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.
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,
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?"
As I shared the story of what daily life with our 15 year old teenager was like, with friends and family, we received responses and comments like, "Oh, this too shall pass" or "That's typical of a teenager, don't sweat it" or "Don't you remember how you were as a teen?". Frankly, after hearing those lines repeatedly, even their well meaning intentions became hard to take. We were zooming into unchartered territory and choppy seas. Seriously, we needed dramamine in our house on dry land just to survive.
Our son's moods were controlled by the digital contact he had with his friends, by phone or computer. If he received good texts, he was somewhat nice. If the texts or posts were not, he was somewhat mean. If you asked him to do anything resembling a chore or household task, "I will, I will, later" was the response. Or with very good manners, he would often reply, "No thank you." He also would grunt and roll over while laying in bed, binge watching any number of Netflix shows. Occasionally, we could bribe him to go see a movie like "Rogue One" or out to eat at our favorite Mexican restaurant. But no sooner would we get home, his moodiness began all over again.
One particular holiday weekend we took him to do his favorite activity: play paintball. Not an inexpensive hobby, in reality. Even if you have your own paintball equipment, the paint balls themselves aren't cheap and that's what you need in order to play! We thought we were connecting with him, doing the fun things he liked, eating the food he liked, going to the movies he liked. You get the idea, all about him, just to keep him engaged. During this period of time, for some reason he had the door to his bedroom back on the hinges. (That wasn't always the case, because if a door gets slammed over and over, parts of the house start to fall apart, truly. So we removed his door a year earlier.) Can you say, trust factors?
Well, after what we thought was a good weekend for all of us, we smelled something unusual coming through the vents soon after we went to bed. We marched into a room filled with smoke and our son was just sitting there smoking pot. And what was shocking was that he totally denied it. We SAW it with our own eyes! WE SMELLED it with our own noses! And he said he WASN'T doing anything. I couldn't believe it. Really, right in our own house? You've got to be kidding me. All I could muster to say to him was that I was really disappointed in him, and turned around and went to bed.
The next morning he acted as if nothing had happened. I was still realing and very upset. He went to school and I called a therapist, for myself. Now to put things into perspective, I know many kids do this behavior and some can handle it, but not my son. He was also failing in school but never want to talk about how to improve the situation. So the only way left to get his attention was to take the computer AWAY. And what happened after that was surreal. The saga continues.......
Anyone else out there have difficulty with teens and their moods? How did you handle it or get through it? I would love to read any comments you have.
Hanging tough! Thanks for reading!
High School. Let that sink in for a moment. What does it really mean? You got it, my son got high in school! And he kept the iPhone connected to his physical person every waking and sleeping moment. Not to mention the amount of gaming on his computer that took place and you can see what a "wonderful" time it was at our house!
We didn't really know the extent of the marijuana use. There are ways to cover it up: stay away from home longer, use eye drops, stay in one's room in the dark. 9th grade can be a time when teens seek independence and have less monitoring by parents. They want to "hang" with their friends and not be with their parents as much. I get that, but in our case we were being pushed away every day.
On top of that, his computer and phone use was obnoxious. We suggested trying to take some time away from the devices and chill, but to no avail. A couple of our son's doctors suggested putting the charger outside of his bedroom and charge AWAY from where he slept, but that wasn't even an option in his mind. The net he threw out to friends and their friends was so large that "someone" would answer a text, join a snapchat or post some pics on Instagram. It was a full time job just keeping up with all the groups and "friends" he connected with.
Those devices became the biggest distractions from doing any homework at all. None, zilch, nada. And the grades reflected just that. "Do you have any homework?" I would ask daily. "Nah" is the refrain I heard over and over and over. "How is that possible? I've checked your online portal." He would tell me to get off of my computer and stop checking on him.
He was a master of avoidance, a student of social media and a habitual user of being connected. ALL of the TIME! His sleep was disturbed because he would answer or send a text in the middle of the night. I could gather some info from using a parent app connected to our phone service. I was able to squeeze out of him some of the repeated phone numbers and who they belonged to in his group of friends. But short of turning off the phone, which we did do a number of times, he was out of control.
Now, this is the part where I will say "don't judge". Some of you may have kids who actually responded to "NO", but our son was becoming a monster, no matter what we did. Honestly, his disposition was dependent on if a social media "friend" responded to his text positively or not. Sometimes he came out of his room to comment on the crazy election and we'd share a laugh. Other times he didn't speak at all. We were beginning to be held hostage by his moods related to his online conversations, use and postings.
I turned off the modem, I changed network passwords, I turned off his data. You name it, we did it and then some. I even pulled an important wire from his room to disconnect him and the next thing I discovered is that he actually "cut" the internet to our whole house! That didn't hurt him, he just went to the local Starbucks and used their internet connection. He was out for revenge!
One of the oddest things was his obsession with carrying cords and plugs and extra batteries so he could charge his phone from where ever he was. And he carried all these cords in his famous "backpack". Whenever he left the house, the backpack was with him. "What's in the backpack?" was our daily question. "Oh, just chargers, cords, batteries so I don't lose power", he replied. But sometimes, he did lose power. And, he was never without this backpack. He even took it into the bathroom with him when he showered. REALLY?
I do not consider that behavior normal, however it was very OBVIOUS that he was hiding more in the backpack than just cables and batteries. You can't believe what we found in there......Come back to the blog for the next post and find out.
Peace for now,
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!