Goodbye RTC, Hello Step Down Program

The Ranch
The Ranch

This past month has been a very exciting time for my 17 1/2 year old son! He has started a new program in a new area of Utah. This program is what is known as a “Step Down” program in the treatment world. It is a small co-ed, boarding prep school with only 37 total students and a place of many possibilities towards a bright future! Much of what he learned at his Residential Treatment Center (RTC) will be put to the test quite quickly! It will be a perfect place to practice!

We left the Ranch last week on a Thursday and drove down to Southern Utah with a car full of clothing, boots, binders and memories! The exact day and time of the departure was kept under wraps by the staff, as close to the last minute as possible, so the students keep participating and working on their issues. In my son’s case, he had a vague idea of when he would be leaving, but not the exact day and time. We challenged him to continue to put in the work, in what would be his final weeks of his almost 17 month stay. He was ready and we were ready! He had learned all that they could offer and succeeded in many aspects during his time there.

One of the biggest achievements was that he finished Geometry, and took his final test (a re-test) and passed with 100% on his next to last day! Days earlier he had only scored a 47% on that same exam. In fact he passed three tests during his last week, which helped quite a bit. He had been ready to give up and accept a half credit for the course just weeks prior. But we as parents and his therapist pushed him into getting the studying done! We told him that if he completed Geometry, he would never have to take that class again, ever! Geometry was not his favorite subject (and who can blame him for thinking that!) but he did get the job done and WOW you could see his pride and excitement when he told us all about it on his final day at the RTC. My son also shared he that decided to skip his team’s basketball game (his did have a sore wrist, but still getting off campus was always a treat) and so he hit the books in order to finish this daunting math class! It was one of the first times that he directly saw the pay-off for actually doing the difficult work! It was a huge accomplishment!

Another big moment for the kids leaving The Ranch is coming up with a “brand” and having it burned into the wall at the entry of the Administration Building and another on a take-away plaque to keep. There are so many unique symbols from every boy who had left prior to my son. It is considered a very special ritual and as we were landing at the Salt Lake City Airport, his therapist texted pictures to us. We would miss that moment in person, but would be able to participate in the “Goodbye Group” with his fellow students, many staff members and mentors.


Making His Own Mark
Making His Own Mark
As we entered the Bunkhouse, where my son had lived since the very end of September 2017, he warmly greeted us with the biggest smile imaginable! He remembered that is was my birthday and even told me, “Happy Birthday”! Those words were the best gift I could receive! I was very moved! As we were getting ready to begin the Goodbye Group, the boys in the bunkhouse all started singing “Happy Birthday” in unison. That really floored me! Even with prompting from the staff, they were able to show their sweet sides to another parent in their group! That put a big smile on my face!
Happy Birthday
Happy Birthday Cake from My Son

There is a designated couch at one end of the main room where my son and the two of us sat. He spoke into a small hand held recording device and announced that it was his Goodbye Group, the date and then paused it, as he passed it to the first boy sitting to his right. They each turned on the recorder, introduced themselves and offered words of wisdom, encouragement or memories of my son and their joint time at The Ranch. Some spoke a short time, some a little longer, but all the messages were heartfelt and very thoughtful. The staff members all participated and added their advice and remarks to and about my son. Our son’s therapist had a couple of quotes that rang true as perfect advice for his future. One was from Mohammed Ali, though I can not recall what the quote was at present. My son will get a copy of all these special sentiments and will be able to listen to them later.

As the recorder was handed to me, I was overcome with emotions. I was going to miss this place, even though it was  difficult having my son so far away from home. This place, that was a safe haven for my son. A place that gave him confidence in himself, where he took care of newborn calves, where he rode horses each week, where he did his own laundry, performed in the Parent Day’s Variety shows and succeeded in school! There were so many thoughts and memories swirling in my head, I had to focus on what I was going to say to him as my parting words from the RTC that was his home and school for over a year!

I turned the recorder on, and couldn’t speak. His therapist was quick to retrieve a box of Kleenex as I gathered myself. It was very silent and then tears began running down my cheeks. My first words were, “WAY TO GO!” You did it. It may have been longer than we all thought it would be, but YOU DID IT! I am proud of you. You stuck with the challenges, leveling up and then even leveling down. Participating in all sorts of therapy, more than anyone can even imagine! But what stood out to me was that your effort was there, even when it didn’t look like if from the outside! You wrote us weekly letters, even if they were mandatory assignments. I am so lucky to have a large stack of them. Yes, they were short and somewhat repetitive but they mattered! I looked so forward to receiving the scan of a new letter every Monday! If for some reason it came on a Tuesday, I was beside myself with anticipation of getting that letter. I was always happy to know that you were okay and were even having a good time!

I then told the boys in the room that their parents and loved ones really appreciated getting their letters, whether they realized it or not! My words to my son then returned back to a simple, yet important theme. I was proud of him, because he was present. I know that being away from home was not something he would have chosen. I know it was hard for him. But guess what, it was hard for me too, not having him home. And most importantly, his original goal (that he stated to the Admission’s person on his first day) was to repair and improve the communication and relationship with his moms. I believe as he does, that he accomplished that!

“You did it son! Way to go! I love you! I can’t wait to see what’s next for you and your future! I’m really excited for you! It’s now all up to you! And we are here for you and still have your back!”

The mic passed to my partner who said something awesome to him and I know he was listening from watching his facial expressions. The circle was complete. We then all went downstairs into the CafeA and had some delicious birthday cake that my son had made in the school’s kitchen, along with his therapist. There is a tradition (at the Ranch) of getting a cake on your birthday made with your favorite ingredients and that was true for me too: chocolate cake, chocolate icing with Reese’s peanut butter cups and Reese’s pieces all over the top! What a birthday I had! We said our last goodbyes and hit the road down to Southern Utah. The next day was going to be big! Entering the Step Down program where my son knew he needed be, for now.

In the car, we talked about our various memories of the Ranch and gave tribute to all those people who helped us along the way. We are all excited to see what’s next! Our journey continues….. Stay tuned!



Change is A Comin’!

Change is a comin'
“The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change -” ― Heraclitus

Happy New Year! Our Christmas visit was awesome! My son came home and that meant that we stayed home for a whole week! No traveling, just staying put! We had a family Christmas, we played basketball, we went shopping and we saw some old friends! Many of those friends had not seen our son in quite some time. They were happily surprised to see a smiling face of a grown teen when they greeted each other.

“What a change!”, they shared with me.
“Can you believe it? He’s smiling and happy!” I replied.
“Really, he looks great!” they added.

In this case, the change was good. Re-connecting with friends from early childhood was important. They knew each other before the teenage years, when they first started school and when they were just learning how to ride bikes. They had lost their first teeth together, and were once so little and innocent, it was hard to imagine they all had grown up to be the big kids now! Some are driving, some have jobs and some like my son, have learned important lessons about life and friendship by a change of scenery and a path less traveled.

They asked him questions about Wilderness. They asked him questions about sleeping without a tent (my son’s choice by the end of 92 days so he didn’t have to keep setting it up every day!) They asked him what it was like to not have a phone.

“Wow, I couldn’t do that! I probably use my phone too much, I guess!”, one realized.

My son has been without a phone (or computer) for over 500 days. What a difference in his brain! He has less anxiety and less depression. He has less to worry about like keeping Snap Chat strings alive or posting on Instagram or getting a ton of LIKES. It’s a simple life when electronics aren’t taking you over! Oh, did I mention that my son read a book over Christmas vacation? He also had conversations with us. And his distraction level is WAY down! That’s another nice change!

Looking back over 2018 we can certainly say that we are moving in a good direction. Yet, just when one feels settled, change comes along to shake things up a bit! Change is a good thing in this case! And the theme of the unknown keeps coming back again and again!

This coming weekend we are touring a STEP DOWN Boarding School together. It is located in Southern Utah. This new environment will allow my son more independence and a chance to make decisions for himself. The school is Co-Ed and that will be a BIG change from the all boys RTC (residential treatment center) he has been at for the past fifteen months. They have school in the AM, and that will be a change from the afternoon schooling at the Ranch. There will be many new adjustments ahead. We think it could be a good fit for a young man heading toward adulthood and his 18th birthday in July. He has more time to practice what he has learned in the past year and a half, before he comes home for good.

We are excited to see a new part of Utah and discover new places in that beautiful state. We know that change is important for growth. This move will be a different experience, but exciting at the same time. We are looking forward to the new changes that are a comin’ our way!

I am embracing the unknown! Thanks for sharing our journey!


Up in the Air, But At Least it is Something!


Night Sky
Night Sky

In the world of treatment, there are standards and rules in place which makes the program’s expectations very clear. For the parents who are far away in distance and without daily contact, there is much that is uncertain and unknown about, regarding our kids. Of course there is a weekly scanned letter that comes to my IN BOX via email on Mondays, usually late in the day. That short letter has a tiny bit of info in it. My son is not a long letter writer, but anything is better than nothing. He usually says that his week has been good. He will often write about what movies they watched for “Movie Night”, and if he earned a chance to go to it. He hardly ever answers questions from the letter we sent to him the previous Thursday in our weekly letter exchanges. But at least it is something!

There is also the weekly Skype call every Tuesday afternoon. About half of the call is a discussion with his therapist on what’s going on with our son. The other half is comprised of our son reading his therapy assignment to us followed by our asking questions or making comments on his work. Most of the assignments are very thoughtful and complete. Some have parts that need to be amended with additional information by him. We get a really short time for “just personal banter”. But at least it is something!

This past Thanksgiving we all had a good visit. Our 17 year old flew on his own to the SF Bay Area, on the Friday after the holiday and was able to stay for one week. He did not earn a HOME VISIT this time, instead it was categorized as an OUT OF STATE visit which meant we were not able to go together to our house, but rather to our cabin in Nor Cal instead. We were excited to share that time and also re-connect with our grown nephew, who took the Amtrak train from Portland, OR to join us for the visit. Our nephew had lived with us a few years ago and is about ten years older than our son. We were all so happy to see him and to be together again. The last time we saw him was on our Disneyland trip in April of 2017, which was during a difficult time in our past, B.W (Before Wilderness). Our post Thanksgiving visit was something special.

As I write this, we know our son will be coming back to California on December 23rd. What we don’t know is if he has earned the chance to be at home, or if we have to go on the road again and back up to our cabin. We are waiting for the verdict from his Treatment Team. The group goes over his progress and evaluates what tasks were asked of him during the last few weeks. Our son is back at Level 2 and he doesn’t seem to be moving back to a 3 any time soon. Nothing is ever quick in our experience in the treatment world. We are still very proud of all the work he has done, day in and day out; week in and week out. None the less, we are still up in the air regarding our plans. But at least we will see him.

Being up in the air becomes an opportunity to live with uncomfortable feelings and and it forces us to realize that we can only live day to day in this world. Looking at our situation through a positive lens also gives us a chance to stay present and not to focus on what we can not control as parents. Our son on the other hand, holds the key to his future in his own hands. It is up to him ultimately. Letting go of our expectations has been one of the biggest lessons we have learned during the past 18 months. Yes, our son has been away for 18 months and yet we have been lucky enough to have seen him in all but three or four of those months. We continue to try and re-build our connections, and we are happy to have the opportunity to do so. That is something!

Fast forward to right now, today. As I finish writing this blog post, I am happy to report that our son is home with us for Christmas. What a wonderfully meaningful present for us and the whole family. We are truly blessed. We are sticking close to home and get to spend a whole week together. I want to wish “Happy Holidays” to you and your families. Thanks for sharing our journey. More to come in the upcoming weeks. 2019 will be a big year! And that is something to be thankful for!

I am Warrior Mom!
Keeping the Faith!

Life and Death and The First Home Visit

Life and Death and the First Home Visit

I still can’t believe how fortunate we were last month to have our son visit our Northern California mountain cabin. He had not been back in California for fifteen months. He was now Level 3 and earned it over what seemed like a really long period of time! His therapist was the main force behind making this milestone visit take place when it did. We had our scheduled Parent Days on tap in October in Utah, so we thought, well maybe we will just wait until then to see our son. But our therapist said, “I really think you all should take this opportunity right now”.

What a huge statement that turned out to be. One week after that wonderful visit, our son’s grandmother passed away. It was sudden and somewhat unexpected. Her health was challenged a month earlier with a “mini-stroke”. Her memory wasn’t as strong as it once was. But, she in fact rebounded from that August event and was such a trooper as we all picked up our much more mature son (now 17 years old) at the Sacramento Airport on a Friday, for our long weekend visit last month. Grandma and Grandson were very happy to see each other and picked up with their playful ways without a missing a beat, after a very long absence of not being together.

She asked him how he liked his school. He told her about the horses, running 5K races and his classes. She asked if he had made some friends and he shared some of their names with her. He was a 2.0 version of himself: much calmer, much happier and more at ease. We all played cards together and there was work on the puzzle, in the main room of the cabin, that was always set up and ready for action. We reminded him to speak up so she could hear his answers more clearly and he was pretty talkative for a non-talkative kid! She told me how “sweet” a boy he was. She was happy he was doing well in school, in what was one of our clearest conversations in a long time.

How lucky we were to have no regrets! She was happy up until the end and basically went to sleep one night and didn’t wake up. Most of us would trade large amounts of gold for a serene scenario like that. The timing was such that we were able to tell our son, during our weekly Skype call with his therapist, that she was near the end of her life. He took it as well as could be expected, but was definitely quiet in his processing of the sad news. He saw us cry and we saw a bit of a lip quiver from him. That was quite a moment that we shared.

We agreed with his therapist that he should join the weekly “Grief Group” at the Ranch to help him get in touch with those sad feelings. When we arrived for Parent Days a couple weeks later, we were able to share stories about Grandma and talk about our good times together. We didn’t expect what happened next.

As the date for Grandma’s memorial was being set, the treatment team all agreed that it was very important for our son to attend the memorial, back at home. Originally, he was just going to come back with us to Marin County after Parent Days for just three days, since it was his first home visit. Then, they suggested he stay for an extended time, which ended up being a whole ten days.

“How are we going to manage this?”
” Are we really ready?”

After taking some deep breaths and talking it through, it became very obvious that he needed to be home with enough time to acclimate, before all the “hub hub” of lots of family and the memorial actually took place. We took it one day at a time. We had our nightly family meeting. We talked about what the “triggers” for all of us might look like. We supported each other. Most importantly, he participated.  The rules were the same as other visits: no cell phones, no internet, stay with us at all times and get school work and therapy work done daily. And foremost, enjoy each other’s company.

The activities started slowly. We were greeted at home by a couple of our son’s Aunties. We did some cleaning up. We went out to dinner. As the days went on, more relatives showed up. He visited with his local same aged cousin for an hour. We stayed close by. Things were going well.

To describe the faces of each person who had not recently seen our son, greet him over those ten days, would bring a large grin and possibly a tear or two, to anyone who watched. I was so proud to see him navigate ALL the bonus attention he received! The two most spoken comments about him were, “You look so good!” and “I am proud of you!” He heard those wonderful words over and over again. How powerful is that? We took lots of photos and tried not to overwhelm our son with too much. But how could it not? He was part of the family once again!

That’s where he really surprised us and made us reflect. He was growing up before our eyes and had made many positive changes over the past year. We celebrated that! He may still be a “man of few words” but he was respectful and helpful with all that we had to do, to host a memorial for over two hundred people. He watched and listened and took important steps towards a new life with his family. We sent him back to the Ranch and felt the sadness of his leaving. We are working on a Thanksgiving visit for November!

Feeling at peace,

The One Year Anniversary of My Warrior Mom Life Blog

Happy One Year Anniversary to the Warrior Mom Blog

Happy Anniversary to me! Yes, it’s been one year since The My Warrior Mom Life Blog was launched. I feel fortunate to be able to share my journey with you on this website. It has been a year filled with gratitude,  growth and understanding. I know many of you readers personally and want to thank you for your support. It means the world to me! There are many others of you, whom I have not met, and I am thankful for your readership as well. I hope my blog continues to blossom and grow and that I can touch the lives (in a positive way) of many more parents, who are going through similar situations. Don’t hesitate to share one of my blog posts or a helpful link with anyone on a challenging path with a struggling teenager in their lives. We all know someone who is going through tough times with their teen, don’t we? Don’t be shy about reaching out!

I don’t proclaim to have all the answers. In fact, it’s just the opposite. I, however, have surrounded myself with people who can help my family and me through our not so unusual journey. The list of contributing factors that many of us face range from digital addiction, adoption to ADHD to drugs and school failure and others I have not mentioned. I have been honest and open about the ups and downs my family has experienced and about the many feelings that have come up connected to those times.  I know that sharing it all on this blog has helped me tremendously! I will continue to write openly about our story, as we navigate a world that is more complex than ever before.

For me, at this very moment, I must trust in the process, especially because it involves “radical acceptance” regarding the unknown future that lies ahead. More on that topic in an upcoming blog post. I am also planning to write about school issues, time between visits in seeing our son, time tables for possible upcoming home visits, aftercare, turning the magical age of 18 and other relevant themes regarding treatment.  Believe me, it’s not easy, not having our son at home, but he is safe and doing well at the RTC. There is so much to learn and digest that frankly, I have to acknowledge that TIME is the best healer there is. It is also one of the most anxious making parts of the process. That is the Ying and Yang of it all!

So in conclusion, I’d like to thank you all personally for being a part of my ongoing healing as a parent with a teen who struggles. I look forward to being there for others as you have been there for me. It takes a village and beyond!



I Am Thankful
I Am Thankful

The Support System…A Parent’s Lifeline…While Your Kid is in Treatment

Support System


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 NetworkBPN 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.

Letter Writing

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!)

Self Care

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:

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Zen Rocks
Zen Rocks

Turning 17 Years Old…. Away From Home

…Yet Being at Sundance is Nothing to Shake a Stick At!

Turning 17 at Sundance

Happy Birthday! Those words mean a lot for anyone celebrating a birthday. They are even more special to a teenager who is in treatment away from home. How could we make our son’s 17th birthday one to remember? We headed to Utah, of course! Part of his therapy includes regular visits from us every four to six weeks. We use the trips as a way to keep working on our relationships with each other.

However, this visit does NOT include our son staying in the hotel with us. He leveled “down” last month after not meeting a deadline for a Level 3 therapy assignment. He had plenty of fair warning, but couldn’t quite get it done. As his consequence, the treatment team dropped his Level back to a 1. He has been trying to earn his Level 3 since then and when he does get it, he will skip over Level 2 and go straight up to 3. He’s not far from that goal, but as I’ve written in the past, time is all relative. It’s up to him!

Overall, he is doing very well, and he has taken a few minor detours on his overall path, which is to be expected. We arrived the morning of his 17th birthday and he was very happy to see us. He was smiling widely, enough for us to notice he got his retainer with the two attached teeth, back in place! Wow, that only took six months! He looked so handsome and was very confident in his new smile! Again! This was the fourth retainer in a year full of “retainer drama”! This one will not come out of his mouth by accident because it was glued in place by the orthodontist. Yes, the last one was too, but when that one loosened up and came out, he lost it. Another painful lesson learned. And expensive to boot since they cost $700 a pop.

We were also greeted by our son’s therapist at the Ranch who came in on her day off just to see us and say “Hello”. It was so nice of her to do that! We are all lucky to have her on our team! She gave our son a ribbon to wear for the day that said, “Happy Birthday”. It was just enough of an embarrassment that it became a badge of honor and fun in every sense.

One of the first remarks out of our son’s mouth was that he spent his entire 16th year in treatment; first in wilderness and then at the RTC (residential treatment center). Not being with him on his special day last year was difficult with a twinge of guilt, to be honest. He did receive a cake from the staff at wilderness and was made to feel special, but it wasn’t quite the same. We were able to send a card,and tried to keep it light and humorous. This year being with him in person was our gift to him! What a TREAT and an accomplishment rolled into one!

We had some fun activities planned for his 17th birthday. We began by driving up to the Sundance Mountain Resort to go zip-lining! It was going to be a blast! He seemed very happy to hear about our plans. The Sundance ZipTour is one of the most exciting and scenic zip tours in the world, boasting over 2,100 feet of vertical drop — the most of any zip line tour in the United States. Guests can ride side-by-side on the zip line’s double cables and control their speed, cruising over 65 miles per hour, or stopping mid-air to take in the views. Yes, we all did this together! Now we have zip line experiences from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico Asheville, North Carolina, Jackson, Wyoming and now Sundance, Utah under our belts! Where to next?

The chair lift at Sundance, in Summer, that take riders up to the 8,200 foot summit!
The chair lift at Sundance, in Summer, that take riders up to the 8,200 foot summit!
​After the ZipTour, we shared a wonderful birthday dinner together at the Foundry Grill which included the best brussel sprouts we’ve ever had. Our son even tried and liked them, too! (A small win for us!) We told our waiter that it was our son’s birthday and so he got to pick ANY dessert on the menu for FREE! The choice was a Lemon Ginger Cake topped with fresh Blueberry Ice Cream. Delicious! The waiter brought us three spoons and we enjoyed it in record speed!
Sundance Mountain Resort
Sundance Mountain Resort

Besides the zip-lining and excellent meal, we had some good conversations regarding what some of the scenarios for the future would look like. Nothing is determined or set yet, so we talked in generalities and listened to each other’s point of views and goals. It was successful, even when we had different ideas. Was there a glimpse of a new found maturity of our 17 year old son? Could it be true that he was growing up?Back at the Ranch, the chef made our son his own special birthday cake: Twix with vanilla cake inside and chocolate frosting and Twix candy bars outside. All the boys had a piece and one was saved for us, too. It was so intensely filled with sugar that a little went a long way. Tasty and very SWEET! It’s a good thing that birthdays are only once a year!

Turning 17 at Sundance

​The rest of the weekend was filled with hiking, movies, more good meals, swimming at the Provo Rec Center, running, weights, shopping (he was allowed to pick out two t-shirts and a pair of socks as gifts) and lots more conversations. And he did actually do some homework along the way too! (Will surprises never cease?) Our nightly family meetings were honest and open. Could we be getting somewhere? Maybe, but we have to be patient and full of resolve to stay present and focused. We have a long way to go, but for at least this weekend, we were a family celebrating our teen age son’s 17th birthday. We were happy to be together and celebrate the day!I am a Happy,


Time is All Relative

Time is All Relative

We returned from our third Parent Days event with a new understanding about time, yet again. Among the parents whose kids have been at the Ranch from eight to ten months, there was a common frustration. In most cases that struggle revolved around time. Many of our kids, mine included are taking the slow road, stalling along the way during their treatment. This therapy stuff is exhausting and it takes a LONG time. But why?

It’s comfortable to remain the same. It’s uncomfortable to make change. And we are dealing with teen-age boys who look and deal with time differently than we do. The saying “Time is money” is very true for those who are paying a fortune trying to help their kids by sending them to Wilderness, Therapeutic Boarding Schools and Residential Treatment Centers. This cost doesn’t even include the hours of previous therapy with doctors, counselors and psychiatrists back at home.

It was explained to us at Parent Days that change also has very little to do with cause and effect. If the bait is dangled to move to a higher level for more rewards, doesn’t it seem easy to just follow that path and make it happen? Not always. Whether it involves a young brain trying to develop or a kid with ADHD or other social emotional issues, when one is struggling, then some things just take a while. As parents we want to see results, and yet it’s probably not going to speed up just because we’ve put everything in place and paid the money.

Why do I keep coming back to this topic of time and motivation? Can one really motivate someone who isn’t self-motivated? Does external motivation work? Or does it have to be personal and internal? Very good questions, and yet its obvious that being outcome based is not going to make things move any quicker. Being encouraging and understanding doesn’t change the speed of results either, though we think it should. The simple truth is that it is what it is. I will say it again: “It is what it is”.

So once again, after feeling positive about how things are going with my son, I can easily go to a darker place of frustration and maybe even disappointment that it’s taking so long. But change isn’t easy and it won’t happen just because we attach it to a date on the calendar. Time is relative. As we get older, it goes by a lot quicker. For the teens in today’s world, they have their futures ahead of them, but time is such a vague concept to grasp.

So for this blog post, I am going to give myself a reality pep talk. You can listen in if you like: “Okay Warrior Mom, here’s the plan:  Express your frustration! Take it out by hitting a tennis ball over the net! Sing along really loudly to a song on the radio! Watch America Ninja Warrior on TV and think you could have done better than those athletes! And after that, get back to business. Be satisfied that you have done everything in your power already. Be confident that you are doing the right thing. Be open with others about what’s happening. And then be present and accepting. Time is all relative. It is what it is!”

I will stay strong,


Moab and More….Dealing with Old Patterns

Moab and More…Dealing with Old Patterns

We took another trip back to Utah, this time with Moab as our destination which included Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. We picked our son up early Friday morning with the intention of having a therapeutic family trip. It turned into so much more than we expected: filled with magnificent beauty and many difficult conversations. Our 16 1/2 year old is back at Level 2 and we were all excited for him to be in the hotel with us again! The last time he stayed overnight with us was back at Christmas time in Salt Lake City. It had been a while!

Our first stop was shopping for shorts. The weather is beginning to warm up at the Ranch, so our son requested that we buy him some shorts. Most of the boys wear them during school hours, so we got permission to add that activity to our contract and list of things to do and goals. We all have to agree to the rules for being off campus: no cell phone use, we have to be together at all times, no use of money, no R rated movies, no highly caffeinated drinks, etc.

The store didn’t have the biggest selection of brands and styles and that has become important to our son, surprisingly. We went back and forth and finally decided on a couple of pair. The tug of war began between us, but we talked about it openly and then hit the road for our three hour plus trip. We stopped for food and our son had signs of more resistance to choices before he settled on a box of fried chicken for lunch. I point this out because looking back we can see how innocently it started but by the end of the weekend, we had more power struggles regarding food and portions. Some old habits and “hot” button topics showed up during our weekend.

We had a picnic lunch along the shores of the Green River and it was a perfect temperature outside. We talked about what was new. It was fun just to be together again. Our trips back to Utah have been about five to seven weeks apart and honestly it’s not easy being so far away from our son. We looked at the map of where we were heading and checked out the John W. Powell History Museum and then hit the road on to Moab.

Moab and More…Dealing with Old Patterns

One agreement we had was for our son to bring his homework and therapy assignments along  on the trip, to work on them during the weekend. But time management is not his strong suit and with some prompting he did get a little work done. My personal level of frustration started to rise each day as he began to make excuses for not doing the work. We ended each day with better family meetings than we previously had during past visits, which took some of the edge off. But there was still a power struggle lying underneath it all. We set it up that he was going to lead the meetings and not just “phone it in” as they say. We succeeded in that department.

Moab and More…Dealing with Old Patterns

We arrived at Moab late Friday afternoon and checked into the hotel. It had a nice pool and a good location so we were very happy. We decided to put our hiking shoes on and explore Arches. First stop was “Park Avenue” and then onto “Delicate Arch”. Our son was a champ for carrying all of our water bottles in his backpack. We did more talking and then the topic of school came up. We went over past issues with his education and the conversation became quite difficult. He admitted to not having the right mind set for learning as a freshman, which led to more discussion of what worked and what didn’t work last year. We listened and learned and even though we disagreed, we talked it out. That was the biggest take-away. Yet, something remained unresolved for him.


Moab and More…Dealing with Old Patterns

We went to the movies on Saturday night to see The Avengers. Not my favorite film choice, but we did enjoy it. Our son really liked it. It brought home the point that we are all different, including taste in movies and our journeys are different as well.  We went swimming at the hotel pool. We ate ice cream in town. And we continued to talk. We never lost sight of the fact that we are trying to re-build our relationships. There were tough moments. There were hard conversations. Sunday turned out to be our biggest challenge.


Moab and More…Dealing with Old Patterns

We were tired. We had hiked and hiked. We had talked and talked. I challenge any family to do what we had done and have them be smiley and peachy keen as a group. But Sunday was a arduous day. We decided to drive through Canyonlands National Park instead of hiking and found ourselves on the end of his silent treatment without understanding exactly why. This was an old pattern and one that I never hoped to endure again. Our son wanted a few more pair of shorts and he wanted to head north to the Lehi outlet mall instead of enjoying more of the beautiful Utah dessert. We didn’t pick up on his desires until late in the day. We probably should have just headed back to the Ranch, but no we continued to prompt him, which led to more power struggles and more one or two word answers to our questions.

Later at dinner we talked about what was really going on. If he didn’t get his way, then we had to pay for it with his silence. It was deja vu all over again. We had experienced the son we had from a year ago. The good news is that his therapist said that was the best case scenario for our weekend. Why not go through some difficulties while still in a safe environment and there was a support system in place? It was not easy, but there were silver linings after all. We talked. We didn’t yell. We were able to disagree and listen to each other’s points of view.


And finally, with the therapist’s help, we validated each other’s feelings without having to agree with the viewpoints. It was a great trip from that stand point. We were actually getting to real feelings, not just going through the motions. Our son was the most like he had been at home and that allowed us to practice new methods, even after the fact. After the trip we wrote letters separately to each other pin-pointing moments that worked and others that hadn’t. We continued working on things in our Skype therapy call last week as well. I am aware I am still processing it and have ups and downs in dealing with the feelings. As they say at the Ranch, “The Strength is in the Struggle”.

It was a good weekend. We didn’t see eye to eye all the time. We talked about our differences. It was done in the safety net of treatment. We are lucky to have help navigating our relationships. We will never forget the beauty of Moab and the beauty of communicating.  See you next month son!

Keeping the Faith!


Ready to Run!

Ready to Run a 5K Race
5K Race

When we were looking at places for our son to go after Wilderness, one of the appealing aspects of the treatment center we chose was their Cross Country 5K Running Team. From our point of view as parents who participated in athletics as kids ourselves, this was a big draw to the RTC/School we chose. Most of the boys at the Ranch are on the “team” and it provides a positive activity to do as a group, and also a focus on one’s own individual goals, strengths and challenges. The unknown was if our son would be interested in taking a risk and trying it out!  He was not a typical “sports” kid while growing up.

We were pleasantly surprised when he approached us about buying him the team uniform, a few months ago. We asked about his commitment level and if he really planned to follow through with it! He responded with a big, “YES”. (Thank goodness for positive peer pressure!)
“Okay, let’s give it a try!” we replied, keeping our fingers crossed. We didn’t want to show too much excitement in order to avoid jinxing it!
The team holds one on campus practice a week, followed by three to four days of off campus running and drills. In order for our son to get the most from the team, he had to earn his Level 2 back.

I am happy to report that after almost four full months, he regained his Level 2 in April! Besides going to the Music Room to listen to music for enjoyment, getting an extra hour of free time daily and the ability to stay in a hotel with us on future visits, a real biggie was about to occur! He entered an actual RACE and finished! And now has TWO races under his belt. One took place in Salt Lake City and the other in Provo, UT a few weeks later. His therapist sent us pictures of our son at the finish line (via text) and we were thrilled and amazed! What an achievement for a kid who hasn’t done a lot in the way of sports. What a victory for him to try something new! What a great way to start believing in one’s self. And who knew? but he’s a pretty fast runner too!

The boys on the team have been told by the coach and others at the Ranch that the 5K runners have a high success rate of staying clean and sober when they leave the RTC. Our son repeated that stat to us more than once in our recent Skype therapy calls. Step one for him is to believe it himself. He now runs regularly, which produces endorphins for his body! The exercise he is getting will start to feel good to him, inside and out! It’s just a matter of time!

On race days, the boys get up very early to reach the start line by 7am. For the race in Salt Lake City, they arrived just in time for the start, but didn’t have time for their normal stretching. It all worked out and the sweat on his brow was “glowing” in the photo we saw. Another side benefit was the smile on his face that is now a common facial expression of a boy who was in a dark, sullen and reclusive environment just a year ago. It’s been a transformation and renewal of a whole body, spirit and soul. We are so proud of his participating and of his many self-improvements.


Yes, there is always more work to be done, but don’t discount what positive change has already come to him! He is at Level Two, working towards his Three. He shared that he likes the feeling when he’s done with a race. He is in a new place! In fact he is “Ready to Run” just like in the Dixie Chicks song! I am very happy to report this exciting news to all the readers of this blog! Stay tuned for more! We are heading to Utah this week and for an adventure in MOAB and the beautiful desert! Until next time……



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