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!
Keeping the faith….