On June 28/29th we will mark two years into our journey. We are so grateful for the time, which has been full of positive change and family healing. When we sent our son to Wilderness therapy with the help of a transport company in 2017, we took a giant leap of faith. We had no idea what to expect. Would this "reboot" work? Would he resent us? Would we get our son back?
Our decision was excruciating. But ultimately after trying everything, we knew we had to do something drastic to keep him safe and stop the downward spiral. He was just shy of his 16th birthday. Today our family can see a future as he turns 18 next month. We all have come a long way!
A couple of weeks ago, our son was home for a quick visit and I asked him a few questions, sort of an interview. His answers might surprise you!
Warrior Mom: What do you remember from that time two years ago?
Son: I don't have a lot of memories from that time, since the drugs heavily affected me. After wilderness, my memory got better at the RTC (residential treatment center).
Warrior Mom: What was the worse part for you from that time?
Son: The last part of my freshman year was the worst. I was spiraling out of control. I thought that you should have sent me sooner.
Warrior Mom: What are some of the positive parts?
Son: Being sober. My mental health is stable. My happiness level is better. My anxiety is better. My self confidence is better.
Warrior Mom: Thoughts about the two year anniversary of going to treatment?
Son: In some ways it feels short, in some ways it feels long.
Warrior Mom: Do you think that others at your local high school would benefit from treatment?
Son: Yes, I know at least fifteen kids who have been to some kind of treatment. A lot of kids from California are in Utah!
Warrior Mom: What was it like when you visited your old RTC last month?
Son: It was really surreal. It looked the same. Some new kids, a few from when I was there. I liked being there without the same rules. A bunch of us from the step down answered questions about it and what it was like to have more independence and privileges.
Warrior Mom: You also had a chance to go to one of your RTC mentor's wedding. Tell me about it.
Son: It was really fun. We were no longer just staff and students, instead we interacted like friends. I had a good time. We got to decorate the wedding get away car! It was a long day and we got back around 11pm.
Warrior Mom: You have made lots of friends in treatment. Do you keep in touch?
Son: Yeah, I text them and most of them are doing well. One friend and I have talked about working a couple of shifts at our old Wilderness program next Summer.
Warrior Mom: Wow, that sounds like fun!
Warrior Mom: Can you share some of your current goals?
Son: I want to earn money by getting a job. (He was hired at McDonald's last week and has completed orientation and two training sessions on the grill so far!) I want to move into the Bridge Independent Living House. I want to go to college. (We are going to tour University of New Mexico in July).
Warrior Mom: We are very proud of you. You should be proud of yourself, too.
Son: Thanks. I am!
We have so much to be grateful for as a family. The past two years have been filled with renewed opportunities for growth, communication and love. It has been joyful and at times tearful. The financial end of it is unimaginable! We have met so many wonderful professionals and had support from family and friends. We have made many new friends who are going through similar journeys. Thank you to all who read this blog. I know writing it helps me and hopefully I can shed some light of hope for others.
It is a one day at a time process. This hits home to me this very moment, after hearing of the passing of one of my son's most extraordinary teachers today. She was a special person to my whole family. I want to dedicate this blog post to her. Her positive outlook was contagious and she touched all of us who knew her. I am saddened with her passing, yet she was able to see my son in person not long ago and witnessed the 2.0 version of him in action. RIP dear Christy. You were there with us the past two years and of course for all the years before as well. I will miss our weekly walks and your unwavering support. Thank you. My thoughts are with your family.
This post is a bit different, but a very important one, none the less. Have you seen this article from The New York Times? It's titled: "A Dark Consensus About Screens and Kids Begins to Emerge in Silicon Valley" by Nellie Bowles. After reading this piece dated October 26, 2018, I was reminded of our old life, when my young teenage son was on his phone, computer, playing video games and watching TV, ALL of the time. It was a big part of what ruined our family life.
"It's time to get off", I would say to him.
"Okay, I will, I will, I just have to finish this game....post....video....text....movie....coding....fill in the blank. It didn't matter that I turned it off or took it away, he found a way to get it back.
Over and over I would ask for him to stop and he wouldn't or couldn't. Part of it was our fault for letting him have the devices and part of it was his fault for using them. However, according to this article, it is becoming well known in the tech community that part of the problem lies with them too! Most of the big wigs in the industry do not let their own kids have much screen time and have at least monitored it. Steve Jobs' young kids weren't allowed to use Apple iPads! Bill and Melinda Gates wish they would have waited longer to give their four kids cell phones.
What positively changed for us was my son's forced absence of screens. In the Wilderness Therapy Program my son went to last summer, at fifteen years of age, there was no screen use at all. Period. Cold turkey. Nada. What that did for his brain was let some "green" in and allow nature to cleanse and let his mind mature on it's own. His mood became better. He actually could participate in conversations without constant distraction. Without the use, mis-use and over-use of screens, it made him a better person. He became less isolated and ultimately happier.
Another plus from no screen time, was that the majority of his anxiety went away. Bingo! What a concept. If we as adults, who already have formed brains, have a problem, how is a young person supposed to put down the screen? This article points out that the developers know how to program their content to go right to the pleasure centers of our brains. We are at a severe disadvantage that allows the devices to win every time, just like the casinos in Las Vegas, the house (the screen) will always win!
This article is eye-opening to the degree that those in Silicon Valley understand what their products are doing to the people they are selling to (us parents). One tech magazine higher up calls it closer to "cocaine than to candy" as to effects on the brain. Is anyone paying attention? I hope so! It's all around us, and we are paying them to do it to us!
As far as our story goes, my son is able to use a computer to type some school assignments at the RTC. He still has no phone use and no internet use. When we visit with him, we talk about how we will move forward with technology in the near future. The ironic part is that technology is an area of interest and skill for him. We will continue to explore and examine the pluses and minuses of that use. In the meantime, read the article and ponder why Silicon Valley is keeping this dark secret?
As parents we are supposed to care for our kids. We are supposed to teach our kids right from wrong. And we are supposed to be good role models for them in life. Even if all those things are true, as parents we still may need to rely on others for support and strength.
Here is a list of some of the ways I have gotten support during the past year, while my son has been in Wilderness Therapy and at his current placement, an RTC (Residential Treatment Center) in Utah. I will add other resourses to this post in the future. I would love to hear from fellow parents! Please chime in below, in the Comment Section because it does "take a village"!
What are your lifelines and support systems?
1. Therapist - A parent needs someone to talk to who is unrelated to the day to day drama we face when our kids are struggling. A good therapist is trained to help parents navigate all the ups and downs we feel when we can't "fix things" for our teenagers and when life's challenges are too much to bare. Yes, your kid may need help but it starts with you! Find a good therapist.
2. Education Consultant - Here is another major player in the puzzle of helping your struggling teen. Ed Consultants know all the programs that are available out there. They have visited many of them and keep connected with the staff and administrations of Wilderness Programs, Therapeutic Boarding Schools (TBS), Residential Treatment Centers (RTC), Step Downs and Young Adult (18-26 yrs) Programs. A parent just can not make important decisions without the guidance and expertise of an Ed Consultant. It is important to note that judging a program based on their website alone, is not wise. A talented graphic web designer can make a program's website look beautiful, but the staff and location is what makes your child's placement a good fit. The Education Consultant will cost you on the front end of the process, but they are essential at all stages of your journey. A must-have component on your team!
3. Local Meet-Up Parent Support Group - For some folks, this may come in the form of a local Al-Anon group meeting (which I have attended). You can google to see what's available in your area and find out times and locations for those meetings. For me however, I found that a more specifically directed group for parents of kids in Wilderness, TBS and RTCs was just what I needed. There is a local group in the San Francisco Bay Area is called WILLOWS IN THE WIND. They have an additional new meeting location in Broomfield, CO as well. Willows in the Wind is a 501(c)3 non-profit that supports parents and families who are looking for more information of what's out there in the way of help or currently have teens and young adults in treatment programs. They have three Bay Area meeting locations: Oakland, Los Altos Hills and San Rafael, CA. Visit their website for more information. It is a safe place with lots of support for parents of troubled teens!
4. Berkeley Parents Network - BPN is a non-profit online forum for parents who live in the SF Bay Area. Members share advice with other parents about all sorts of topics including parenting, schools, health, career, relationships, travel, and local businesses and services. It has been helpful to me for gathering information and links to other resources, especially when info may be difficult to find. (It is how I found Willows in the Wind!) It is not necessary for you to live in the SF Bay Area to use the website. Many of the posts are older, from the past few years, but it can still be helpful to read those posts on the related topics of Wilderness, Ed Consultants and RTCs for a perspective on how others have handled different problems and their personal situations.
5. W.A.B. Connect Wilderness And Beyond - WAB is an emotional support group with a new website and a weekly parent participation phone call. It began in 2017 by two sets of families who wanted to share their experiences of what therapeutic wilderness was like for them, as well as what follows, with other parents by forming connections. The individual stories may be different but it is very powerful to hear from others going through similar situations, including their wins and set-backs. Weekly call topics and notes as well as a blog are on the website. This awesome group of parents will prove to you that you are NOT alone. It provides a safe place to share, listen and learn from others with adolescents and young adult children at every stage of treatment.
6. Letter Writing - Every week my son writes us a letter. These letters are part of the therapy assignments in Wilderness and at the RTC. It has become such an important weekly connection for us and we truly look forward to receiving the email version of his handwritten letter at the beginning of the week. We answer him back, usually on Thursdays with a typed letter that we send to his therapist, who prints it out on the other end to give to him. Our son's letters are not very long and his penmanship is rather sloppy and rushed, but we've encouraged him to add more content in the letters to create a back and forth dialog. We put a lot of thought and effort into our replies to his letters. Sometimes we keep it light, but the letters are always encouraging and positive. I have saved a copy of all the letters and plan to put them into a three ring binder to save for posterity. Letter writing has become such a lost art in communication these days. I treasure the chance to re-read each one and actually hold that piece of paper in my hand. Yes, it's old fashioned but it has a value that can not be underestimated. It becomes something to look forward to, rather than the quick rewards of the instant gratification of texting or phone calls. One could even say it builds character.
7. Blogging - I don't know what I would have done this past year, if I hadn't started writing this blog. It has been a highlight of the challenging (yet full of growth) year we've had. I feel good after each time I hit "publish". I've learned so much about myself and realize how fortunate I am to have so many family members and friends let me know that they have read what I've written. I know some of you have not gone through many of the experiences that my family has, but you continue to show me how much you care and are rooting for us at every turn. I also love receiving comments from all of you after I publish my posts. It is a rather public forum, but I know my sharing has helped others. I have spoken to many of you on the phone. I've walked and talked with a few of you. I have had coffee and met some of you in person. I plan to continue to blog because it has become an essential release for my feelings and emotions.
Bonus tip: (For those who are not in the position to blog, keep a journal...same idea, and a bit more private! Get your thoughts out of your head and write them down! Try it, you'll like it!)
8. Self-Care - This is an important one! Exercising, eating right and getting enough sleep will allow you to function at a higher level when stress and worry take over your whole being. It can be a simple walk. I have enjoyed swimming, tennis and pickle ball. Others might prefer yoga and meditation. Whatever you choose, do it regularly and if possible daily! As parents we will not be able to offer anything to our kid's treatment program if we are unable to get out of bed and are stuck in a frozen state. It might not be easy, but do one thing per day. Put it on the calendar or call a friend and make a firm date to do something you enjoy. It will allow you to come back to the riggers of parenting while your kid is in treatment!
9. Connections - Without connections, a support system can not work. Everyday I meet people who may not know my family's story and when I have a chance to build a new or stronger connection, I am lifted up by the openness and kindness I receive. I have shared with grocery checkers at my local Safeway. I have shared with other parents and lots of friends who are too shy to ask. I try to be appropriate and not "over share", but that's what's great about having connections first, the realization that everyone's got something they struggle with. And you don't know what someone else is going through, if they don't tell you. So be brave: connect. Then share, then breathe, then let go. Take it slowly. One step at a time. One day at a time. Whatever it is that you are going through, you are not alone. And you can get through it!
10. Books - There are so many good ones. Here's one that I have read and got a lot out of it and was also recommended by a Mom from Oakland, CA: The Parallel Process-Growing Along Side Your Adolescent or Young Adult in Treatment by Krissy Pozatek.
I Don't Have to Make Everything All Better: Six Practical Principles that Empower Others to Solve Their Own Problems While Enriching Your Relationships by Gary and Joy Lundberg
The Five Love Languages of Teenagers - The Secret to Loving Teens Effectively by Gary Chapman
Are there other books that have helped you? Please let me know and I can add them to the list! Thanks!
Feeling at peace and full of gratitude for my support systems,
Our family is about to have an anniversary. This is not your average celebration, in fact it's more of a milestone involving a series of acts of courage, bravery and change. In just a matter of days, on June 29th, it will be exactly one year since we sent our son (then 15 1/2 years old) to a Wilderness Therapy Program in Idaho. He did not know about it in advance. We hired a transport service to take him there. The boys in wilderness call it "being gooned." We called it surreal and unthinkable. How could we send our son away?
As we look back, we can honestly say, without hesitation, we did it to SAVE his life! It took all the courage we could muster and then some. We have met many other brave parents who have done the same. Like us, many of them also faced scrutiny and criticism from family and friends.
"I couldn't do that", was one of many comments we heard. My reply is that until you walk in someone's shoes, how do you know? We tried everything first before finally making one of the most difficult decisions we have ever faced. Yet, we did it.
One year later, what have we learned? What has changed? How do we feel?
1) We told people about our situation. We didn't hide what happened and became vulnerable in accepting the help from professionals. And as we opened up, the people around us began to understand. Some even said they now realize they should have sent their own teenagers to wilderness and beyond.
2) We found that we were not alone! We are part of a "club" of parents/families that we never thought we would be a part of! We met those parents/families at our wilderness retreat. We met them at the RTC (residential treatment center) after wilderness. We met them in our own community. They are out there and the numbers are increasing in our society. Anxiety, depression, digital addition, drugs and alcohol are just some of the many reasons why some of our kids are in trouble.
Here is a conversation we've had multiple times.
"Is your son at the local high school?" they would ask.
"No, he's in Utah."
"Oh, Utah.....hmmm" (BTW, it's sort of a code word - because so many of the programs are located there)
"My kid was in a program in Utah."
"Did they go to wilderness first?"
"Yes, they went to ______________". (fill in the blank: Hawaii, Vermont, Utah, Oregon, Montana).
"How long were they away?"
This one is a multiple choice answer: A) One year B) 16 months C) 2 years D) My kid is still in treatment and we don't know when he/she is coming home.
"How did you pay for it?"
This answer is also a multiple choice: A) Used the college fund B) Re-financed the house
C) "I can't say." (Another code for a school district paying for placement but with a NDA - non disclosure agreement in place, sort of like HUSH MONEY). D) I have no idea!
Once the info was spilled, we found out how common our situation has become. If you don't know a family experiencing these tough times, then you don't get out much! We have talked to many folks in various stages of this experience. All I can say is that help is out there. Get an Education Consultant! Get a therapist! Get to a support group! Don't be ashamed, you can do it! Help your kid, help your self and your family NOW!
3) We slowly built our family relationships back. We have visited our son practically every month since last June, strike July, January and March. We have participated in weekly Skype calls with our son and his therapist. We have all written letters and by now that total is close to fifty or so (from each side). How many of you reading have received fifty handwritten letters from your kids? (A nice advantage of treatment). We would like to think letter writing would continue without it being a mandatory assignment, but we are realistic that it probably won't. I know that I will not stop writing. It's very therapeutic. This blog is so important in my process!
4) We got our son back. No, he's not "fixed". He is still a 16 year old. He's still a boy. He still doesn't always see eye to eye with his parents. Sure that's "normal" stuff, but in our case, the good news is that for now, our son is free from electronics, free from drugs and alcohol. He exercises every day. He wakes up at seven am on weekdays. He participates in all kinds of therapy: equine, ropes, adoption group, intervention and social skills group. There are so many ways for him to work on himself. Opening up is not easy for him, but he knows that's what he has to do to move forward. He is happy and that counts for a lot! One step at a time. It's not a race.
5) We feel empowered. We are not perfect parents. We still make mistakes in some of the interactions with our son. But, the biggest difference is that we have re-established that we are the parents and he is the child. We have more boundaries in place. And not the kind that you may remember from a tough disciplinarian parent who said, "My way or the highway!" We try to be kind. We are trying to be better listeners. We pick better words in our comments and conversations. The result is that we are no longer afraid. We have our strength back. We have learned some valuable lessons in the past year. Yes, we have cried our share of tears. We have talked and talked about what we could have done differently. We also know that beating ourselves up isn't the answer either. We are patient and take a lot of deep breaths. We are present and continue to work on ourselves in a parallel process.
6) We have put our focus on our own self care. It's just like they say when you are on an airplane. When the oxygen mask drops down, put yours on first, then take care of others around you. What kind of things have we done? Swimming, walking, blogging, pickle ball, tennis, baking, going to movies and watching silly TV shows. We have called friends and family and shared with others. We have gardened and fixed things in our house. We have struggled some, too. We take a step forward, maybe a couple backwards, then forward again. This road is not a straight path. We call it a journey and it's not predictable. It's real life. And we keep breathing.
7) We try to take one day at a time. We try to live in the present. We try not to worry about cost and expenses (and believe you me, it's not cheap, but we are trying to make it work). We have acceptance. We practice positive thinking and positive self talk. We rely on the positive people around us and discard the negative. There is little room for that. We are grateful for our lives. We are so very lucky. We have come so far. We know the best is yet to come. Yes, we will stumble. But we will pick ourselves up and keep going. Because we CAN!
Here's to making it through ONE YEAR in our new "skins"! The reality is that we terribly miss our son not being at home. We still need time to get to that next step right. We will not give up!
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!
Our sixteen year old son was processing our decision to send him to a new place after wilderness. His stay was thirteen weeks or ninety-two days in total. It was a long time however you choose to look at it. We were proud of his progress and the changes he made and so was he. The summer season was winding down and fewer boys remained at the wilderness therapy program. He became a leader by default at the end of his stay. Not his strength, but when put in that position did amazingly well.
We put the finishing touches on the paperwork for the school/residential treatment center while still back at home. We made arrangements to fly into Utah, drive to Idaho, pick up our son, drive back to Utah, drop him off and then return home. All in just over 30 hours. Whew!
There was a contract in place between us and him about the expectations that were set for the transition. No cell phone use, for us by choice and for him as part of the deal. He would get a short five minute call with his one positive friend back home. It would be monitored and made once we arrived at the new school's parking lot. Sort of a carrot for him, to make sure things went smoothly during the transition.
The graduation from wilderness would take place on a Thursday at 10am. We were asked to arrive at 9:30am at the main headquarters. We flew into Salt Lake City the night before, drove 1 1/2 hours and stayed at a Motel 6. It had been years since I had done that and while it was clean enough, it was more sparse than I recall. We didn't sleep much and woke up at 4:30am. We decided to hit the road and drive the rest of the way into Idaho before the sun came up.
We were both nervous and excited about our reunion and transport. When we arrived at the tiny town where the wilderness program was headquartered we looked for somewhere to eat breakfast. There were only two restaurants: a Chinese restaurant and a basic egg and pancake joint. It opened at eight o'clock exactly which worked great for our schedule.
After our quick bite, we drove to the headquarters and filled out the final release and questionnaire. We waited for our son's van to arrive from his campsite about forty-five minutes away. The graduation was for just two boys: our son and one other. The staff showed short but meaningful slide shows filled with pictures of their personal adventures. What a change our son had made in appearance and attitude. We were so happy to be getting him back after ninety two days in Idaho. One journey ended and the next one was about to begin. We know we made the right decision. We saved his life.
We both agreed, it was school number one! Beyond a shadow of a doubt. Just like our Education Consultant said, it was all about the people! The place had a wonderful home like feeling that seemed like "just the right fit" for our son. It would be a big change from wilderness but kids that entered from that arena, often did very well when they arrived.
The second school felt like the town from the movie, Pleasantville. Very clean, almost to a fault, without any personality at all. The admissions team basically phoned the tour in and was certainly not the "A Team"! They didn't seem to understand what we were looking for at all. The one highlight was meeting two of the boys who were students there, but even they had an edge that we couldn't see our son being with. We were happy that the decision was so easy for us after visiting in person!
We headed home in a whirlwind and by next morning our Education Consultant called and was in total agreement with us. The paperwork was the next hurdle! Luckily most of the documents were ones that the wilderness program needed, so I just had to create a new folder on my computer, make a copy and send them off. Next, get some money from the college fund. It was incredibility expensive, but as I've said before, college wouldn't even be an option without having success in this new school/treatment center.
We wrote our sixteen year old a long letter, sharing all the wonderful things about his new placement. Horses, basketball, positive environment and a one of a kind "calf program". Each boy was given a new born calf to care for. What an opportunity! The boys mixed the formula and fed their calf, three times a day. It taught a huge lesson in responsibility and caring. We added cut and paste pictures into our email letter and sent it off to him.
After we had our weekly therapy session over the phone, on what would be our final session of the wilderness program, we all were ready for our next adventure. Ground rules were set about the transition and this time we were doing the transport. At least that was the plan. Stay tuned to see how we all faired.
Happy to be moving forward,
One of our "heavy" discussions at the family therapy session at the retreat was about what happens after wilderness. Our son lobbied hard to go back to his public high school in the SF Bay Area. We knew that would NOT work. There would be too many triggers and he was not strong enough to combat those negative temptations.
He said that he felt it was still a good fit for him. We reminded him that he didn't even attend the school he liked, so why would that work this time around? Our sixteen year old was very emotional, yet was able to share some of his "raw" feelings with us. There was progress being made. This was a kid who never cried openly, until now.
Many or even most of the kids in wilderness programs go to an aftercare program of some kind. It might be a therapeutic boarding school or a residential treatment center. There were many such places in the West to choose from. Lucky for us, we had an excellent Education Consultant on board to help us select the best place for our son. This was a whole new world that we knew nothing about. But as we shared with other parents in the same boat, we started to learn new things everyday.
Part of the process our family went through was how we took the new information in, and got comfortable with those ideas and plans. Within a week, once we returned home, our son was on board with NOT coming home right away. He had come to terms with his needing more support and help with his many issues. How brave he was in his new decision! We were able to talk about a "list" of his desires for his upcoming transition from wilderness to an aftercare program. NO uniforms was on the list, but we knew that polo shirts might be a reality. Oh well, he could handle it!
The shocking part for us as parents was the "unbelievable cost". Think to yourself how much a school like Stanford costs per year and add more $ on top of that and you might be in the ball park. We had a college fund set aside, but there would be NO college if we didn't get through this next phase of our son's education. So we will take a penalty hit on taxes, so what! It will be worth it in the long run for his success in school and his self-esteem and self-confidence.
We called our Education Consultant and gave her a list of needs. She then spoke with the wilderness therapist and field psychologist to sort out the kind of learning and support our son needed. Decisions, decisions.....What's next in this amazing journey will be coming up in the next blog post. Stay tuned.
"What did you feel when you first saw us, as the van drove down the hill to the Family Spark camp site?" we asked our sixteen year old son?
"I was excited, just like Christmas morning!" was his answer.
That stopped us cold in our tracks! WOW! HOW ABOUT THAT? It gets me all choked up thinking about it again.
It had been eight weeks since we had all seen each other from the time he began his wilderness therapy journey in Idaho. We then asked, "Do you hate us for sending you?" fearing what he would say.
"No, I was surprised that it was happening, and the first couple of days were surreal, but no I don't hate you." he said in a matter of fact response.
"It was the hardest thing we've ever done, but it was the last resort." we said with heavy hearts. We wanted to make sure he understood our side of the event. It was not taken lightly at all! He had to know how much we loved him.
That conversation was one of many that we had like it, asking and answering queries on both sides of our worlds. And they all happened without the distraction of a phone or other technology or substance in the way. Our son had clear eyes for the first time in ages. It was a pleasant and refreshing occurrence . It's like we were able to go backwards to a more innocent and younger time with him.
Over the course of the next few days, we had many group activities. We play acted the time when the "wheels fell off the bus" for us as a family. Each of us took turns as we role played the other, to see what we must have gone through. We watched and observed the other families and could see some similarities in many of they stories. We were not alone.
We participated in equine therapy and tried to maneuver a horse, who behaved much like our son had: stubborn and defiant. That was very interesting and revealing. We learned about non verbal communication from the therapists. We did an obstacle course while we were blindfolded one at a time, using only verbal directions from only one of us, to avoid the obstacles. We learn to work together as a team. We analyzed every action made and every word spoken. There was so much symbolism and meaning to it all. And it was exhausting but a wonderful few days.
The best part was that we were smiling with each other and laughing again, as a family unit. It had been a long time since those days. It was going to be difficult to say "so long", as the end of the retreat got closer. One more hug, one more story, one more day......OUR TIME TOGETHER DID FEEL A LOT LIKE CHRISTMAS MORNING.
Our first night at the Family Spark therapy retreat went by quickly and we wokeup at sunrise, ready to start the day. The first group activity was "hand washing". The entire group stood around a hole in the ground while one of the boys (our son this time) squirted a tiny bit of camping soap into our open palms. Then we started saying our "hopefuls", going around the circle with anticipations of the day in front of us. As that was happening, a water pitcher was tipped with water spilling out to activate the soap in our hands. We scrubbed and rinsed and listened to the thoughts and hopes of the group. This ritual happened before dinner as well, but the topic changed to "thankfuls". It was a nice ritual. Everything we did had meaning, even the simple tasks.
"Hopefuls and Thankfuls" were just the beginning of our sharing. We had mindfulness, "highs and lows", and many other topics that were selected by whatever boy was in charge of that session. Listening to everyone's words was very powerful. It sent messages of healing, growth and new understanding. Some of the parents wrote things in their notebooks, others just listened intently. Most of the boys picked up rocks from the ground or fidgeted with strings and made bracelets. There was a lot of ADD (attention deficit disorder) in this group!
Lots of new facts came out of these deep discussions. One of the things we learned about was the fact that our son lost his second retainer before being sent to wilderness. Those retainers weren't cheap, let me tell you. He got his braces off after a long 2 1/2 years, earlier in the springtime. The orthodontics made room for two teeth that he was born without. At age 21, he would have implants to fill those eyeteeth gaps. In the meantime, he was fitted with custom retainers that had two false teeth attached to make his smile complete. He admitted to losing his retainer just two days before he left for wilderness. It happened at a park while he was busy partying!
In the group sharing we learned about natural consequences. The lost retainer became one for him. It would be replaced at a later date, and he would have to go without for a while. I was unhappy about the expense, but it's amazing the things one can let go of when dealing with bigger issues.
One of the group questions was "What was it like when you saw your parents from the van, when arriving at the Family Spark setting?" My son's answer will amaze you. Come back tomorrow to hear what he said. Bring a hankie!
He walked towards us, a bit scruffy and a bit dirty but he was wearing a million dollar smile. We hugged. It was so nice to see him. He actually seemed happy to see us. He had been in the wilderness program for eight weeks. It was a long time.
He was a little shy at first. His pack was giant and really dirty on the outside. His hair was getting long. There was a coat of dirt and grime over all of the boys, even though they did take a shower every week. For some reason, this week they didn't get one. It was the high desert after all and not the Hilton! We showed him to our tent. He was very happy to be given a cot for a couple of days and not have to sleep on the ground.
He seemed very relaxed. We could see in his clear eyes that nature had a positive effect on him. It replaced the omni present technology world he left two months prior. Our son answered our many questions about the camping and other activities the group did every week. There was lots of hiking, but they also did equine therapy, white water rafting, mountain biking, canoeing and rock climbing. Every activity had a purpose of how it related to self improvement, introspection and getting along with others. Positive behaviors replaced negative behavior in thoughts and deed.
After about one half hour the entire group of parents and boys joined in a circle to kick off the first of many circles. One of the boys led us on a mindfulness and breathing exercise. Another led the introductions so we knew why each teen was there at wilderness. Each parent then explained what reasons brought their family to this place as well. We were beginning to feel each other's pain. And we were certainly not alone.
As the sun was setting, we reflected on the "highs" and "lows" of the day. Each person took a turn sharing and when they were done, they "passed" to the next. We heard a word shouted out every now and then by members of the circle, "Aho!" It means "I agree" with what was just said. Most of the boys chimed in and we parents added our "Aho's" as well. When it came time for me to express my "high", it definitely was seeing my son smile. Something so simple, yet so powerful and beautiful, made me happy and teary at the same time.
We were so happy to be together. What happened over the next few days was life changing and wonderful.
About half way through the wilderness program there is an opportunity for parents to come and spend three days in nature with their kids. It is "comfortable camping". It is better than the kids normally experience in there day to day existence, and for the parents is considered "camping with therapy"!
Our trip to "Family Spark" was full of emotion. We flew into Idaho the evening before our expected arrival. We took a walk and then had a very pleasant dinner at AppleBee's! We were expected to meet a shuttle at 8am. There was lots of anticipation in the air.
In the elevator in the morning we saw a couple that had some new REI looking clothing on. I was about to say "wilderness" under my breath, but as expected they ended up on the shuttle with us! The small bus was filled with 19 parents in total. We shared the hour and a half drive together without much interaction. We soon would be sharing our deepest feelings and emotions.
When we arrived at the wilderness program headquarters, we were given large totes to put our non camping clothing and any electronics we brought with us to go into storage for 3 1/2 days. No cell phones, no iPads, nothing but what was on the packing list. It was camping 101 for some. As a group we formed a circle and introduced ourselves briefly and say what our reason for sending our son or daughter to wilderness was.
People were very emotional and the stories were similar, yet individual too. Then we split into a "boys group" and a "girls and younger boys group". We headed off into the high desert for a reunion and a new beginning. I have never been with a more nervous group of parents, including ourselves.
We arrived at our family retreat area that had six large canvas tents and plenty of shade trees. It also had a barn like structure for cooking and a wooden outhouse situated at the far corner of the property. There was no electricity and no electronics were allowed. Peace on earth! For as far as the eyes could see, there was NOTHING. Nothing but nature. Beautiful rolling hills and mesas and lots of cottonwood trees and other ground cover. You could hear the wind blowing in the distance.
We chose our tent and took our bags and placed them inside. There were three sturdy cots lined up ready for our family to camp together for three days. No wonder we were nervous! Then the parents all gathered under the large shade structure and saw a van in the distance. That van was carrying all of our sons! You could hear a pin drop.
The van slowly drove down the hill to the gate. We saw the doors open and out came some boys who picked up their large and heavy backpacks out of the back of the van. The group looked grimy, yet smiling, most carried long walking sticks. The families all took part in embraces. It had been at least seven weeks since everyone had seen each other. It was eight weeks for us. What was our reunion going to be like?
Check back tomorrow to find out.
Filled with emotion, yet hopeful -
This was a tough day on our end. Our son was at a wilderness program in Idaho on his 16th birthday. We were able to scan a birthday card for him and they would print out on his end. You are probably thinking what kind of birthday is that? Well, again we had to take our emotions out of it. As hard as that was to do, we had to focus on the fact that he was actually able to have a 16th birthday. It was not the ideal situation, but hey, difficult times require difficult decisions and that was our summer in a nutshell.
They did have a cake for him. And he wasn't the only kid to have birthday away from home. He was safe and learning things about himself that could serve him well in the future. There was so much to be grateful for: a new day, a new chance to grow, a new perspective and outlook. We were in a parallel process with him, complete with a full of a gambit of emotions.
As the weeks went by, we were able to finally have a phone call with him and his therapist. Everything was always monitored. We he heard our voices for the first time, he immediately broke down into tears. He was extremely emotional during our therapy call. It was shocking, yet touching, because it meant he was actually feeling something.
He stuck to a script of topics and questions. We let him do most of the talking. It wasn't social, but with our limited time, we had to discuss the important reasons we sent him. He said he didn't want to lie to us anymore. He admitted to pushing us away. He said he missed us. Wow, absence does make the heart grow fonder.
The biggest revelation was that he said he didn't realize until he was away, that he did in fact, love us. He tried so hard to keep us at arm's length during the past year, that he rejected the two people who cared for him the most on this planet. And he slowly was opening up his feelings. Very slowly. Another biggie was that he said didn't hate us for sending him. Deep down he had to feel a big relief for not to be living the life he struggled with at home: the negative friends and the negative behaviors. It was exactly what his psychiatrist said it would be: a re-boot!
Happy Birthday Son!
To be continued......
We had plans to go to our cabin for the 4th of July. Originally it was supposed to be with our son and a friend and her mom, but since we had a massive change of events, it became a small family gathering. We did have one uninvited guest. Just before our first weekly phone call with our son's wilderness therapist, a rattlesnake showed up near an old BBQ pit by the cabin.
A rattlesnake always adds a high level of excitement to anyone's day, that's for sure. We had the call and then dealt with the snake later. Well, I actually took pictures from inside the window of the capture and re-location. The snake now has a new home six miles away from the cabin and was last seen happily slithering down a hill. Disaster diverted!
The call went well. We liked his new therapist and felt that we could all do some good work together. It was not going to be easy or quick, but baby steps in a structured environment. We would be receiving letters from our son during his first few weeks of wilderness to help everyone ease into a new "normal". We in turn would answer back. It was old fashioned communication at it's best. His letters were handwritten and we were pleasantly surprised at his "nice" printing and how legible it actually was. We complemented him on what a good writer he was. It had been a long time since we had seen any of his school work, so we had no idea he could write that way.
As I look back on that particular week, I remember feeling very emotional and "raw" inside. I went swimming at the local pool everyday. It is a huge, old time pool with a one foot shallow end that goes up to nine feet in the deep end and has a diving board to boot. I tried to take in the beauty of the local mountains near the cabin and relax as best I could. It was a really "weird" time, but our son was safe and we were all adjusting to our "new" surroundings.
There were no fireworks for us on this particular 4th of July, that is, the kind we had been dealing with from his behavior at home. It was a new beginning, a re-boot, a time for healing. Our son's sixteenth birthday was coming up. How would that be for him in the wilderness? How would it be for us, without him at home? Come back to find out!
Feeling relief and rebuilding new strength,
One of the self-care ideas I had was to start a walk on Fridays for anyone with anything that they were battling. My family's personal struggle is too much technology started taking over our lives. I've had a few different folks join me, but one stand-out friend who comes religiously! We need more people like that in the world, believe you me!
My doggy loves to come along and I like any excuse to walk her. My friend and I chat about what's new in my family's journey and other pressing events. During our walk on this particular Friday morning, I got a call from a number in Idaho.
"I better answer it", I said. It was the Wilderness Program, saying "Everything was fine", but wanted to know if I had received the "parent packet and log-in info for the website".
"YES, I had". I neglected to respond back to their email, so they were checking to be sure.
"Oh, also to let you know your son did well last night (his first in the wilderness) and he participated in the evening group chat, but was a little quiet." What a relief to hear that news! It was still a little bit hard to grasp that we did in fact send our almost 16 year old off to a wilderness program, out of state. I needed all the good news I could get! And so the walk continued.
I have many people who virtually walk with us on Fridays too! Sometimes I'll FaceTime them or text them as I am starting or finishing to include their energy and support. I know there are people who wish they join us, but because of distance or other restrictions, can't make it. I just want you all to know that I'll be walking every week for you, even if you can't be there in person.
Staying strong and still walking,
My teenage son and the two interventionists were on their way to Oakland. We received a text from the "lead" Tyler, when they arrived at the airport. We received another text when they made it through security. And more followed, when they touched down in Las Vegas, the stop on the way to Idaho. Similar texts came they were taking off again, landing and had arrived in Idaho. It was so nice to get these updates through the early morning hours.
We had so much support from our friends and family during this emotional time. They checked in with us throughout the day to see how we were doing. I am saying right now, if one can share hard times with others, it comes back to you big time. People do care and we were so grateful to have "our village". Even with the support, the hours seemed to move in slow motion. We tried to go back to sleep but it didn't really happen.
And then around 12:30 pm, California time we received a call from Tyler. He let us know that our son was successfully delivered to the Wilderness Program, safe and sound! Whew, what a relief! He shared that our son was completely compliant and polite during the trip. The transport went very smoothly.
The only question that our son asked was "How long will I be gone?"
The answer, "A short time". The real answer was most likely between 6-12 weeks. But I'm getting ahead of the story. Be sure to keep following the MY WARRIOR MOM LIFE Blog to get all the details!
Tyler asked if we had any questions for him.
"Did our son know what was happening? Was he suspicious at all?"
"No, he was very surprised", was the response. "He was very quiet, the whole way there".
"Did he sleep on the trip?"
"Yes", according to Tyler. (No, when we later asked our son. He just pretended to be asleep.)
"Did he eat anything?" we asked. "No, not really", according to Tyler. (So much for the bottled water and Hershey's bar I sent along!)
"Did he take his retainer, with his two false teeth attached to it?"
"No, he said he lost it", said Tyler.
(After a couple of years of braces, this was the second custom retainer that he lost in just a few months time! And this one was only two days old! What? That was $700 down the drain! I was angry after hearing that! More on that later!)
We thanked Tyler and told him that he was one of our "angels"! We said that we would be happy to recommend him and his company's services to anyone needing a transport team like we did. Tyler was happy to help. He would turn right around and do the same trip in reverse to make it back home later that same night. Within days, I filled out the questionnaire sent by the transport company and gave everyone high marks!
Within moments of our call with Tyler, we received a call from the Wilderness Program saying that our son was being checked in and about to pick up his clothing and gear. Shortly after that he would be examined by the staff physician and would join up with his new group. I could feel the numbness of our exhausting day beginning to wear off. Whew, what a relief! Our son was safe!
What would this new journey hold for our teen? Would he be angry with us forever for sending him to a Wilderness Program without his knowledge? Could he understand why we decided to send him? So many questions were in the air. Stay tuned to find out the answers.
Full of hope and relief,
The night of the transport finally arrived. I had spoken to the Lead Interventionist earlier in the week as to what to expect. He was so nice and caring and it made it a lot easier to know what was going to happen, in advance. There would be two men, both trained professionals in this field, to make this transport work. Neither would lay a finger on our son. They use encouraging words and positive speech to get a kid from Point A to Point B. And they have years of experience. Some might have even been a troubled youth in their own past.
In our case, Point A was a small town in the San Francisco Bay Area and Point B was a small town in southern Idaho. It was all planned out. They would arrive at our house at 3am. We would meet outside to go over the "script" and get on the same page with them. At this time, we put our little doggy in our car, since we were going to leave the premises in a bit, too.
As we greeted the two men, we saw how calm and confident they were. We hugged them immediately because we had come to think of them as our "angels". I had read testimonials from other parents who had been through this exact moment and one of them called the men "angels". So we did too. And that's how we were able to get through this most difficult moment. One of the toughest since we had been parents, without a doubt!
We were very concerned that our son would be angry with us and not go along with the plan. We had no idea what his reaction would be and how long it would take to get him out of the house. The average time is about an hour or so, we were told. They always have a Plan B, just in case there is resistance. The goal was to take an early morning flight out of Oakland International Airport. At no time would our son be left alone. One man drives, the other takes the plane and a third man meets them on the other end to drive the rest of the way to the Wilderness Program.
The four of us walked into our son's bedroom (the room without a door). I turned on the light. He looked pretty much awake and sat up, a little surprised. I said in a calm voice (I never knew I could be an actress until this moment), "Leo and Tyler are going to take you to a Wilderness Program today and they will take very good care of you. We love you". My son rolled over towards his wall and then I caught a glance and a wink from Tyler". I think he meant, "We've got this".
We left the house very quickly and started driving towards the downtown area of town. It was surreal and very emotional. All the time we had been trying to decide what to do for our struggling teenager was coming to a climax. In less than twenty minutes we received a text that they were "On our way". What? How is that even possible? "The phone is on the charger". OMG! That hasn't happened in two years. How did they do that?
I was able to pack our son a small bag, for the trip. In it was bottle of water, a candy bar and a Star Wars book. He left with the clothes on his back because he would be given everything he needed at the Wilderness Program once he arrived.
Come back tomorrow to see how the rest of my son's trip went. Were there any hiccups on beginning of his new journey?
Feeling HUGE relief and a bag of mixed emotions,
We completed all the paperwork for the Wilderness Program. We arranged for the transport company to come and take our sixteen year old son, in the middle of the night, without his knowledge. And yes, it is absolutely the one of the most difficult decisions a parent can ever make. But we had a chance to save his live. That's it.
We had to think of it in a positive way. His life was spiraling downward. We were finding out about alcohol incidents that previously had been just marijuana use. Our house was like a hotel to him during the three weeks of summer vacation. He slept there, ate a late night meal there and was gone for the rest of the time. With who knows whom and who knows where. He was checking in less and less and I was always worried.
I called his friends, I texted his friends. They were really getting annoyed with me asking questions, but what else could I do? He seemed depressed and anxious at the same time. On the afternoon before the "big night" he asked me to take him to get some electronic supplies. I reluctantly said, "Fine." On the way out of town, I rear ended a tow truck in front of his old middle school. Things like that happen for a reason. Thankfully, no one was hurt, but when I asked my son to retrieve our license plate which fell of the car into the intersection, he said, "No way, do you want me to get hit?". WOW, thanks for caring, is what I felt. He got out of the car and started walking home when I told him that I wasn't taking him to buy anything.
I tried to not think about what was ahead later that evening, so I went to try my hand at the game of pickle ball with a friend. It was a great distraction and an awesome workout. I ran into a couple of moms who were from our nursery school many year ago. As we talked, they asked about our son. I told them the whole story. Talk about stopping a conversation. I was very emotional.
The night before that we had a nice dinner with our son and the friend who took him to school during the last weeks of his freshman year. It was a thank you dinner to the friend and we all had a great time. Except, we knew what was coming and they did not. It was so hard not spilling the beans and acting natural, but we hung on and were able to do it. We talked about fun things we liked to do and of the future. It was surreal!
For some unknown reason, our son was home by 8:30 or 9pm the night of the transport. He watched some movies on his phone in his room and then started making grilled cheese sandwiches around 11 or 12 pm. I heard cereal being poured into a bowl after that. There were lots of noises coming from the kitchen. I tried to sleep but couldn't. I had an alarm set for 2:55 am. The guys (two large men: one played in the NFL and the other was bigger!) texted to say they would be arriving at 3 am. As soon as they arrive, we would go over the game plan first before anything else, outside the front gate.
Come back to the blog tomorrow to hear how it all went.
Trying to stay calm,
After filling out the LONG online application for the Wilderness Program our son would be going to, we were given a TO DO list a mile long to make it happen. And we had to keep all of this a secret and under wraps or he would resist. The list of things we needed to get accomplished was scheduling a physical exam with the pediatrician, getting an up-to-date dental exam, ordering another retainer (since he lost one previously) and a finding a host of other things that needed to be scanned. I needed to find his report cards, student ID and get images of the front and back of the health insurance card. We needed to re-arrange big money and free up some room on our credit cards in order to pay for everything.
It seemed overwhelming but it actually gave me an action list of things TO DO each day, so I was occupied. The last thing I wanted to do was to tip our hand and give away the Big Secret. So, we went on lock down. Any conversation we had with friends and family was on a different topic. No more posts on Facebook. The hardest part was that I still had to converse with other parents of our son, since he went "missing in action" a number of nights. I told them nothing.
My son would take his cell phone, but then go to places that had little or no coverage. He would take an extra charger, yet his phone would go "dead". What a pain it was to try and communicate with him. Things couldn't get worse, could they? YES! However, I knew we were on the right track, when at my son's physical appointment, I asked to speak privately to the Doctor before he gave the exam. I told him what was up, and he firmly "shook" my hand when I told him our plan. "Way to go!" he said. I felt empowered. This was the same doctor that examined our two day old infant son and said he was a bit jaundiced so, "Give him a sun bath" for a few minutes. The same doctor that treated a young boy with the stomach flu and pink eye. Now we were dealing with not going to school, screen addiction and marijuana. How did this happen? No one tells you it actually gets harder, not easier!
The last piece of the puzzle was giving the final okay to the Wilderness program and setting up the transport company. It was getting down to the wire. There was one final spot saved for our son for the end of June or we would have to wait another month to begin. NO MORE WAITING! We confirmed the dates and then had to get through three seemingly long weeks without giving the secret away. Find out if we did it in tomorrow's blog post.
Breathing a sigh of relief,
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?"
Our newly hired Education Consultant said that one of the main reasons that Wilderness works is that it is peer based. The kids hold each other accountable, especially on past actions. They seldom want to go back to their exact old life and are happy to start school somewhere fresh. They often drop the negative friends and make strides in self belief and self confidence. They do this by having experiences in nature, without the distraction of screens! Their lives become simple. Get up, eat, hike, set up a tent, eat, sleep. REPEAT. Oh, there is a lot of therapy and many assignments about accountability, as well.
The time spent in a program is around 6-12 weeks on average. And most programs go year round, even through snowy and cold winters. That's why the summertime is so popular for many. It doesn't cut into the school year and the weather is better. The ages go from 11-17 and then there is an older adult group that goes 18-28. One program may have a boys group, a girls group, a younger and an older group. The down sides are the cost (most cost around $500/day) and getting the kids delivered to the programs (there are transport services which safely get kids to the program for hire). And it's not like the images on old TV shows, the transport people are truly like "angels" and they use words to motivate. They don't lay a finger on the kids.
The kids come to the program without any supplies. Everything they need is given to them by the program: clothing, utensils, tents, sleeping bags, hiking boots. Some programs offer experiences like Equine therapy with horses, rafting, rock climbing, mountain biking. At night the kid's boots and clothes are taken just in case they are "runners". The food is basic, healthy and with very little sugar. They are uncomfortable enough that change will happen. And they are comfortable enough that they really can enjoy themselves in the activities. Most have a rolling admission so kids come and go through the program, some will always have more experience than others. It wouldn't be good for their to be ALL newbies!
My notebook was filled with notes to consider. It was time to digest all we learned. The main thing was that we still had not exhausted every possible solution before deciding any future plan. Find out how Disneyland helped us get through this difficult time.
Life used to be so simple. Wait isn't that a line from the song, "The Way We Were"? Sounds a bit like it I guess. But it's true, life was much simpler than our current way of living, especially if you have kids with learning and behavior challenges. Nowadays, in order to keep up with all the options of where to go to school, it may be necessary to hire an Education Consultant. In our case, she was a gift from above! Recommended by our teenage son's psychiatrist, she met with us on a Saturday morning last March.
She had tons of experience and explained that in order to recommend schools to her clients, she travels to visit all the places in person, at least one weekend out of every month. The people behind the schools and other programs like Wilderness Therapy, is what makes or breaks a good program. She told us NOT to start searching for places on the internet, because what we will see is how good a website the webmaster has created, not necessarily how good that school is. Don't be fooled or fall for the "bling". It's all about the people!
"Judging a book by it's cover" is similar to going on a college tour during your senior year in high school. Everyone falls in love with the exterior of the campus buildings covered with ivy and with the sight of well manicured, green lawns. If you were going to be a happy, engaged college student, going inside the actual classes would be the best way to decide. Another way would be to talk to the people who attend the school and ask a lot of questions.
So, that's what we did with our Education Consultant. We asked a LOT of questions! She explained that Summer was a good time for teens like our son who struggle with school, drugs and alcohol and are defiant. Many kids that have negative friends also benefit from going to a Wilderness program. And then you have to find the right After Care or school when you finished the program. Many of the good Wilderness programs are in the Western USA: Idaho, Utah, Oregon and Montana. They often have service focused people working there. Many of the staff are fulfilling a promise of community service. Some have become mentors to kids because they might have been "that kid" and are now giving back.
Then, our Education Consultant asked for all sorts of info about our son. We brought her report cards, IEP reports and filled out a questionnaire about him so she could determine what place might be a good fit. She asked if he might come to a future appointment and we thought there would be NO WAY, so she would have to go solely on what we told her, the paperwork we brought and speaking with his doctor.
There was so much to learn. Our meeting lasted a couple of hours. We had no idea there was another world out there: Wilderness, Aftercare, Private Schools.....What would we decide?
Peace and hope!
"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.)
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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