday and even told me, "Happy Birthday"! Those words were the best gift I could receive! I was very moved! As we were getting ready to begin the Goodbye Group, the boys in the bunkhouse all started singing "Happy Birthday" in unison. That really floored me! Even with prompting from the staff, they were able to show their sweet sides to another parent in their group! That put a big smile on my face!
There is a designated couch at one end of the main room where my son and the two of us sat. He spoke into a small hand held recording device and announced that it was his Goodbye Group, the date and then paused it, as he passed it to the first boy sitting to his right. They each turned on the recorder, introduced themselves and offered words of wisdom, encouragement or memories of my son and their joint time at The Ranch. Some spoke a short time, some a little longer, but all the messages were heartfelt and very thoughtful. The staff members all participated and added their advice and remarks to and about my son. Our son's therapist had a couple of quotes that rang true as perfect advice for his future. One was from Mohammed Ali, though I can not recall what the quote was at present. My son will get a copy of all these special sentiments and will be able to listen to them later.
As the recorder was handed to me, I was overcome with emotions. I was going to miss this place, even though it was difficult having my son so far away from home. This place, that was a safe haven for my son. A place that gave him confidence in himself, where he took care of newborn calves, where he rode horses each week, where he did his own laundry, performed in the Parent Day's Variety shows and succeeded in school! There were so many thoughts and memories swirling in my head, I had to focus on what I was going to say to him as my parting words from the RTC that was his home and school for over a year!
I turned the recorder on, and couldn't speak. His therapist was quick to retrieve a box of Kleenex as I gathered myself. It was very silent and then tears began running down my cheeks. My first words were, "WAY TO GO!" You did it. It may have been longer than we all thought it would be, but YOU DID IT! I am proud of you. You stuck with the challenges, leveling up and then even leveling down. Participating in all sorts of therapy, more than anyone can even imagine! But what stood out to me was that your effort was there, even when it didn't look like if from the outside! You wrote us weekly letters, even if they were mandatory assignments. I am so lucky to have a large stack of them. Yes, they were short and somewhat repetitive but they mattered! I looked so forward to receiving the scan of a new letter every Monday! If for some reason it came on a Tuesday, I was beside myself with anticipation of getting that letter. I was always happy to know that you were okay and were even having a good time!
I then told the boys in the room that their parents and loved ones really appreciated getting their letters, whether they realized it or not! My words to my son then returned back to a simple, yet important theme. I was proud of him, because he was present. I know that being away from home was not something he would have chosen. I know it was hard for him. But guess what, it was hard for me too, not having him home. And most importantly, his original goal (that he stated to the Admission's person on his first day) was to repair and improve the communication and relationship with his moms. I believe as he does, that he accomplished that!
"You did it son! Way to go! I love you! I can't wait to see what's next for you and your future! I'm really excited for you! It's now all up to you! And we are here for you and still have your back!"
The mic passed to my partner who said something awesome to him and I know he was listening from watching his facial expressions. The circle was complete. We then all went downstairs into the CafeA and had some delicious birthday cake that my son had made in the school's kitchen, along with his therapist. There is a tradition (at the Ranch) of getting a cake on your birthday made with your favorite ingredients and that was true for me too: chocolate cake, chocolate icing with Reese's peanut butter cups and Reese's pieces all over the top! What a birthday I had! We said our last goodbyes and hit the road down to Southern Utah. The next day was going to be big! Entering the Step Down program where my son knew he needed be, for now.
In the car, we talked about our various memories of the Ranch and gave tribute to all those people who helped us along the way. We are all excited to see what's next! Our journey continues..... Stay tuned!
I AM ONE FORTUNATE,
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!
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 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.
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,
"Plan B"? I repeated to the Doctor.
"Yes, Plan B is Wilderness," he explained. "A Wilderness Therapy Program. It's like a re-boot. It's gives teens a chance to stop what bad behaviors are going on in their lives and it can put them back on track."
"Oh, I've heard of that," I replied. "I have a nephew who went to what I always called SNOW CAMP and he hiked and hiked and hiked and was given peanut butter after completing certain tasks. I think it helped him."
"Well it's a bit different now," the doctor continued. "They participate in outdoor activities and learn important survival skills from the staff, but most importantly they are accountable to themselves and their peers. It simplifies their lives and takes away all the distractions. Here is the name of a local Education Consultant and she can tell you more about it. She can also give you info on other school options, since the local public high school is not a good fit for your son. They don't get it at that high school. Not everyone learns the same way."
As I left the consultation, my mind was spinning with doubts and fears. We will never be able get our son to go to a Wilderness Program. Never in a million years. He will fight it the minute it's suggested. But when I got home and mulled PLAN B over in my mind, I started to get used to the possibility. However, every other option had to be exhausted first! We weren't done trying other things before deciding on Wilderness. We had to continue with Plan A first: Weekly therapy, email my son's teachers, call an IEP meeting.
I began talking with family and friends and was shocked to find how many friends had sent their kids/teens to Wilderness Programs. Was bad behavior becoming commonplace for our youth? Was the pace of all our lives becoming unmanageable? Was the technology boom causing undue stress and anxiety for some? YES! YES! YES!
I called the Education Consultant and made an appointment for the upcoming Saturday.
(Come back tomorrow and find out what we learned from her.)
My sixteen year old son is technology whiz. He can code and program with the best of them AND take most things apart. Putting them back together is more of a challenge however. I remember days going to a local thrift store and buying rotary dialing phones and other old fashioned electronics for him to fiddle with, for pennies on the dollar. It seems that he may have some kind of future in that broad field of computers or engineering.
But, in order to be able to get a job down the road, completing school is important. That goal became a problem during the second semester of his freshman year. My son's interests started to change. He seemed anxious and depressed. Something had to be done. He was not himself anymore.
My son has gone to doctors for his ADHD meds since 7th grade. But after going to one for a while he decided that he didn't like that one anymore and would refuse to go to any appointments. Ugh. So I had a brilliant idea. I said to my son, "Find a friend you trust. Someone who likes their doctor and get that doctor's name and I'll make an appointment for you." Agreed, at least their would be some street cred if a friend suggest it! I called and started the process of my son becoming the new doctor's patient. This psychiatrist has his office in the next town from us, so it was pretty convenient to see him. He required a couple of consultation appointments before therapy would begin which seemed fine to me. The only draw back was the expense, wow was he expensive. Gulp. I made it happen.
I filled out the paperwork before we met and gave a history of some of the challenges and problems that we were having as a family and for my son as a teenager. Where to begin? I compiled a laundry list of problems to work on. It seemed so daunting: ADHD and school failure, marijuana and negative friends, technology addiction and just plain 'ole defiance were at the top.
The first thing the doctor said to me was, "Let's talk about Plan B". I replied, "What's that?" And he continued.........(find out more in tomorrow's blog post)
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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