Giving Thanks and Being Grateful

Giving Thanks and Being Grateful


Thanksgiving is next week and I want to take a moment to give thanks! I am grateful for so many things. We spoke by Skype with our sixteen year old today and he is continuing to do well at school. There are a few minor things that he is working through, rule oriented and getting assignments done, but all are handled in a way that shows growth is happening. He remains upbeat and looks great.

1. I am grateful for a new beginning. It has been a wild ride this year, but BlueFire Wilderness helped save his life. Our son admitted to spiraling downward just before we sent him at the end of June. By the end of his thirteen weeks in Idaho, he was able to see that his negative behaviors and negative friends were NOT good for him.

2. I am grateful for his new environment in Utah. It’s very costly and further away in distance that we would like, but he is SAFE and following a program which will help him learn (school stuff) and succeed. He says he’d rather be home, but he enjoys it and knows he has work ahead of him.

3. I am grateful to the countless friends and family members who have cared enough to listen to me. The topic of a struggling teen is not for the faint of heart. We have opened up and in return have received so much. I know we are not alone!

4. I am grateful for my BLOG. Thank you My Warrior Mom Life readers. I know many of you personally (see #3) and others I do not, but I can’t tell you, how much writing about our story has helped me. It is a release putting it into writing. I feel free-er because of it. I hope you will keep reading and sharing with others. I know I can help many people along the way!

5. I am grateful to be able to BE PRESENT. Sure, I’d like to check out sometimes, and honestly do occasionally, but being mindful is so important to my everyday existence. All we really have is TODAY! I am going to live it!

6. I am grateful to be able to WALK and TALK. “One foot in front of the other” has been a mantra of mine for the past six months or so.  I __________ (walk, talk, swim…..fill in the blank), because I am able! For that ability, I am grateful.

7. I am grateful for HUMOR. They say that “laughter is the best medicine”. That is for sure! Even in the darkest moments, I have been able to laugh. It is vital to my personal mental health. Know any good jokes?

8. I am grateful for HUMILITY. I have been blessed to be “good” at many different things. School and athletics came easily to me. I did work hard and practice too, but I am grateful for those gifts. Not everyone can claim them, for example: my son. It’s taken me a long time to understand that.

9. I am grateful to be HAPPY. Some days I miss my son terribly. Other days, I do my daily tasks and keep moving forward without realizing it. However,  I am glad not to feel that pit in the bottom of my stomach, morning, noon and night. I can BREATHE. That is true happiness to me.

10. I am truly grateful to have a partner who is on this journey with me, every step of the way. We are in a “club” we didn’t sign up for. We are stronger for it. We are survivors. We are not perfect. We are able to ask for help. I am so fortunate to have you by my side! Thank you!

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you! I am only one Mom of millions, but I remain a


A Shave and A Haircut….Six Pence…..

A Shave and A Haircut...Sixpence

When my son came out of the Wilderness Program at the end of September, he was pretty scruffy. Before heading to the new school, he was able to take a really long, hot shower at our hotel. On the packing list was an electric razor. They don’t allow regular  blades, as you can imagine. After he cleaned up, he looked amazing! WOW!

But his hair was still long, about shoulder length. I didn’t really mind it that length. He looked good. But we were sure surprised when we heard from his therapist that all the boys just had their haircut, a few weeks into his stay at the Ranch. When our Skype call began, what a sight he was! Short hair! He said he hated it! Another WOW! He looked good. It was a little short on the sides and a tiny bit longer on the top.

These haircuts were part of the program  and to have self-respect for caring how one looked. I liked it, but I’m a parent! Each generation has their fads. Remember how long everyone thought Elvis wore his hair? And the Beatles? And the hippies in the late 1960’s? We hardly think about it anymore. We didn’t even flinch when our son asked for purple hair, or other colors in the past two years. We didn’t need to make that one of our battles!

But I can see how differently he acts with this new shorter hair cut. There is a sense of “clean-cut-ness” to make up my own word! So the sixteen year old is clean shaven AND short-haired! What a change from four months ago. His last hair cut was for his 8th grade graduation. And with that haircut, the purple dye was added by our loyal hair salon owner friend. She even came in on her day off to help us out! What a pal!

Now we hear that the boys at the Ranch are participating in “No Shave November”. It raises awareness for cancer patients. I’m all for that! We hear that some of the staff members are joining the boys on this one! Way to go guys! One week in the month down, three to go! I’ll keep you posted to how it all goes!

Until then, “keep it short on the sides”!


Old Fashioned Letters by Email

Old Fashion Letter Writing

We received our first letter rather unexpectedly. It came as email attachment. When I double clicked on it, I saw a handwritten note about twelve lines long. It was a bit faint and was obviously scanned by the staff at the residential treatment center (RTC) where he is now located. We later found out there is a weekly assignment for all the students to send a letter to their parents.

The best part of the letter is reading how much he says he misses us. Awwww….. What more can a parent ask for? As a general rule and something I believe in doing, when one receives a letter, one must respond back. Years ago when I held a “cute” letter writing club for my son and his fellow first grade classmates, I made them take an oath stating just that. “If I receive a letter in the mail, I promise to write that person back.”  I’m sticking to that pledge, after all, everyone enjoys getting mail!

And so, we began to write our response back to our sixteen year old teen. We answered a few of his questions about how grandma was and the dog, too. We also asked him a few questions of our own. The primary reason for this letter and future ones to come is therapeutic in nature, however. Social and personal business aside, this will become a way to address many of our family issues, including topics of social media use, negative friends and technology addiction.

We are all settling into our new life with our son being gone at the RTC/school a couple of states away. Our first letters were warm and friendly. There would be plenty of time for our therapy assignment letters. Next up was to write an “impact letter” to our son. We were able to use the same one we sent to him for wilderness, but added an addendum of things to made it current. We send our letters by typing them and then using email. On the other end, it gets printed out and handed to him, when the staff does mail call.

Our communication will also include Skype calls for weekly therapy, along with old fashioned letter writing. Sometimes it’s easier to write things than it is to say them. It’s nice to have a combination of both. We are all trying to improve our relationship! That’s what he has told us and many of the staff at his new RTC. Moving forward!



So Long Idaho and Wilderness

So Long Idaho

Our sixteen year old son was processing our decision to send him to a new place after wilderness. His stay was thirteen weeks or ninety-two days in total. It was a long time however you choose to look at it. We were proud of his progress and the changes he made and so was he. The summer season was winding down and fewer boys remained at the wilderness therapy program. He became a leader by default at the end of his stay.  Not his strength, but when put in that position did amazingly well.

We put the finishing touches on the paperwork for the school/residential treatment center while still back at home. We made arrangements to fly into Utah, drive to Idaho, pick up our son, drive back to Utah, drop him off and then return home. All in just over 30 hours. Whew!

There was a contract in place between us and him about the expectations that were set for the transition. No cell phone use, for us by choice and for him as part of the deal. He would get a short five minute call with his one positive friend back home. It would be monitored and made once we arrived at the new school’s parking lot. Sort of a carrot for him, to make sure things went smoothly during the transition.

The graduation from wilderness would take place on a Thursday at 10am. We were asked to arrive at 9:30am at the main headquarters. We flew into Salt Lake City the night before, drove 1 1/2 hours and stayed at a Motel 6. It had been years since I had done that and while it was clean enough, it was more sparse than I recall. We didn’t sleep much and woke up at 4:30am. We decided to hit the road and drive the rest of the way into Idaho before the sun came up.

We were both nervous and excited about our reunion and transport. When we arrived at the tiny town where the wilderness program was headquartered we looked for somewhere to eat breakfast. There were only two restaurants: a Chinese restaurant and a basic egg and pancake joint. It opened at eight o’clock exactly which worked great for our schedule.

Cafe in Idaho

After our quick bite, we drove to the headquarters and filled out the final release and questionnaire. We waited for our son’s van to arrive from his campsite about forty-five minutes away. The graduation was for just two boys: our son and one other. The staff showed short but meaningful slide shows filled with pictures of their personal adventures. What a change our son had made in appearance and attitude. We were so happy to be getting him back after ninety two days in Idaho. One journey ended and the next one was about to begin. We know we made the right decision. We saved his life.



Just The Right Fit

Just the Right Fit

We both agreed, it was school number one! Beyond a shadow of a doubt. Just like our Education Consultant said, it was all about the people! The place had a wonderful home like feeling that seemed like “just the right fit” for our son. It would be a big change from wilderness but kids that entered from that arena, often did very well when they arrived.

The second school felt like the town from the movie, Pleasantville. Very clean, almost to a fault, without any personality at all. The admissions team basically phoned the tour in and was certainly not the “A Team”! They didn’t seem to understand what we were looking for at all. The one highlight was meeting two of the boys who were students there, but even they had an edge that we couldn’t see our son being with. We were happy that the decision was so easy for us after visiting in person!

We headed home in a whirlwind and by next morning our Education Consultant called and was in total agreement with us. The paperwork was the next hurdle! Luckily most of the documents were ones that the wilderness program needed, so I just had to create a new folder on my computer, make a copy and send them off. Next, get some money from the college fund. It was incredibility expensive, but as I’ve said before, college wouldn’t even be an option without having success in this new school/treatment center.

We wrote our sixteen year old a long letter, sharing all the wonderful things about his new placement. Horses, basketball, positive environment and a one of a kind “calf program”. Each boy was given a new born calf to care for. What an opportunity! The boys mixed the formula and fed their calf, three times a day. It taught a huge lesson in responsibility and caring. We added cut and paste pictures into our email letter and sent it off to him.

After we had our weekly therapy session over the phone, on what would be our final session of the wilderness program, we all were ready for our next adventure. Ground rules were set about the transition and this time we were doing the transport. At least that was the plan. Stay tuned to see how we all faired.

Happy to be moving forward,


The Calf Program

The Next Step

The Next Step

The next step was figuring out what aftercare program was the best fit for our sixteen year old. He was on board, but we would have to visit a couple places first to check them out. We had a meeting with our Education Consultant and went over lots of ideas and requirements.

I tried to get a feel for what was out there and did some Google searching myself to see how these therapeutic boarding schools and residential treatment centers worked. They all had therapy components and schooling, too. We needed success after all the years of mis-steps for my son. Learning issues aside, he was a bright kid, only he really didn’t know it.

We narrowed our choices down to two and scheduled a quick trip to visit both schools on the same day. We had interviews by phone to see if they had room and if they thought our son was a good fit for them. We looked at their websites and arranged the last minute travel plans. Our son was going to need a good week to ten days to process where he was headed according to his wilderness therapist.

We flew out late one afternoon and stayed at an inexpensive airport hotel. At least it had a decent free egg breakfast in the morning. We drove our rental car about an hour and arrived ready for our tour. It was a small town in Utah and had a nice feel when we arrived. The people wet met were very friendly and nice. They offered us water because it was rather warm, even for 8:30am. We told them we had arranged another tour at 1pm, about twenty minutes away, with another school, so everything was out on the table as far as our plans.

We chatted, asked questions, took notes and answered questions. This was new to us so we had to learn a lot about this decision process. We took a walking tour and met more of the staff. Then we talked with some of the students and asked them some questions. The boys were forthcoming and said they were enjoying their  experiences so far. We asked who had been to wilderness and they all had. One boy went twice. We did not ask what there issues were, but they genuinely seemed to be happy and open with us. Our tour came to an end and we said our goodbyes.

We had time to pick up an apple and some chips and hit the road for the second school. This one was very well manicured and groomed on the outside. We met some folks but something was amiss from the moment we arrived. They had a sign welcoming two folks, but it wasn’t our names on the board. Okay, that’s fine, but where  were those people? We then realized they sent their “B” team to meet and greet us. We didn’t even meet the person who interviewed us on the phone just days before. It was rather odd and disappointing.

We did get to meet more boys. We did more talking and asked and answered more questions. We were getting the hang of this process now. Our time was up and we had to head back to the airport to catch our flight home. We got into our rental car and on the count of three we both agreed to say the program out loud that was our choice. “One, two, three……” Come back tomorrow to see which one we chose.

Feeling pretty certain,


Aftercare…Boarding School?

After Care...Boarding School?

One of our “heavy” discussions at the family therapy session at the retreat was about what happens after wilderness. Our son lobbied hard to go back to his public high school in the SF Bay Area. We knew that would NOT work. There would be too many triggers and he was not strong enough to combat those negative temptations.

He said that he felt it was still a good fit for him. We reminded him that he didn’t even attend the school he liked, so why would that work this time around? Our sixteen year old was very emotional, yet was able to share some of his “raw” feelings with us. There was progress being made. This was a kid who never cried openly, until now.

Many or even most of the kids in wilderness programs go to an aftercare program of some kind. It might be a therapeutic boarding school or a residential treatment center. There were many such places in the West to choose from. Lucky for us, we had an excellent Education Consultant on board to help us select the best place for our son. This was a whole new world that we knew nothing about. But as we shared with other parents in the same boat, we started to learn new things everyday.

Part of the process our family went through was how we took the new information in, and got comfortable with those ideas and plans. Within a week, once we returned home, our son was on board with NOT coming home right away. He had come to terms with his needing more support and help with his many issues. How brave he was in his new decision! We were able to talk about a “list” of his desires for his upcoming transition from wilderness to an aftercare program. NO uniforms was on the list, but we knew that polo shirts might be a reality. Oh well, he could handle it!

The shocking part for us as parents was the “unbelievable cost”. Think to yourself how much a school like Stanford costs per year and add more $ on top of that and you might be in the ball park. We had a college fund set aside, but there would be NO college if we didn’t get through this next phase of our son’s education.  So we will take a penalty hit on taxes, so what! It will be worth it in the long run for his success in school and his self-esteem and self-confidence.

We called our Education Consultant and gave her a list of needs. She then spoke with the wilderness therapist and field psychologist to sort out the kind of learning and support our son needed. Decisions, decisions…..What’s next in this amazing journey will be coming up in the next blog post. Stay tuned.

Surprisingly calm,


“It Was Just Like Christmas Morning!”

Christmas morning

“What did you feel when you first saw us, as the van drove down the hill to the Family Spark camp site?” we asked our sixteen year old son?

“I was excited, just like Christmas morning!” was his answer.
That stopped us cold in our tracks! WOW! HOW ABOUT THAT? It gets me all choked up thinking about it again.

It had been eight weeks since we had all seen each other from the time he began his wilderness therapy journey in Idaho. We then asked, “Do you hate us for sending you?” fearing what he would say.

“No, I was surprised that it was happening, and the first couple of days were surreal, but no I don’t hate you.” he said in a matter of fact response.

“It was the hardest thing we’ve ever done, but it was the last resort.” we said with heavy hearts. We wanted to make sure he understood our side of the event. It was not taken lightly at all! He had to know how much we loved him.

That conversation was one of many that we had like it, asking and answering queries on both sides of our worlds. And they all happened without the distraction of a phone or other technology or substance in the way. Our son had clear eyes for the first time in ages. It was a pleasant and refreshing occurrence . It’s like we were able to go backwards to a more innocent and younger time with him.

Over the course of the next few days, we had many group activities. We play acted the time when the “wheels fell off the bus” for us as a family. Each of us took turns as we role played the other, to see what we must have gone through. We watched and observed the other families and could see some similarities in many of they stories. We were not alone.

We participated in equine therapy and tried to maneuver a horse, who behaved much like our son had: stubborn and defiant. That was very interesting and revealing. We learned about non verbal communication from the therapists. We did an obstacle course while we were blindfolded one at a time, using only verbal directions from only one of us, to avoid the obstacles. We learn to work together as a team. We analyzed every action made and every word spoken. There was so much symbolism and meaning to it all. And it was exhausting but a wonderful few days.

The best part was that we were smiling with each other and laughing again, as a family unit. It had been a long time since those days. It was going to be difficult to say “so long”, as the end of the retreat got closer. One more hug, one more story, one more day……OUR TIME TOGETHER DID FEEL A LOT LIKE CHRISTMAS MORNING.



Opening Up, Sharing and The Lost Retainer

Campfire Circle

Our first night at the Family Spark therapy retreat went by quickly and we wokeup at sunrise, ready to start the day. The first group activity was “hand washing”. The entire group stood around a hole in the ground while one of the boys (our son this time) squirted a tiny bit of camping soap into our open palms. Then we started saying our “hopefuls”, going around the circle with anticipations of the day in front of us. As that was happening, a water pitcher was tipped with water spilling out to activate the soap in our hands. We scrubbed and rinsed and listened to the thoughts and hopes of the group. This ritual happened before dinner as well, but the topic changed to “thankfuls”. It was a nice ritual. Everything we did had meaning, even the simple tasks.

“Hopefuls and Thankfuls” were just the beginning of our sharing. We had mindfulness, “highs and lows”, and many other topics that were selected by whatever boy was in charge of that session. Listening to everyone’s words was very powerful. It sent messages of healing, growth and new understanding. Some of the parents wrote things in their notebooks, others just listened intently. Most of the boys picked up rocks from the ground or fidgeted with strings and made bracelets. There was a lot of ADD (attention deficit disorder) in this group!

Lots of new facts came out of these deep discussions. One of the things we learned about was the fact that our son lost his second retainer before being sent to wilderness. Those retainers weren’t cheap, let me tell you. He got his braces off after a long 2 1/2 years, earlier in the springtime. The orthodontics made room for two teeth that he was born without. At age 21, he would have implants to fill those eyeteeth gaps. In the meantime, he was fitted with custom retainers that had two false teeth attached to make his smile complete. He admitted to losing his retainer just two days before he left for wilderness. It happened at a park while he was busy partying!

In the group sharing we learned about natural consequences. The lost retainer became one for him. It would be replaced at a later date, and he would have to go without for a while. I was unhappy about the expense, but it’s amazing the things one can let go of when dealing with bigger issues.

One of the group questions was “What was it like when you saw your parents from the van, when arriving at the Family Spark setting?” My son’s answer will amaze you. Come back tomorrow to hear what he said. Bring a hankie!

Joyfully yours,



A Million Dollar Smile

 A Million Dollar Smile

He walked towards us, a bit scruffy and a bit dirty but he was wearing a million dollar smile. We hugged. It was so nice to see him. He actually seemed happy to see us. He had been in the wilderness program for eight weeks. It was a long time.

He was a little shy at first. His pack was giant and really dirty on the outside. His hair was getting long. There was a coat of dirt and grime over all of the boys, even though they did take a shower every week. For some reason, this week they didn’t get one. It was the high desert after all and not the Hilton! We showed him to our tent. He was very happy to be given a cot for a couple of days and not have to sleep on the ground.

He seemed very relaxed. We could see in his clear eyes that nature had a positive effect on him. It replaced the omni present technology world he left two months prior. Our son answered our many questions about the camping and other activities the group did every week. There was lots of hiking, but they also did equine therapy, white water rafting, mountain biking, canoeing and rock climbing. Every activity had a purpose of how it related to self improvement, introspection and getting along with others. Positive behaviors replaced negative behavior in thoughts and deed.

After about one half hour the entire group of parents and boys joined in a circle to kick off the first of many circles. One of the boys led us on a mindfulness and breathing exercise. Another led the introductions so we knew why each teen was there at wilderness. Each parent then explained what reasons brought their family to this place as well. We were beginning to feel each other’s pain. And we were certainly not alone.

As the sun was setting, we reflected on the “highs” and “lows” of the day. Each person took a turn sharing and when they were done, they “passed” to the next. We heard a word shouted out every now and then by members of the circle, “Aho!”It means “I agree” with what was just said. Most of the boys chimed in and we parents added our “Aho’s” as well. When it came time for me to express my “high”, it definitely was seeing my son smile. Something so simple, yet so powerful and beautiful, made me happy and teary at the same time.

We were so happy to be together. What happened over the next few days was life changing and wonderful.