We are excited to be heading to Utah this week for Parent Days. This event is much more than a social visit, since it combines lots of therapy in the form of role playing, team activities with purpose and lots of family time with other families in our same boat. One thing we aren't sure of at this time, however, is whether our son will be able to spend one night with us in the hotel after Parent Days are concluded. It will all depend on his current "Level"!
In December for our Christmas visit, our 16 year old made his "Level 2" just days before we arrived on the 24th, Christmas Eve. That earned him the privilege of staying with us in our hotel, for the whole five days we were there. We had a very short time to rearrange our schedule to our new "upgraded hotel visit trip". To compare, a "Level 1" kid is picked up at 9am and must be returned by 9pm each day. That makes for an exhausting visit, as we discovered during our Thanksgiving visit back in November. With the overnight option, we would be able to check into our hotel and relax for part of the day and include some hot-tub time, as well. We all loved our Level 2 experience in December.
Shortly after our Christmas visit, our teenager level dropped. It is an occurrence that most kids in the program go through at least once. He had been a little sneaky in not following some of the rules regarding letter writing. When rules are broken at the RTC (residential treatment program), there are clear consequences for it. On the flip side, when goals are met for the various level requirements, more privileges are handed out. It is very clear what the expectations are, for either level direction: up or down. I only wish we had been able to enforce our own boundaries/rules with success before sending him to Wilderness Therapy Program and the RTC.
WHEN IT RAINS IT POURS
After learning about his level drop, we were also notified that our son's retainer went missing. Okay, he lost it again. At first is was a mystery to us, since we knew that the retainer had been secured in his mouth at his last orthodontist appointment. Well, he made some poor choices of opening a bottle with his teeth resulting in the retainer loosening. When he ate, he put the retainer in a napkin at lunch one day. After lunch he realized it was missing, so he looked through all the garbage containers in the cafeteria with no luck. This was an opportunity for us to enforce some consequences of our own. We decided not to replace the retainer right away. During our Skype therapy call we came up with a list of things/action he could do to "earn" a new retainer. This one will be his fourth retainer!
Replacing his custom retainer is an expensive event, at $700 a pop. Attached to the retainer are two false teeth, to fill in the spaces created by the orthodontist. The "money doesn't grow on trees" lesson has been a tough one for our son. He knows we care about "all things medical" for him and knows what his overall orthodontia has cost. But he didn't have to pay for it! It was our opportunity to show him that we "meant business" and that he plays a big role in protecting his dental welfare. He needed to earn it this time!
Our new agreement had the following items spelled out: 1) Earn Level 2 back, which requires getting signatures from staff around duties/chores and the like. 2) Complete more school work and make math a priority subject. (He is still making up for his missteps from last year's school failures.) 3) Show us that he can TAKE CARE of his property. He actually mended a torn shirt with a needle and thread as part of this deal. (We are taking a sewing kit with us for more clothing repairs).
All of these lessons are important for a young person. He is making head way. We are too. We know he will make Level 2. It may be in time for Parent Days, or maybe not. Until then, he will be fine. There is strength in the struggle.
Below is an important article written by Cecilia Kang and published last week by The New York Times. It is quite alarming to see what Facebook has up its sleeve for our kids and social media. I hope you join with me in letting Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO, know how harmful it could be for the development of our youngest members of society. You can snail mail letters to him at Facebook's headquarters: 1 Hacker Way, Menlo Park, CA 94025.
Full disclosure: I am on Facebook. I am an adult. My brain is already fully developed. I do enjoy sharing comments, links and stories with friends and family. I am aware of the risks of overuse and addiction concerning social media and technology. I know limiting its use can be challenging for me and other grown-ups.
"Turn Off Messenger Kids, Health Experts Plead to Facebook"
The New York Times Technology Section
By CECILIA KANG JAN. 30, 2018
WASHINGTON — At the age of 6, a child is full of imagination and may not distinguish reality from fantasy. She is beginning to read and can’t grasp nuances in written communication. She also doesn’t understand privacy. Citing those reasons and more, dozens of pediatric and mental health experts are calling on Facebook to kill a messaging service the company introduced last month for children as young as 6.
In a letter to the company, they said the service, Messenger Kids, which pushes the company’s user base well below its previous minimum age of 13, preys on a vulnerable group developmentally unprepared to be on the social network.
The letter was organized by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, an advocacy group that has successfully pushed companies to abandon marketing like a Pokemon Go app that sent children to fast food and other stores, and McDonald’s advertising on the envelopes of report cards in Florida.
Facebook’s new app for young children opens greater concerns, the group said. “Younger children are simply not ready to have social media accounts,” the experts said in the letter. “A growing body of research demonstrates that excessive use of digital devices and social media is harmful to children and teens, making it very likely this new app will undermine children’s healthy development.”
The opposition to Facebook’s app adds to growing societal concerns over digital media and devices. Some big Apple investors called on the company this month to work harder to make the iPhone less addictive, and some former Facebook employees have warned about how effectively the service hooks users.
And academic research, including a study released last week, shows that the rise in smartphone and social media use tracked with greater unhappiness among teenagers. Messenger Kids is a texting-type service that a parent sets up for a child. The parent uses his or her own Facebook account for the child, but the app is otherwise not a part of the main Facebook service. The app doesn’t have News Feed or a “like” button, which some mental health experts have linked to anxiety among teenagers on social media.
But many elements of the social network are there, including emojis, selfies, video chat and group texting.
Facebook says Messenger Kids provides a safer environment for children than many online experiences. The app has no advertising, for example. The company said it had consulted with the National PTA and several academics and families before introducing the app. “Messenger Kids is a messaging app that helps parents and children to chat in a safer way, with parents always in control of their child’s contacts and interactions,” Facebook said in a statement. But many health advocates say the app is still engineered to hook users, and that it is giving Facebook early access to its next generation of users.
“Facebook is making children into a market, and the youngest children will be more likely to get hooked even earlier,” said Michael Brody, a former chairman of the media committee of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
A version of this article appears in print on January 30, 2018, on Page B5 of the New York edition with the headline: Turn Off Messenger Kids, Health Experts Plead in a Letter to Facebook.
How can the use of this new App not be of concern to parents everywhere? Why do kids need this? We have seen the increase of anxiety in our teens? Do we need to push it down to elementary aged kids, too? Will babies be next? This is insane! Please feel free to comment below. I will be sending a letter to Zuckerberg this coming week. Please join me!
During our weekly therapy Skype call with our son, he told us some sad news. His first adopted calf, "Cheese" died. We were shocked. We knew from the previous week's call that "Cheese" was sick and not wanting to eat, and yet he had been doing a bit better. This news hit us like a ton of bricks.
Cheese was "given" to our son to take care of as part of the experiential learning opportunity called the Calf Rescue Program at Discovery Ranch. It's a wonderful chance for the kids to learn to care for, have empathy for and have big time responsibilities. The boys feed the newborn calves, no matter the weather and the calves depend on the boys for survival. There are so many lessons to learn: empathy, caring, service and thinking about something other than yourself. Many of the boys may have attachment issues as well as others things like: abandonment, loss and grief. This unique program can help with many of those issues, too.
We met "Cheese" at our Parent Days visit, last October, when he was just a week old. My son fed him a bottle three times a day. As "Cheese" grew, he was moved to the junior lot. During this time, our son's "job" at the Ranch was Feeding Manager. He was in charge of filling the bottles with special formula, with the help of the other boys. They also had to make sure the animals had water, hay and clean pens and hutches.
Unfortunately, there were other calves that died recently, too. But life goes on, and our son recently received his second calf. Hopefully this calf will be stronger and more able to survive. Life is full of lessons when you care for living beings. Loss is one of the toughest of all.
We know our son did a good job caring for "Cheese". RIP "Cheese". We will miss you. You felt like part of the family. You even made the back of our Christmas card this year.
With a sad heart,
It has been a little over six months since my son went to a Wilderness Therapy Program and then a Residential Treatment center after that. He celebrated his 16th birthday in the Idaho desert. He has been sober for that whole time and without using any electronic devices, so his brain is getting a chance to not only re-boot, but to thrive. It has been completely worth the enormous expense, financially and emotionally. We are now living in a place of strength instead of fear.
People have called us brave as parents. Some have said they could never do what we did. But, last June were at the end of our ropes and frankly, life wasn't a bowl of cherries during our son's early teenage years. We had no more options. It is tough to be a teen these days. There is so much going on: instant communication and news, pressures about one's future, social anxiety, depression AND digital addiction. We worried about what he was watching, what he was playing (video games), who he was texting, who he was hanging out with......the list goes on.
We tried keeping the "conversation" going. We tried to meet his friends, get to know their parents, provide activities that we could do as a family, eat dinner together. As things went south, we knew things were getting "unsafe" for our son. His local high school wasn't helping matters either. There was an abundance of marijuana and other drugs. My own fear escalated on a daily basis. I sought help to feel better and learn new strategies to cope.
The more I shared about the situation, the more I discovered that I am not alone. I met parents in the same boat, school wise, drug wise, technology wise. The more I opened up, the more others shared their similar stories with me. Wow, there is a BIG club out there! Layer by layer, as we found our way with the help of many professionals, our lives began to lighten up. We sent our son away, which led us to begin the process of amazing self discovery. We can flip this boat around! We can do it. We don't have to be afraid. We will get stronger. And stronger. And stronger.
Yes, there are days that aren't as good, emotionally. But there is strength in numbers. We met some great parents at the Wilderness Retreat. We met some great parents at the RTC (residential treatment center) Parent Days. We have learned that there are phases one goes through in this CLUB. Yes, there is relief initially, then it turns to acceptance and then it turns into strength. We are so much better for having been through all of our challenges. It's called living! We love our son. We miss our son! But we have him back as our son! And he is alive! And he is thriving!
No situation is perfect. We aren't perfect. He isn't perfect. We will make mistakes, he will make mistakes. We can learn from them. We can discuss our feelings and emotions. We will grow! Of course, no one knows what the future will hold for any of us. We take steps forward and a few steps backwards. That's okay. We have a lot of information we didn't before. We are not alone. Our journey continues. One day at a time. One step in front of the other. Breathing! Being grateful for what we've been through.
I am strong! I am no longer afraid.
I am standing tall!
Part of our visit contract was to participate in a "family meeting" every evening. It was a check-in about how things went during the day, what were the concerns, who should get "Props" and any other comments we had for each other. Our sixteen year old ran the meetings. They were informal, yet a powerful acknowledgement of how far we had come as a family and how far my son had come in exactly six months since going off to wilderness.
He was aware of the date of the 28th. He knew that date had significance. We did too. If someone would have told me on the night that the transport men came to get our son back in June, that six months later we would all be skiing at Sundance, I would NOT have believed it.
Sundance, Redford, skiing, Utah, family, chair lifts, snow, hot chocolate, below 30 degrees. None of those words were in my brain the night our son went to wilderness. Yet, here we were, during Christmas time using every single one of those words! How amazingly wonderful!
As a movie buff, Robert Redford has always been one of my favorite actors. The Sting, The Way We Were, Out of Africa, The Natural.......On my bucket list was a visit to his magical part of Utah known as Sundance. Tucked in the beautiful Provo Canyon, a mixture of a light dusting of snow and the jagged mountain peaks were spectacular when we arrived during our visit with our son.
It is small enough to not feel overwhelmed! As we rode up the chairlift with a local, she told us that she worked at the ski resort years ago as a teenager. I asked if Redford was still in the picture. She said, "Yes!" and had us turn around to the hill behind us to see a clearing, and a house behind it. That was Redford's house! She told us that she still see's him skiing at the resort, though he looks much older, not to mention he is much shorter in person than you would guess.
Our day at Sundance was just perfect. Our son was on a snowboard and we were back on skis after a few years of not skiing at all. Our goal was to NOT get hurt. We didn't, but our son jammed his wrist on a fall down the slope. He kept at his new found activity, saying how much FUN he was having! Wow, we sure didn't expect those words to come out of his mouth! We ordered lunch at the Taco Truck and ate inside the Rehearsal Hall. We sat for a few minutes by the outside BBQ pit to get warm. The sun was out. It was perfect.
During our meeting that evening, we reflected on our successes during the day. We wouldn't have changed anything. We hope to visit Sundance in the future and capture our family spirit there once again as well. What a nice day it had been. The next day was a recovery day. Our son held his sore wrist as sort of a badge of honor, we felt some sniffles coming on, but all of us rallied and went to the movies, one of our favorite family activities. We laughed out loud at Jumanji with Duane "The Rock" Johnson and Jack Black. It was very clever and we were all engaged. (Family review: Two thumbs up!)
We grabbed a bite to eat and then hit the road back to the Ranch. Our trip had been a delight! We talked about our next visit to come in about seven weeks time. We will miss each other, but have letters and our weekly Skype therapy call to look forward to. What progress we have made! What will the next six months hold for us? It's hard to say. For now, we have the memory of a wonderful visit to Sundance and a beautiful Christmas in Utah, that we will treasure forever.
Keeping the Faith!
We had a REALLY FUN visit this past week with our son in Utah! The weather made it special by snowing on Christmas Eve, which turned the holiday into our first "White Christmas" ever! It was also the first time we celebrated anywhere but our home in Northern California. We found a very cute "blow-up" Christmas tree on eBay and had it ready to go when our 16 year old awoke in the hotel room! Santa didn't need a chimney, just to be redirected to Salt Lake City with our modest gifts. I think we've started a new tradition for our family!
The Swiss made watch we gave him was a BIG hit. We didn't know that our son could actually "tell time" the old fashioned way and for the next five days together, he repeatedly announced what time it was! He really liked it. Sometimes going "old school" can be fun when electronics are not allowed. Plus the watch's hands glowed in the dark and there was a sweep second hand on it as well.
It was also the very first time he gave us each a Christmas present. No kidding, I can't remember ever receiving anything from him. He hand painted two very cute little horse ornaments, complete with yarn for the mane! You can imagine our joy when we opened the box! He was so proud of his work. They are pictured below. Aren't they cute?
We had a delicious dinner experience on Christmas Eve at Benihana's Japanese Restaurant. Finding a dining spot was a challenge, since Utah basically shuts down, but it was an entertaining meal filled with delicious shrimp, chicken, veggies and steak. We walked out into the light falling snow with very full stomachs! We also had a chance to see the spectacular lights at Temple Square. There were lots of visitors enjoying all the buildings and trees in full twinkling color!
The most anticipated event of our Christmas Day was seeing the new Star Wars movie. Our son is huge fan and it's been two years since Episode 7. We had purchased tickets in advance with reserved seats, so our movie going experience was relaxed and enjoyable. Our family review gives "The Last Jedi", two thumbs up! We spent most of the rest of the day talking about Star Wars theory and lore as we headed to dinner at one of the few restaurants open on Christmas Day in Provo. We had another grand feast which included six courses. The pumpkin soup was the best we've ever tasted. It put a cap on a wonderful Christmas Day!
The rest of the trip went very well. Stay tuned for Warrior Mom's next post to find out what else we did!
Happy New Year!
We are really looking forward to visiting our son in Utah during Christmas time. We will arrive on Christmas Eve Day and stay for five days. This year we are so grateful for the help we have received from the many professionals who have guided us! And of course we are thankful to all our friends and family that keep sending wishes of support and love. That includes YOU the reader! Thank you! I hope you will continue to follow our journey in the coming year!
This year since our Christmas celebration will be not be at home, and the cost of treatment has been astronomical, we have the opportunity to "dial it back in" and show by example what is truly important to us. Instead of giving too many expensive gifts, we are only taking a few small items to him. Don't spill the beans: a non electronic watch, Star Wars movie tickets and a mechanical pencil and drawing book. Our biggest gift this year is the gift of being present. I am calling it the Present of our Presence! What exactly does that mean? Our most important and meaningful present is US!
We have been lucky enough to have seen our sixteen year old four times during the last six months. The first visit was when he was in Wilderness after seven weeks for a family therapy retreat. I recall that when he first saw us, he said it felt like Christmas morning! I know we missed him terribly, and by that statement it's safe to say he felt the same way!
Each of the visits had a special purpose. The next was transporting him from Wilderness to the RTC (residential treatment center/school) where he is located now. The third was for Parent Days filled with lots of family sessions on the topic of boundaries. The fourth visit was purely social during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. This upcoming Christmas visit will have the same goal of "having fun"!
We will be able to spend quality time together! We will work on our communication without the distraction of iPhones or computers. We will put our devices away and he isn't allowed to have any use of electronics at this point in time. We will eat some good food and take some beautiful drives and hikes. If the snow arrives, we will play and ski if we feel like it! We will limit our movie going, so we are active and not participating in passive activities. I'm sure we will pack our days up with lots of fun in during our five days together!
Right now the boys at the school are reading a book called "The Ultimate Gift". We parents were given the same assignment. After finishing it, we had the opportunity of watching the movie by the same name, starring James Garner and Abigail Breslin. I urge you to read the book or watch the movie and share the dozen lessons it teaches. Perspective allows one to see things differently. We are certainly in the middle of the process of a new perspective!
Wishing you and your families the happiest of Holidays! We look forward to a bright 2018!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Thanks for your continued support of this blog.
It was around 7:30 pm and we decided to drive around and check out all the Christmas lights and decorations folks had put up in the neighborhoods. The amazing part that this was Thanksgiving Weekend and the lights were already up in mass! It was spectacular!
One of the staff at the RTC (residential treatment center) told us about a drive-thru light experience in a nearby town. What the heck! When in Rome........do as the Romans do! We pulled up to the "Festival of Lights" and paid our $7 (per vehicle). We were instructed to tune our car radio to a particular FM station. Christmas music surrounded us! Off we went on a slow driving journey around a darkened golf course transformed into a magical light experience. It was amazing and FUN! Reindeer and elves and snowmen and Santas were all a glow! It was something we will never forget. And we enjoyed it as a family!
On the way back to the RTC, we had a family meeting. This was part of a contract we all agreed upon before our visit to Utah. This type of meeting is something the boys do every evening. We also did a version of it called "nightly check-in" at the family retreat in Wilderness with our son and the group at large. It's a nice way of re-capping what worked and what needed improvement during our day. Some of our comments are below:
"It was a good day. We talked about lots of different subjects. We achieved our goal of having fun! We listened to each other. It was one of the best days together in a very long time."
"It was nice to be able to open up and not hide anything. We did a pretty good job of listening to each other. I can't think of anything I'd change. I can't wait until tomorrow."
We arrived back at the RTC and checked our son in. We gave the staff in charge a short summary of our day and then said our good-byes for the night. We would head back to our hotel and see our son bright and early at 9am the next morning.
The new day began at the local iHOP. Our son just realized what the letters in iHOP stood for: International House of Pancakes! It's funny what we tune into in our environments. There was every kind of pancake imaginable on the menu. Our son's choice was "Red Velvet" pancakes. We had "Senior Samplers", a combo of eggs and pancakes. We felt like we went backwards in time. We were not sure when the last time we went to an iHOP had been.
After breakfast, we headed to the Aquarium. It may not be the Monterrey Bay Aquarium, but it was this one was really nice. It was built in 2014 and had some wonderful exhibits and displays including a shark walkway that is sort of creepy and fun at the same time! We had a great time! We were able to experience another day together and enjoy each other's company. We were so thankful.
Our day continued with some lunch and another adventure drive, this time towards the Sundance Resort. We found out quickly that the "back way" was closed for the season, so we stopped at the turn around and took some quick family pictures. Our smiles showed genuine happiness! We just might have captured THE picture for our Christmas card this year.
As the day concluded we were all becoming exhausted and a little quieter and introspective. Our time together was coming to an end. I think I know how Cinderella felt when the clock struck twelve! Would this new enjoyable way of being a family, simply disappear? Or would we be able to build on this weekend for our future growth as people and as a family? We said our "so long for nows" (much better than good-bye!) and left with a few tears. Our son re-joined his group of boys and watched an Adam Sandler movie.
"See you in a month! We'll be back at Christmas!"
We took a morning flight to Salt Lake City from Oakland International Airport. Picked up the rental car and headed south to begin our 2 1/2 day visit with our son. We had our family Thanksgiving meal the day before and so did he with staff, other students and some parents at his residential treatment center. We heard they had a feast and lots of pie!
We were filled with excitement and anticipation when we arrived to pick him up. He was ready and greeted us warmly with hugs. We signed him out and were reminded of our mutual contract, signed verbally over Skype earlier in the week. Our son agreed to it also. He was to never leave our sight. If there was a bathroom break, we stood outside of the door. I am glad to say we never had a problem and it went very smoothly.
We headed out towards one of the big malls in the Provo area seeking a movie theatre. There are plenty of Cinemark Theatres throughout the area to choose from. We decided to have some dinner before seeing Thor: Ragnarok with Chris Hemsworth. We were all very happy to see each other after our last visit for Parent Days a month before. The conversation was a bit one sided with all of our questions, but we are working on communication, so there is room for improvement.
After the dinner (we had burgers) and the movie we made some family phone calls. Our son is not supposed to use any technology, so I dialed and held my iPhone within range of all of us in the car. We talked to Grandma and some cousins and everyone was happy to hear from our sixteen year old. From our parking space at the mall we saw what looked like an obstacle course of Christmas lights. Cars headed toward the "Enter" sign and turned off their headlights and zigged and zagged through the maze of flashing and pulsating lights. I googled the attraction and was surprised to see that it cost $25 per car. It seemed a bit high priced.
We headed back to the RTC (residential treatment center) to return our son by 9 pm and checked him in with staff. On our way we had a required "family meeting" which covered: What went well, what didn't go well. We each took turns answering those questions. The goal for the weekend was to "have a good time", so we were definitely successful on the first night. We said our goodbyes, shared some hugs and would return in the morning for our next adventure.
We headed back to our Holiday Inn Express and were happy to be able to spend time with our son. It felt like a long time since we enjoyed a movie as a family and had a meal without technology in the middle of it. The next morning we had plans to check out the Provo Recreation Center. "WOW" is all I can say! What a place! It had everything and the price was right! A day pass was $5 for adults and $4 for under 18.
We took a tour of the place and decided to come back in the afternoon after lunchtime. We played ping pong, pool and table top shuffleboard (not sure of the real name of this fun game). We swam in the pool, floated along the lazy river, jumped off the cliff (platform), sped down the water slide, climbed the rock wall and fell back into the water. It was so much fun! There were tons of families there too!
To be continued.....(find out what else we did during our Utah visit in the next blog post!)
As they say on postcards, "We are having a great time and wish you were here......"
Thanksgiving is next week and I want to take a moment to give thanks! I am grateful for so many things. We spoke by Skype with our sixteen year old today and he is continuing to do well at school. There are a few minor things that he is working through, rule oriented and getting assignments done, but all are handled in a way that shows growth is happening. He remains upbeat and looks great.
1. I am grateful for a new beginning. It has been a wild ride this year, but BlueFire Wilderness helped save his life. Our son admitted to spiraling downward just before we sent him at the end of June. By the end of his thirteen weeks in Idaho, he was able to see that his negative behaviors and negative friends were NOT good for him.
2. I am grateful for his new environment in Utah. It's very costly and further away in distance that we would like, but he is SAFE and following a program which will help him learn (school stuff) and succeed. He says he'd rather be home, but he enjoys it and knows he has work ahead of him.
3. I am grateful to the countless friends and family members who have cared enough to listen to me. The topic of a struggling teen is not for the faint of heart. We have opened up and in return have received so much. I know we are not alone!
4. I am grateful for my BLOG. Thank you My Warrior Mom Life readers. I know many of you personally (see #3) and others I do not, but I can't tell you, how much writing about our story has helped me. It is a release putting it into writing. I feel free-er because of it. I hope you will keep reading and sharing with others. I know I can help many people along the way!
5. I am grateful to be able to BE PRESENT. Sure, I'd like to check out sometimes, and honestly do occasionally, but being mindful is so important to my everyday existence. All we really have is TODAY! I am going to live it!
6. I am grateful to be able to WALK and TALK. "One foot in front of the other" has been a mantra of mine for the past six months or so. I __________ (walk, talk, swim.....fill in the blank), because I am able! For that ability, I am grateful.
7. I am grateful for HUMOR. They say that "laughter is the best medicine". That is for sure! Even in the darkest moments, I have been able to laugh. It is vital to my personal mental health. Know any good jokes?
8. I am grateful for HUMILITY. I have been blessed to be "good" at many different things. School and athletics came easily to me. I did work hard and practice too, but I am grateful for those gifts. Not everyone can claim them, for example: my son. It's taken me a long time to understand that.
9. I am grateful to be HAPPY. Some days I miss my son terribly. Other days, I do my daily tasks and keep moving forward without realizing it. However, I am glad not to feel that pit in the bottom of my stomach, morning, noon and night. I can BREATHE. That is true happiness to me.
10. I am truly grateful to have a partner who is on this journey with me, every step of the way. We are in a "club" we didn't sign up for. We are stronger for it. We are survivors. We are not perfect. We are able to ask for help. I am so fortunate to have you by my side! Thank you!
Happy Thanksgiving to all of you! I am only one Mom of millions, but I remain a
When my son came out of the Wilderness Program at the end of September, he was pretty scruffy. Before heading to the new school, he was able to take a really long, hot shower at our hotel. On the packing list was an electric razor. They don't allow regular blades, as you can imagine. After he cleaned up, he looked amazing! WOW!
But his hair was still long, about shoulder length. I didn't really mind it that length. He looked good. But we were sure surprised when we heard from his therapist that all the boys just had their haircut, a few weeks into his stay at the Ranch. When our Skype call began, what a sight he was! Short hair! He said he hated it! Another WOW! He looked good. It was a little short on the sides and a tiny bit longer on the top.
These haircuts were part of the program and to have self-respect for caring how one looked. I liked it, but I'm a parent! Each generation has their fads. Remember how long everyone thought Elvis wore his hair? And the Beatles? And the hippies in the late 1960's? We hardly think about it anymore. We didn't even flinch when our son asked for purple hair, or other colors in the past two years. We didn't need to make that one of our battles!
But I can see how differently he acts with this new shorter hair cut. There is a sense of "clean-cut-ness" to make up my own word! So the sixteen year old is clean shaven AND short-haired! What a change from four months ago. His last hair cut was for his 8th grade graduation. And with that haircut, the purple dye was added by our loyal hair salon owner friend. She even came in on her day off to help us out! What a pal!
Now we hear that the boys at the Ranch are participating in "No Shave November". It raises awareness for cancer patients. I'm all for that! We hear that some of the staff members are joining the boys on this one! Way to go guys! One week in the month down, three to go! I'll keep you posted to how it all goes!
Until then, "keep it short on the sides"!
From the John Waite song MISSING YOU:
"Everytime I think of you, I always catch my breath
And I'm still standing here, and you're miles away".
I have many MOM moments like this because my son is at an RTC (resdential treatment center)/school in another state. I'm sure it's natural, but every once in a while that feeling of "missing you" comes over me.
I know he is safe. I know he is doing well. I know it's WAY BETTER than just four months ago, but it still gets me. There is a bittersweetness too it all, he is only sixteen. I also realize this is not a permanent state and that he will come home again. It won't be anytime soon, however. Until then, the house is quieter and much neater. I don't go to Safeway every day to shop for groceries. The water bill is lower, but the little everyday activities are not the same in our house. We could have used his help with the decorations and the treat or treaters on Halloween, that's for sure.
I am sure on his end, he is thinking many of the same thoughts about being away from home. Yes, he has structure and lots of people who care around him. He is doing a lot of fun activities: a ropes course, lots of board games, feeding his newborn calf and hopefully some school work. I wonder if he gets sad at night when he goes to sleep? I wonder how often he thinks of his doggy at home and the way she "growled" at him when he tried to pick her up? I wonder how much he misses his old life, even if it wasn't working, because it was easier?
I write this blog because I want to help others going through struggles with their teenagers. I also write it to help myself, because it does. Right now I have a lump in my throat and a few tears in my eyes, but that's okay. I will be okay. I have to be!
Reflecting on life,
P.S. And the weekly letter just came from the Ranch, from our son and it's super cute. He says he's making friends, just got a job as a manager filling the calves food and is having a really good time! I am a Happy Mom!
It is the end of the 31 day Ultimate Blog Challenge and I have enjoyed writing about our story everyday this month. I will continue with the My Warrior Mom Life Blog on a less frequent basis, but probably not every day. For those who have been regulars, thank you so much for joining me on this journey. For those who have stopped by now and then, thank you, too. I hope you will visit again soon!
For the final day of October, better known as Halloween, I want to write about our wonderful visit with our son for Family Days last week. Each quarter the school has an event where parents come to the campus and engage in workshops and talks with a theme related to helping us with our struggling teenagers. This quarter the topic was "Boundaries". We listened, shared and practiced. Everything about the three days on campus had meaning and purpose. It was very well organized and obviously was well thought out and executed.
The biggest take-away was that we are NOT alone. There are MANY families in our same boat. There were other parents going through similar situations AND other teens going through rough patches, too. We felt the power in the process and were open to learning what we could in our few days in Utah. We didn't know what to expect, having only experienced a family therapy retreat at our wilderness program in August. We were sure that it would be beneficial and help re-establish boundaries for our family.
We ate meals together, played games together (including Knock-out on the basketball court) and helped feed our son's calf early one morning. It was so nice to be a family again. We met other families from all over the US. We learned that many of the boys had also been to a wilderness experience and were now doing well. Our son was doing well. He smiled and talked and played. WOW! What a difference even in the short time at school (about one month's time). We were very happy. We felt like we were living a miracle, and yet stay so grateful and humble.
But as our three days came to an end, we experienced something that really knocked our socks off and brought us to tears. The boys performed in a variety show. Some played music and and sang. Others performed skits from famous musicals or shows they enjoyed like a scene from Monty Python and the dance from Michael Jackson's Thriller. Since our son was a newbie, his participation was limited to the last song they all performed together. They lined up around the stage in white t-shirts, black pants and smiling faces.
Then the music began and it was a well known song that immediately gave me chills and began my flow of tears. The boys started singing the recognizable lyrics made famous by the band Journey in the early 1980's. When they got to the chorus and sang "Don't stop believin'" it was clear they were telling us parents to NOT GIVE UP on them. They were working hard to earn our trust, set their lives straight again and head towards a brighter future. But we MUST do it together.
Just a small town girl
Livin' in a lonely world
She took the midnight train goin' anywhere
Just a city boy
Born and raised in south Detroit
He took the midnight train goin' anywhere
A singer in a smokey room
A smell of wine and cheap perfume
For a smile they can share the night
It goes on and on, and on, and on
Don't stop believin'
Hold on to the feelin'
Don't stop believin'
Don't stop believin'
Hold on to the feelin'
Up and down the boulevard
Their shadows searching in the night
Living just to find emotion
Hiding somewhere in the night
Working hard to get my fill
Everybody wants a thrill
Payin' anything to roll the dice
Just one more time
Some will win, some will lose
Some were born to sing the blues
Oh, the movie never ends
It goes on and on, and on, and on
Don't stop believin'
Hold on to the feelin'
Don't stop believin'
Don't stop believin'
Hold on to the feelin'
I won't stop believing! Thanks for reading and for your support!
The process for parents with kids at a wilderness program, therapeutic boarding school or residential treatment center is plain and simple. Change is necessary. It isn't easy but, if the kids must change, so must the parents. It's called a Parallel Process.
There are dozens of recommended books that are important to read and take to heart. I have listed some of the books that I am currently reading. They can help parents and families see what changes may be necessary to have positive outcomes. This list is just a starting point for self-discovery and breaking old patterns. They are filled with many valuable lessons and practical advice. I will be adding more titles in future blog posts, but for now I suggest this short list of books that I have liked:
The Parallel Process by Krissy Pozateck, LICSW
Growing Alongside Your Adolescent or Young Adult Child in Treatment
Not By Chance by Tim R. Thayne, Ph.D.
How Parents Boost Their Teen's Success In and After Treatment
The Family Crucible by Augustus Y. Napier, Ph.D with Carl Whitaker M.D.
The Intense Experience of Family Therapy
The Journey of the Heroic Parent by Brad M. Reedy Ph.D.
Your Child's Struggle & The Road Home
I Don't Have to Make Everything All Better by Gary Lundberg and Joy Lundberg
Six Practical Principles that Empower Others to Solve Their Own Problems While Enriching Your Relationships
Are there any books that you recommend to other parents with kids in treatment that you want to share? I am asking for titles of some of your favorites. Please comment below.
Hopefully changing for the better,
Routines are seldom exciting. Routines can be rather dull. But our new routine was different than most because our son is away at school. And the school is more than just the normal boarding school because they deal with struggling teens. There are lots of rules and expectations of how to get along. There are levels that one moves up through to get more privileges and freedoms.
Our son began at Level One which is better than some. Since he went to a wilderness program he jumped ahead of the Orientation Level. I'm not clear on all the aspects of the levels but, there is information in the Parent Handbook that explains it all. Frankly, it's a lot to digest. Happily, our son is doing what he's supposed to to and getting along with staff and peers. The main thing that he's lacking is the ability to open up.
Why does he have to open up you might ask? Well in addition to school, they are teaching communication skills, values and goals. In order to move forward, one needs to learn to get to the root of why their parents sent them there. Or as if often referred to in slang, "when the wheels fell off the bus". The new setting gives the students a chance to work on self-improvement by doing daily and weekly chores among other activities.
Some of the chores include doing their personal laundry weekly, cleaning the house they live in. And yes, that means the bathroom and vacuuming, as well as making their beds daily. Everything needs to be tidy and neat. Try that with any group of teenage boys and you might have some difficulties. But if you want to move up to another level, then these things get done. And a habit will become routine when practiced daily and weekly. So there is a lot of repetition and learning by doing. A mom's dream environment.
Keeping a schedule can create good habits. They rise at seven am, they take care of personal care, then PE! After that, they eat breakfast. Then they feed their calves. A little housekeeping and then some therapy with their personal or group therapist depending on the day of the week. A little free time, lunch, shower and then school. What? Yup, they go to school beginning at 4 pm every day.
More about that tomorrow, so come back to read about how this school turns education on it's head!
We received our first letter rather unexpectedly. It came as email attachment. When I double clicked on it, I saw a handwritten note about twelve lines long. It was a bit faint and was obviously scanned by the staff at the residential treatment center (RTC) where he is now located. We later found out there is a weekly assignment for all the students to send a letter to their parents.
The best part of the letter is reading how much he says he misses us. Awwww..... What more can a parent ask for? As a general rule and something I believe in doing, when one receives a letter, one must respond back. Years ago when I held a "cute" letter writing club for my son and his fellow first grade classmates, I made them take an oath stating just that. "If I receive a letter in the mail, I promise to write that person back." I'm sticking to that pledge, after all, everyone enjoys getting mail!
And so, we began to write our response back to our sixteen year old teen. We answered a few of his questions about how grandma was and the dog, too. We also asked him a few questions of our own. The primary reason for this letter and future ones to come is therapeutic in nature, however. Social and personal business aside, this will become a way to address many of our family issues, including topics of social media use, negative friends and technology addiction.
We are all settling into our new life with our son being gone at the RTC/school a couple of states away. Our first letters were warm and friendly. There would be plenty of time for our therapy assignment letters. Next up was to write an "impact letter" to our son. We were able to use the same one we sent to him for wilderness, but added an addendum of things to made it current. We send our letters by typing them and then using email. On the other end, it gets printed out and handed to him, when the staff does mail call.
Our communication will also include Skype calls for weekly therapy, along with old fashioned letter writing. Sometimes it's easier to write things than it is to say them. It's nice to have a combination of both. We are all trying to improve our relationship! That's what he has told us and many of the staff at his new RTC. Moving forward!
We started our four hour car trip to Utah feeling happy and hopeful. There were many little signs of the positive changes made in wilderness by our son. One amusing example was the variety of music that he now wanted to listen to on the radio. He admitted to liking so many more songs and artists than before. He even was into the Taylor Swift song! That would have NEVER happened before. In wilderness the boys had a few favorite stations that were on during road trips.
Another example of a change was that he wanted to buy a couple of paperback books and after we did find a store, he asked to turn off the radio so he could read his book. What happened to my son? He was also talking and answering questions. He was so happy to be out of the wilderness after ninety-two days! He then admitted to be exited about the new school in Utah. WOW!
We drove through Salt Lake City and went by Temple Square. Very impressive indeed. We were having an old fashioned road trip. While getting gas we had fun people watching, too. Our son's wilderness therapist gave us one big warning, to not over do it on the food. One stop at Starbucks for a cold drink. An awesome pizza dinner. Probiotics twice a day. All was good.
We did make an important stop at the best outlet mall I've ever seen. It had all the big names: Nike, Gap, H&M, Polo, Columbia and lots more. We had either purchased or pulled from our son's closet, all the necessary items on the packing list for the new school. There was limited space so we had to count up the pants and shirts. They provided the polo shirts and PE clothing, but it was up to us to supply the rest.
He tried on all the clothes and left tags on just in case they didn't fit. He didn't care for a few of the shirts or pants, so we did buy a few things on sale, outlet style. We got some great bargains! And he was happy to have a little control back in the area of picking his clothing after months of wearing outdoorsy clothes that were chosen for him. We packed the unwanted clothes in a spare bag to take back home.
There were two phone calls to friends that were approved beforehand and they went well. He arrived at the school, strong and ready to begin. Off he went with the admissions director in a golf cart, shortly after we checked in to the office. We filled out the remainder of the paperwork and had a session with his new therapist. We liked her a lot.
The best comment of the day was, "I wish you would have sent me to wilderness when I was a bit younger, so I could have more time with you now." He was getting it. We were relieved. We knew it might not all be a picnic down the road, but the transition went as well as could be expected. We said "So long for now, we'll see you soon!" A new day has begun, for all of us!
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,
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.
"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 -
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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