(I wrote this on August 9th two days after returning home from Sweden and on my way to North Carolina for Colt’s moving on ceremony)
What does it feel like when your son ‘graduates’ from his TBS? (Therapeutic Boarding School)
It feels fucking amazing. “Graduation” feels like the wrong word to me. I disdain words that have mainstream connotations since they always involve either me biting my tongue (rare) or me explaining that yes my oldest is completing his program at Black Mountain Academy and yes it’s August 10th tomorrow and yes he still has more high school left and YES it is the first true exhale I have had with this beautiful, kind child who has gone through hell in a handbasket for the last five years.
I am on the second plane in as many days. Tired? Yes. The trip home from Sweden Monday was far from easy. The jet lag weighs heavy on me and I am for the first time on a post divorce family trip with my ex. Lotta feelings going around right now. Most are hard.
The beacon is this achievement. Graduation is always big. This is different. This moment, tomorrow, brings with it the resounding call of normalcy. Like the part of ‘normalcy’ I am ok with. He will be starting a mainstream boarding school next month. It is just over an hour from my home. The calendar will be traditional, not year round. There will be no therapists, no oppositional-defiant kids to contend with, and Colt will for the very first time get to assimilate into a more neurotypical population. I cannot overstate how big of a deal all of it is.
One of the hardest things to accept as a parent of a high needs child is that once you’ve arrived at the program that best suits that child (this took 5 years, a 211 call, a 911 call, hospital stays, Wilderness, a poorly suited TBS, a one on one tutoring stint, a therapeutic day school, and a short term residential program and I don’t even want to say how much money, heartache and tears) even that program won’t be a home run. Your child who struggles socially will have to cultivate the skills that are hardest for them amidst a population of similarly if not more challenged children. That will be hard. It will be super hard when they are near Colt’s stage of the game, when they have acquired more social pragmatics and can maneuver fluidly in the general population and still must contend with children who may never get there. But that simply is the best we can do.
My overwhelming feeling at the moment is that of respect for Colt. For the majority of the past 3.5 years he has lived away from home, from his dogs and cat, his brothers, me. He has gone without the comforts most children take for granted. He has been marginalized terribly, and labeled and othered. Through it all he has shown up with grace and stoicism. It used to scare me. I thought that the sum total of 7 years of therapy had rendered him numb. But now I see that he has this beatific acceptance of who he is and what he needs.
The next 24 hours will be a celebration of him. I will also celebrate the primal mother in me that was dogged and unrelenting in her advocacy of her son. For so many months, years even, I was in a forced state of reactivity. The fires were so unpredictable that even at my elite level of research, my precise systems culled from endless analysis of all the patterns I observed in my child failed me time and again. I couldn’t zoom out to see the potential outcome and I never dreamed it would look like this.
I am optimistic this time. I am proud. I am so proud.
I am currently researching how best to create resources for other mothers/families facing an adolescent in mental health crisis. If this resonates with you or someone you know, please click the link below to book a time to have a conversation with me.
Your story has the power to help so many.