There’s no manual that guides you when your kid goes off the rails, when the decision you’re up against comes down to calling the goon squad or let her ride into the on coming train and hope for the best. There is only the experience of other parents who’ve sent their adolescent kid to treatment or wilderness therapy and we are a hidden, underground tribe. Shame, guilt and fear drives us into isolated bunkers, unable to reach across the divide to another buried parent who’s hunkered down also. Unless we see in the eyes of another, “me too,” we live in fear that we are the only ones. We aren’t posting on Facebook the pictures we take at parent weekend, the moment when she steps out of the sagebrush, into the open, strong, tan, grimy, and smiling.
She ran into my arms and buried her face in my neck. Tears clinging to the dust and grime on her face, streaking her cheeks, smiling, laughing, crying, grateful. She stood before me, smelling like someone who hadn’t taken a proper shower in 3 weeks. Someone who only got one roll of toilet paper a month, had to cook her own food, hike 5 miles a day, carry her used tampons in a ziplock bag until that hike brought her to a trash can to dump her trash and rub sticks together to make fire. “Thank you, mommy,” she said, over and over, her tears pooling with mine in the hollow of my clavicle. “You saved my life, mommy. Thank you.”
We cried, and talked, and she told stories of her life in the Utah desert with 7 other girls, some she liked, some she didn’t. We talked about the ex-boyfriend, the staff, life at home, what she missed, how many books she read, all while she munched on a big bag of granola and drank water from 32oz refillable bottle. I gave her pens, a highlighter and a box of tissue and she was so grateful. I hugged her, and kissed her, and listened and sent up quips of gratitude to God. Thank you, God. Thank you. Thank you for the strength to make the decision to send her away, thank you for a second chance. Thank you for the opportunity to see this young woman before me, the smart, funny, girl that had been dormant for so long. Thank you.