It was June 20, 2013 at about 4am when they knocked on the door. Right on time. Sweet Pea didn’t know what was happening, but she hadn’t gone to sleep that night anyway. Like most nights, she stayed awake, playing games on the computer. “Who are they?” she asked, barely looking up from the screen. I took a deep breath. “These are some friends of mine. They’re going to take you on an adventure. I love you. You’ll be fine.” I traced a cross on her forehead and kissed her brow. God keep my sweet girl.
And then I walked out the door. Like I’d been told to do. I went down the stairs and sat in my car to wait until they were safely on their way. Sweet friends held me from a distance with encouraging words and prayers…I don’t remember much about those moments, except the sound of my sobs, and the darkness. And the feeling that this couldn’t possibly be real. I couldn’t possibly be sending my daughter with virtual strangers to live 1300 miles away. I had met the staff; I knew she would be in good hands. I had shipped boxes of bedding and clothes and a few personal reminders of home. But now it was real. She was REALLY getting ready to fly across the country…without me…and I was facilitating the whole thing.
We had tried everything. Our Sweet Pea was first diagnosed with mental illness when she was 3 years old. Long story short, for the last 11 years she had been in every type of therapy, on every medication combination, and in every special school situation we could find. And now at age 14 we had hit rock bottom. Sweet Pea was completely locked into her own little world; she refused to leave the apartment (we feigned homeschooling, but even that was a failure), refused to do basic hygiene, and worst of all, refused any help. She was falling deeper and deeper into a pit of depression and anxiety and I knew it was time to take an extreme step or she would lose any chance at a real future.
From my hiding place three floors below, I saw the door open, and the three of them walked out of the apartment. In the shadowy light I could see the confused look on her face; I can’t imagine how scared she must have been. I tears me up to think I had to put her through those moments of fear. And then they got in their car, and drove away.
Hardest moment of my life. Even as I write this a year later, I have tears in my eyes as I think about that night. All the things I ever understood about being a mother were put to the test that night. I wanted to keep her under my wing, but I had to push her out of the nest.
It was time for my baby bird to fly.
I received a phone call a few hours later that she had landed safely and had arrived at her new home, a small therapeutic boarding school for girls just like Sweet Pea. There was great relief in knowing she wasn’t the only one. There was great pain in knowing she was indeed one. One who needed specialized care 24 hours a day. One who had to be within arms’ length of a staff member at all times. One who couldn’t choose what she was going to eat that day, or what time she would wake and sleep, or whether or not she would participate. All decisions were made for her, and the journey began.
The last twelve months of Sweet Pea’s life have been filled with tiny steps and giant leaps, little wins and huge victories. In any given week, she participates in one-on-one therapy, family therapy (thank you, FaceTime), group therapy, equine (horse) therapy, recreational therapy (think Survivor-type games, with therapeutic lessons), plus a full academic load. She is responsible for her own daily self-care. (This in itself is a minor miracle.) She participates in the daily chores of a large home and a large barn. (She mucks!). She does her own laundry. She has been successfully weaned off of four different medications that she was on when she arrived; she is down to just one, and that one is on the way out as well. She has lost over thirty pounds, significantly reducing her chance of developing diabetes (something that always concerned me). By her own choice, she wears her hearing aids and glasses every day. (Another miracle!) And on top of everything else, the girl who would never brush her teeth got braces!
At least every other week Sweet Pea meets on her own with the entire team: all therapists, teachers, and staff. They give her constructive feedback and she then advocates for her own needs. She is able to converse easily about her diagnoses, her strengths and weaknesses, and the steps she needs to take to continue to make progress. Most recently, she was nominated by one of the staff members to act as a mentor to a new international student. This required a written application process and commitment to supporting the new student 24/7 through her first few weeks. By all reports she is doing a marvelous job, and is now considered a leader amongst both students and staff.
We passed the “one year” mark a few days ago. I pulled out a picture that was taken a few weeks before her departure, and compared it to one taken this week. The difference is unbelievable.
These pictures speak a thousand words about the progress that she has made in the last year. But unfortunately the news isn’t all good, at least not in a conventional sense. Sweet Pea is just getting her feet under her; she will need another year of therapeutic boarding school to get all of these new behaviors ingrained into her being. After that, the professionals tell me she may still not be able to live at home; she may require a more structured setting (i.e. boarding school for special needs) than we could ever hope to provide at home. It is an investment I am willing to make, because I believe in Sweet Pea and her future.
The honest truth is that I’ve wiped out my retirement savings in order to pay for her treatment. (And I would do it again – it is obviously worth every penny.) So many of you generously gave to Sweet Pea’s Journey in the first year, and I am humbly asking if you would consider making another gift. And if you’re new to our story, I would certainly welcome your help as well. You can go to www.paypal.com, click “send money” and put in my email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) and the gift will come directly to me. If you’d like to become a monthly sponsor, do the same thing, but jot a note in the message box and I’ll add you to the monthly reminder list. And if you just hate Paypal but would still like to make a gift, please contact me at email@example.com.
They say it takes a village, but in Sweet Pea’s case, I think a flock is more appropriate. My once-broken-winged bird is FLYING, in no small part to all of the encouragement, prayers, and financial support of our many dear friends and even strangers, near and far. Your gifts are precious. My heart is full.