My now 18 1/2 year old son has been back home for four months. He was away for twenty-seven long months at three different treatment programs (Wilderness therapy, Residential Treatment Center aka “RTC” and a Step Down Program aka “Boarding School”). We are very happy to have him home, and he is doing well. He has recently taken some big steps forward that I’d like to share.
Welcome to Adulting!
The subtitle of this post might be called: “Time to Get a Job”. My son’s subtitle might be called: “My Gap Year After High School”.
Even before the term “Social Distancing” became a common expression, my son spent much of the last two months working his own version of social distancing, by keeping to himself, in his own room. Yes, I understand that is common for teenagers and young adults, around his age to want their own space. I know I did at his age, but he took it to another level. He became a Social Distance Master! He was ahead of the curve, especially since no one knew it would become an important skill!
Our home contract agreement stated that he either needed to be in school or have a job, when he came home. He worked during the months of October, November and December, at the local Best Buy as a seasonal employee. He like it a lot. His employment was over, just after New Year’s, the first week in January. During his first six months of being eighteen, he worked at McDonald’s in Utah and at Best Buy in Northern California. Both were excellent “first jobs” with lots of learning opportunities. And he was able to make some money.
In January, he spent time putting together his application for a vocational college in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. He gathered transcripts from his three different high school learning environments and sent them off. He called the school in Canada and asked them questions about the Computer Software Development major he applied to. If it works out, his goal is to begin course work there in September. (With so many things up in the air world wide, we will just have to see how it all plays out!)
In January and February, he made some attempts at finding a job and had a few interviews but none worked out, until this past week. Ironically, when so many people are out of work due to the Coronavirus pandemic, our son is working as a bagger at the local grocery store in town. It is considered an “essential job” and he is following their guidelines about hand washing, keeping hands off his face and the correct social distancing!
His first paycheck has yet to arrive, but he has full time hours and is very busy in his duties. This comes right after another success: he finally took his driver’s permit test at an empty DMV a couple weeks ago and PASSED! We celebrated with a dinner at the Melting Pot (when we were still allowed to go out to a restaurant in California). He was proud of himself and very engaged at our meal. He shared funny “memes” on his phone and talked about world events with us that evening. It was really fun!
Next up is signing up for a driving course! Not sure when that will be allowed.
The Definition of “Adulting”
As we welcome our son to his new world of adulting, I looked up the meaning on Dictionary.com.
“Adulting is an informal term to describe behavior that is seen as responsible and grown-up. This behavior often involves meeting the mundane demands of independent and professional living, such as paying bills and running errands.”
He has done the following as an eighteen year old, all on his own:
Signed up for the Selective Service (mandatory for US males as they reach 18 years of age.)
Got a tiny nose piercing.
Opened a bank account and maintained it – complete with a few over draft service charges!
Applied for and received a 10 year US Passport.
Is working Full Time.
Voted in his first Election (the California Primary). No surprise he’s a Bernie guy!
Took over his own iPhone account.
Paid bills to: Apple Music, Hulu, AT&T, Apple Care.
Left his pediatric doctor office to join a new one for adults.
Just received his first Jury Duty request in the mail from the county.
Did his own taxes on Turbo Tax and Filed 2 state returns (UT & CA) – He’s excited to be getting a refund!
Passed his CA Driver’s Permit test.
We are very proud of all the adulting steps he has taken. There will be many more to come! One task at a time and one day at a time! There is no substitute for doing it yourself, as the best way to learn how to navigate what lies ahead in the adult world. So far his gap year after high school has included many life skills and lessons! Soon enough he will be grown and flown!
It has been two months since our 18 year old son has been back home for good from treatment. It’s been great to have him under our roof after twenty-seven months away. We all have been making adjustments to living together again. Not perfect, but rather a work in progress. We have continued with our family therapy calls with his therapist from Utah, by phone. That has been very important and helpful when we need to bring up difficult subjects and clear the air at times. It gives each of us a voice.
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Very true indeed. There is so much unknown ahead. We have to focus on what is right in front of us, one day at a time. My son is in his self-proclaimed GAP year, which means he has chosen to get a job and work right now. Our communication has been tough at times, since he is at the age when he is trying to break away from us and that isn’t easy honestly, since we finally have him back again. Another way to look at it is, he was away when he should have been home, and he is home when he should be away. A bit of a flip flop for us as parents.
So for today’s post, I want to focus on what positive things have been happening for my son in the past six months:
1) Son passed the CHSPE exam (California High School Proficiency Exam) in June and is done with High School. BIG!
2) Son graduated from his step down program at the end of September 2019. Gave a brief, but important speech acknowledging his successes while away at treatment.
3) Son has looked into college, toured one and began application. Took the SAT, but has decided a GAP year is his path currently.
4) We agreed on a contract of boundaries and house rules for his return home. Still a work in progress on implementation of household duties/chores and our expectations, AND his.
5) Son wrote a relapse prevention plan, which was awesome on his part. So far so good.
6) Son applied for a job at Best Buy while in Utah so he could begin work right when he came home. Had interview beginning of October, was hired and has been working, mostly part time. Increased work hours coming slowing, but achieved his first forty hour week at Thanksgiving and Black Friday.
7) Saved some money, spent most of it on paintball equipment and some clothes. Started saving again.
8) Planned a trip to meet a friend in Canada before Christmas and renewed his passport on his own.
9) Bought his own plane ticket, with his own money!
10) Started his own phone account, is now off our plan and took over payments of his iPhone purchased in August. REALLY BIG!
His independence is beginning, maybe not quickly, but it is happening. Next up is the driver’s license! When I ask about it, his reply is, “I’m studying.” Okay then, there you have it. A lot of good. Most of it slow. He is not the best communicator in the world, but that may not be surprising to those parents out there with boys!
For me, it’s been a process of letting go. In an email from a parent support group that I belong to was the most perfect reminder of this difficult concept. I am sharing it with you below (many thanks to my brave, unnamed fellow support group parent)!
TO “LET GO” TAKES LOVE
by author unknown
To “let go” does not mean to stop caring,
it means I can’t do it for someone else.
To “let go” is not to cut myself off,
it is the realization I can’t control another.
To “let go” is not to enable,
but to allow learning from natural consequences.
To “let go” is to admit powerlessness,
which means that the outcome is not in my hands.
To “let go” is not to try to change or blame another,
it is to make the most of myself.
To “let go” is not to care for,
but to care about.
To “let go” is not to fix,
but to be supportive.
To “let go” is not to judge,
but to allow another to be a human being.
To “let go” is not to be in the middle, arranging the outcomes,
but to allow others to affect their own destinies,
To “let go” is not to be protective,
but to permit another to face reality.
To “let go” is not to deny,
but to accept.
To “let go” is not to nag, scold, or argue,
but to search out my own shortcomings and to correct them.
To “let go” is not to adjust everything to my desires,
but to take every day as it comes, and to cherish myself in it.
To “let go” is not to criticize and regulate anybody,
but to try to become what I dream I can be.
To “let go” is not to regret the past,
but to grow and live for the future.
To “let go” is to fear less and love more.
My family has come so far, and yet the road ahead is still unknown. We are working on accepting that……
Monday, the last day of September, 2019 will rank as a high point for my son and us as a family in so many emotional ways. He will be graduating from his step down program after 27 months away from home and we will all drive home from Utah together. It is a truly amazing journey!
It’s been 821 days (as I write this blog post) since we sent our then fifteen year old son to wilderness, way back at the end of June 2017. Fast forward to this coming Monday, the last day of September 2019 and he will be heading home for good! To recap: he will be graduating from his step down program after eight months in southern Utah, along with seventeen months at his residential treatment center near Salt Lake City and before that, 92 days in his wilderness therapy program in southern Idaho. 823 days away from home! Can that even be possible? WOW!
This has been a tremendous journey, as cliché as that may sound. He is ready to begin a new chapter of life facing many of his previous challenges and plenty of new ones as well. Isn’t that what life is about? Yet, what is different for him and for us as a family, are the tools we have gained and the experience of all the hard work that comes with treatment in general. He is one of the lucky ones, and so are we!
We couldn’t have done this alone. We have been fortunate to have been helped by a host full wonderful therapists, advisors, mentors and top notch professionals in this field. They truly care. The programs have tons of experience helping teenagers with their personal issues and work hard to get them back on track. It is a true team effort and is not for the faint of heart, not to mention the unimaginable cost families have to bear.
One good person led us to another good person to another and so we learned to navigate this treacherous sea of “what shall we do next?” with trust and hope and our “gut” feelings. We didn’t know what we didn’t know and with each new interaction we picked up a phrase or new tidbit of information that took us down another trail to where we are today. The road can be long as we can attest.
We are so proud of our son. He is happy again and reports no anxiety or depression. He still faces the challenges of technology use as do we all. He is now finished with high school after taking the CHSPE exam (similar to the GED) and wants to work for a year before heading to the college experience. He is a good kid, not perfect, not fixed as people want to ask, yet a better communicator and compliant to rules and boundaries. We have repaired our relationships and continue to work at it. At 18 years old, his future direction will be up to him.
I don’t want give the impression that our lives resemble a “package all tied up neatly with a bow on top”, but rather, a chance to see what opportunities lie ahead for all of us! This is a chance at a new beginning. And so we begin a fresh chapter with our now adult son living with us again, back home in Marin County and the SF Bay Area, CA. Thank you for reading and for your constant support in our heck of a journey! I will continue to blog and ask you to come back often to check our progress!
At the end of July my son turned eighteen years old! We celebrated by taking a weekend trip and meeting up in New Mexico. All of us were excited to travel somewhere new outside of Utah for a change! It was a nice way to celebrate and we had a great time! We toured the University of New Mexico, ate delicious Southwestern cuisine, visited the Hot Air Balloon Museum and saw many of the location sites used for the TV show “Breaking Bad”.
Eighteen is a “BIG” birthday, since in the eyes of the law, one becomes a “legal adult”. For many teenagers turning eighteen means “getting to do anything they want”. That is, until they have to pay for it with their own money!
The transition between seventeen and eighteen years old can be a confusing right of passage. Teens want freedom and they want to be taken seriously. Parents want them to be safe, yet know that their kids have to figure things out themselves. As those kids mature, the world of responsibility can begin to close in quickly, making life a bit uncomfortable. So many decisions about their futures have to be addressed. These important decisions include: higher education, jobs, goals, travel and relationships. The common thread is that they all require money, something many teenagers do not have in abundance quite yet.
Getting a job is a great way to teach important lessons of what’s ahead for older teens. My son made big strides by getting his first job at a McDonald’s in Southern Utah this summer. He has been grilling burgers for more hours than he is excited about, which is actually great news. He has said that now he knows he needs higher education, so that this entry level job is not his only choice for the future! HALLELUJAH!
The other big news is that just days before turning eighteen, my son passed the CHSPE (California High School Proficiency Exam)! Can I hear an AMEN? School has been a huge challenge for him and this signifies the END of his high school classes! It is a relief as a parent to not have to worry about his credits or lack of credits as he turned eighteen! He is ready for something new and so are we! (Come back to this blog for more info on how his IEP – Individual Education Program worked and didn’t work in his public schooling!)
We are now about to dip our toes into uncharted territory with an ADULT son who is a couple of months away from coming home for good, from treatment this fall. We will get to write the new roles we will assume. We will still be the parents and he will still be the son, but all our hard work over the past two years will be tested in new ways, once he is back. We are excited, happy, scared and “anticipatory” as the boys in his wilderness were fond of saying!
Until then, CONGRATS and HAPPY BIRTHDAY son! I LOVE YOU!
On June 28/29th we will mark two years into our journey. We are so grateful for the time, which has been full of positive change and family healing. When we sent our son to Wilderness therapy with the help of a transport company in 2017, we took a giant leap of faith. We had no idea what to expect. Would this “reboot” work? Would he resent us? Would we get our son back?
Our decision was excruciating. But ultimately after trying everything, we knew we had to do something drastic to keep him safe and stop the downward spiral. He was just shy of his 16th birthday. Today our family can see a future as he turns 18 next month. We all have come a long way!
A couple of weeks ago, our son was home for a quick visit and I asked him a few questions, sort of an interview. His answers might surprise you!
Warrior Mom:What do you remember from that time two years ago? Son:I don’t have a lot of memories from that time, since the drugs heavily affected me. After wilderness, my memory got better at the RTC (residential treatment center).
Warrior Mom:What was the worse part for you from that time? Son:The last part of my freshman year was the worst. I was spiraling out of control. I thought that you should have sent me sooner.
Warrior Mom: What are some of the positive parts? Son: Being sober. My mental health is stable. My happiness level is better. My anxiety is better. My self confidence is better.
Warrior Mom:Thoughts about the two year anniversary of going to treatment? Son:In some ways it feels short, in some ways it feels long.
Warrior Mom:Do you think that others at your local high school would benefit from treatment? Son:Yes, I know at least fifteen kids who have been to some kind of treatment. A lot of kids from California are in Utah!
Warrior Mom: What was it like when you visited your old RTC last month? Son: It was really surreal. It looked the same. Some new kids, a few from when I was there. I liked being there without the same rules. A bunch of us from the step down answered questions about it and what it was like to have more independence and privileges.
Warrior Mom:You also had a chance to go to one of your RTC mentor’s wedding. Tell me about it. Son:It was really fun. We were no longer just staff and students, instead we interacted like friends. I had a good time. We got to decorate the wedding get away car! It was a long day and we got back around 11pm.
Warrior Mom:You have made lots of friends in treatment. Do you keep in touch? Son:Yeah, I text them and most of them are doing well. One friend and I have talked about working a couple of shifts at our old Wilderness program next Summer.
Warrior Mom:Wow, that sounds like fun! Son:Yeah.
Warrior Mom:Can you share some of your current goals? Son:I want to earn money by getting a job. (He was hired at McDonald’s last week and has completed orientation and two training sessions on the grill so far!) I want to move into the Bridge Independent Living House. I want to go to college. (We are going to tour University of New Mexico in July).
Warrior Mom:We are very proud of you. You should be proud of yourself, too. Son:Thanks. I am!
We have so much to be grateful for as a family. The past two years have been filled with renewed opportunities for growth, communication and love. It has been joyful and at times tearful. The financial end of it is unimaginable! We have met so many wonderful professionals and had support from family and friends. We have made many new friends who are going through similar journeys. Thank you to all who read this blog. I know writing it helps me and hopefully I can shed some light of hope for others.
It is a one day at a time process. This hits home to me this very moment, after hearing of the passing of one of my son’s most extraordinary teachers today. She was a special person to my whole family. I want to dedicate this blog post to her. Her positive outlook was contagious and she touched all of us who knew her. I am saddened with her passing, yet she was able to see my son in person not long ago and witnessed the 2.0 version of him in action. RIP dear Christy. You were there with us the past two years and of course for all the years before as well. I will miss our weekly walks and your unwavering support. Thank you. My thoughts are with your family.
A lot has happened in the eight weeks since my 17 1/2 year old was enrolled in the step down co-ed boarding school in Southern Utah. He is doing well and according to his advisor, he is not only compliant and respectful, he has become a favorite of the staff and fellow students alike. He is friendly to everyone, continues to make new friends and has stayed out of the normal drama which can frequently happen in a high school setting.
Isn’t that wonderful?
You bet! And with the good news and his positive progress, comes more responsibility and privileges. After his initial two week orientation, my son was able to request privileges towards more independence and “freedom”. Every Friday there is a staff “board meeting” where the advisors and administration consider the requests of the students. The students have to fill out forms with info of what privileges they are asking for and why they should be granted.
At this boarding school, there are of course rules, but it’s not just “one size fits all”, as it was at the Residential Treatment Center before. Along with parent’s input, the student’s off campus therapist’s comments, teacher’s recommendations and their advisor’s observations, the student moves forward at a pace that is tailor made for each of them individually. If the privileges are broken or rules disobeyed, then the consequences are given as learning opportunities rather than strictly punitive, giving the student a chance to learn from their mistakes in a healthy way. It’s like a built in safety net, which can be very positive and still instructive.
So far my son has earned many privileges: trust walks in the neighborhood surrounding the campus, dorm alone time, time off campus without staff AND the use of a cell phone. The cell phone we chose to re-introduce him back into the electronics world is an old fashioned “flip phone”. It can of course make phone calls, but has a lot of limits to texting and other uses that “smart phones” have made common place. Many have commented that this “retro” style phone is becoming popular again!
My son’s therapist says that he likes to “front load” the electronics use for kids at the boarding school, so the patterns of usage and potential problems can be addressed right away. For my son, he jumped back into the use head first. It was actually surreal when I purchased a new phone from the AT&T store and sent it to Utah initially. It took me right back to a time before my son went to wilderness that was not pleasant to remember. At that point, his iphone use was constant. He kept the device by his bedside all night long. He texted non-stop and was on social media too frequently.
He even recently shared that as he was being told he was heading to wilderness that fateful middle of the night, that he texted a friend to “Please keep my string of texts going on SnapChat for me!” That’s how out of control he was: as he was being sent away, his texting “string” was still his biggest concern.
As a family, we have discussed these old and often negative patterns in many conversations since the time he’s been away (end of June 2017). We talked about the anxiety and depression that the phone has caused for many, including him. We came to an understanding that while we as parents really thought of his electronics use as an addiction and he didn’t, there would have to be a balance of use/non-use in the future. We know that we are not going back to the “string tied to tin cans” kind of communication of the past and that the cell phone is here to stay, in all of our lives. Yet, that balance is so essential for our minds, bodies and overall health. That goes for kids and us adults alike!
So when my son came home for his Spring Break, five weeks after beginning the “step down program”, he had his phone with him as he came off the plane. The list of his approved contacts were only a handful at that time. The list has been growing, as we continue to talk about who should be added and who should not be. Though it is somewhat limited, he is able to be in contact with his fellow classmates at the boarding school. He has reached out to some boys from wilderness and the Ranch and a few old friends from back home. We will see which ones rise to the top quickly enough. We are encouraging positive connections moving forward!
Well, as you have guessed, it was super easy for my son to resume using his phone, even a flip phone, for more time than we wanted to see. This was expected, especially after twenty months without having one to use at all. We were able to set boundaries of keeping the phone on the charger downstairs in the living room at night, so his sleep wouldn’t be interrupted. That was an improvement! We did see some old patterns come back, but we talked about them in family therapy. Part of our agreement is making sure that he is active and participates in family duties and chores, when he is visiting at home and does his homework and other obligations while he is at school. He has been agreeable to those terms. Even my son’s therapist says he is working on those same balances with his thirteen year old. It is a common dilemma these days and one we knew we were going to face!As the newness of the phone wears off, it will be up to him, to make these choices of amount of use and who he can call or text. In the meantime, we have received very good weekly calls from him. It’s always good to hear his voice when he’s away. Our week long visit was good overall, and we want to continue the conversation of balance as we move forward with this part of our journey. It will be an important topic for many families, I suspect!
Next up, adding a computer, internet and approved social media to the mix. Privilege by privilege we are heading down the ROAD TO EIGHTEEN when he enters adulthood officially near the end of July.
As challenging as re-introducing the phone has been, we are glad he has jumped back in! The question remains: How well will he balance it all?
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!
This post is a bit different, but a very important one, none the less. Have you seen this article from The New York Times? It’s titled: “A Dark Consensus About Screens and Kids Begins to Emerge in Silicon Valley” by Nellie Bowles. After reading this piece dated October 26, 2018, I was reminded of our old life, when my young teenage son was on his phone, computer, playing video games and watching TV, ALL of the time. It was a big part of what ruined our family life.
“It’s time to get off”, I would say to him.
“Okay, I will, I will, I just have to finish this game….post….video….text….movie….coding….fill in the blank. It didn’t matter that I turned it off or took it away, he found a way to get it back.
Over and over I would ask for him to stop and he wouldn’t or couldn’t. Part of it was our fault for letting him have the devices and part of it was his fault for using them. However, according to this article, it is becoming well known in the tech community that part of the problem lies with them too! Most of the big wigs in the industry do not let their own kids have much screen time and have at least monitored it. Steve Jobs’ young kids weren’t allowed to use Apple iPads! Bill and Melinda Gates wish they would have waited longer to give their four kids cell phones.
What positively changed for us was my son’s forced absence of screens. In the Wilderness Therapy Program my son went to last summer, at fifteen years of age, there was no screen use at all. Period. Cold turkey. Nada. What that did for his brain was let some “green” in and allow nature to cleanse and let his mind mature on it’s own. His mood became better. He actually could participate in conversations without constant distraction. Without the use, mis-use and over-use of screens, it made him a better person. He became less isolated and ultimately happier.
Another plus from no screen time, was that the majority of his anxiety went away. Bingo! What a concept. If we as adults, who already have formed brains, have a problem, how is a young person supposed to put down the screen? This article points out that the developers know how to program their content to go right to the pleasure centers of our brains. We are at a severe disadvantage that allows the devices to win every time, just like the casinos in Las Vegas, the house (the screen) will always win!
This article is eye-opening to the degree that those in Silicon Valley understand what their products are doing to the people they are selling to (us parents). One tech magazine higher up calls it closer to “cocaine than to candy” as to effects on the brain. Is anyone paying attention? I hope so! It’s all around us, and we are paying them to do it to us!
As far as our story goes, my son is able to use a computer to type some school assignments at the RTC. He still has no phone use and no internet use. When we visit with him, we talk about how we will move forward with technology in the near future. The ironic part is that technology is an area of interest and skill for him. We will continue to explore and examine the pluses and minuses of that use. In the meantime, read the article and ponder why Silicon Valley is keeping this dark secret?
My seventeen year old earned his Level 3 a couple of weeks ago, which was an awesome achievement. Things have also been clicking on the school front for him, primarily because the academic team switched his courses to “practical” to try and speed things up. It simply means they just teach and test on the “meat and potatoes” and leave the extra “sauces” out of the learning. By doing that, he has completed more course work in a couple weeks time, than in the past number of months. He is very proud of his successes! And so are we to say the least.
One week ago we picked up our son at the Sacramento International Airport. It was his first flight all alone and he completed it like a champ! His RTC program does what they call “an airport run” for students going on “home visits” and “out of state visits”. They drive the kids to the Salt Lake City Airport and get a gate pass to escort them to the boarding area. They watch the flight take off and we on the receiving end, meet our student at the gate when the plane lands.
After his arrival and going to baggage claim, we drove to our cabin in Northern California. Grandma and our doggy were also along for the ride! They haven’t seen each other in over fifteen months and it was an awesome reunion. Everyone was so happy to see each other!
“What a sweet boy”, Grandma commented over and over again during the weekend. Our son certainly has matured during the past year. He seemed calmer and more amiable. He helped with the meals by frying up some bacon and scrambling the eggs, as well as sautéing the zucchini and squash for one our dinners. He even added a little honey with the salt and pepper seasoning, a trick he learned in Wilderness! That kind of family participation would have never happened before he went to treatment!
The “out of state visit” is part of the “practice” that has to take place as our son goes through his treatment program. The “rules” for the visit are the same as when we travel to Utah to see him there. Dress code and behaviors are enforced, just like at the Ranch. No caffeinated drinks and one soda per meal. No “R” rated movies and we must always stay together. No money, no computers, no cell phone use. It may sound tough, but everyone understands the rules and we have followed them for each visit we’ve had at the RTC during the past year.
Before the visit, we came up with a list of goals to work on: a family meeting each night, continued discussions about topics that have been difficult in the past (social media, technology, friends). We wanted to enjoy the out of doors by walking or hiking. We had a few things on the shopping list: new backpack, a new pair of jeans and a transistor radio. As a Level 3, our son earned the use of a backpack and a radio, which he could listen to during his free time on the weekends. I didn’t even know they made transistor radios anymore, but we did find one at Walmart! He was excited to be able to get his very own to take back to the Ranch.
Starting fresh with a NEW backpack was very symbolic. The old, canvas blue backpack had negative associations for me and was definitely a trigger in my eyes. So when we picked out a canvas style book bag, I felt a lot better about it’s appearance and we talked about how it would be used in a positive fashion. It just has to be better this time around. One step at a time, one item at a time!
We arrived at the cabin around dinner time. We settled into a wonderful meal and played a couple of games of cards after that. We had a family meeting and talked about the excitement of our son’s return to California after fifteen months. He recognized it as a step in the process! We treasured our time together. We watched a movie, we took a couple of longs walks. He took some photos with my DSLR camera and showed me what he had learned in his digital photography elective at school. He was happy to be the one to spot the wild donkey on our property and was so excited to be able to photograph “DONKEY” like few have been able to do! Our son helped with some chores and also completed homework concepts each of the four days of the “out of state visit”.
As a surprise for our son, we asked him if he was interested in “driving” on our private dirt road near the cabin. His smile was as big as I’ve seen it in years! He climbed into the twenty-one year old Ford Explorer and backed up as his first maneuver. The tires did spin a bit, but overall he was an outstanding driver who took direction well. He had about six to seven “drives” of about 1/2 mile to 1 mile in length. We even picked up a California drivers manual at the local DMV which he took back to Utah so he could learn the rules of the road. This event was huge for us, since he has never really shown any interest in driving in the past. We will take it one step at a time and would love him to get some “real” driving instruction in the future. No rush, but the “wheels are in motion”!
As I reflect on our four days together, I am so grateful for this “practice” visit before his upcoming “home visit” (he must remain a Level 3) next month. To be open and real, we didn’t know exactly what to expect. It went very well overall, yet there were a few tiny things that needed to be talked about and resolved. Keeping in mind that nothing is “perfect”, our goals were met and we enjoyed spending a long weekend together as a family. We had some down time and relaxed. Bedtimes were met and so were getting up times. I can’t remember the last time that happened when we were under the same roof.
If I could answer why everything went so smoothly, I would have to say that his time away (15 months) has had a lot to do with it. We also work very hard each week with our family therapist on Skype calls and writing letters back and forth with our son. His treatment assignments have been completed and it’s one step at a time! As we headed to the Oakland International Airport for his return flight to Salt Lake City, Utah we talked about the fun we had and were truly sorry to see it come to an end. I am so proud of my son and his growth and progress. It is truly a “Journey” with a capital “J” and I am very happy to share it with you the reader! I will keep you posted with more news ahead!
…Yet Being at Sundance is Nothing to Shake a Stick At!
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?
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!
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!
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,