Two years ago, with a bit of anxiety we embarked on a chapter in the life of this family that was neither heartwarming, nor disheartening, but born from necessity and love for our son, Grumpy. You see Grumpy at the age of 12 was struggling in ways that we as his parents were unable, though willing, to get him through alone.
For those of you that may not know the story of this particular dwarf, suffice it to say that after being removed from his biological home(where he was abused) at the age of 4 under extreme stress (which to this day cause much fascination with sirens, police, etc) and then being shuttled to and from foster care homes until the age of 7 when we entered his life, this child has had less than a healthy physical, mental or spiritual head start in life. Combine that with RAD (reactive attachment disorder) FAS (fetal alcohol syndrome) and ADHS (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) not to mention a host of social dysfunctions, well you can start to see how the deck is stacked against this young man.
Now, believing that the Lord brought him to us, we knew that in order to give him the help that he needed we would have to search out any means available to us for his care that we could not provide. Oh, could we feed him, sure. Could we clothe him, absolutely. Did we love him unconditionally, for sure. However we quickly became tired. The stress in our home became unbearable, and it seemed if he woke each day with the mission to fight with us, and against us and anyone else that was close to him. Siblings, grandparents, friends, teachers.
The first year that Grumpy lived with us was somewhat uneventful. We went into the adoption with our eyes wide open (so we thought) about the issues that surrounded him, perceived and real, knowing that there would be a "honeymoon" period where he would do his best to impress us, wow us and make us think that we had selected the best kid in the world to add to our family. Then, we knew, and like clock work it happened, the stage where they start to feel secure, but they don't want to trust you, so I am going to start pushing the envelope to see if I can make them love me less. Push he did. It started in the small stuff. Irritation and refusal to do chores, to brush his teeth, to wear shoes, to make his bed, to do his homework. He would stomp a foot, or roll his eyes, or be a bit mouthy. As the weeks and months wore on, the outburst became more and more often, violent, and required us to restrain him, to put him in his room, where he had nothing but a mattress and a sheet, because he would destroy all the things in his room in his anger. When it seemed that we could take no more, or that there were not any more shocking things he could do, he took things to a new level. Getting in trouble at school on the bus and even in the community. He wanted what he wanted when he wanted it. He did not like authority, being told what to do, nor did he have any concern or ability to reason in regards to his own safety.
Anyone that knew him when, could see the moment he started down the path to a meltdown, and either stood back to watch the show, or took off to hide in the hills. Screaming rages, hitting, punching, trying to jump out of moving cars, running away, all became a burden that we could not longer ask our other children to bear, nor could we really keep up at the pace of attacks and abuse that he was spreading in our life.
In a desperate plea to the Lord, after Grumpy had a serious meltdown that lead us to the hospital and on to a 9 day intake at Philhaven, I started searching the Internet for some thing or someone that could help us with our son.
It soon became apparent that in the state of PA, at the age of 12 there is not much that you are able to get aside from the services that we were already receiving for him. ( He had a TSS, he had a team of therapists, he had private therapy, and a previous in patient stay on record.) We had been utilizing these services for about 3 years at this point in one fashion or another and they were yielding nothing! Further research showed many options in the US that required your child to be 14 before you could place them, and they were mostly organizations out west where the fees were astronomical. The other issue that we were up against is that in PA at the age of 14 the minor must consent to any "medical" treatments. They must agree to take meds, or agree to sign themselves into a program. Well if we waited that long, chances were that Grumpy would not, out of spite agree to these suggestions for his care.
In a last ditch effort, google showed me a site for Bald Eagle Boys Camp. I had never heard of it, had no idea what they did there, but called to talk with them about getting information sent to us so that we could investigate the option. I remember making the call, it was hard. Chief Dan was kind and answered many of my questions and told me about the process, and for the first time in months, I felt as if there was hope. I showed the details to the Prince. He also was hopeful. We prayed about the camp, we discussed it with others, (and no surprise we were once again blazing a new trail, no one had heard about it). We filled out the extensive application and mailed it in and waited...
In May 2011 Chief Dan and his wife came to our home to "interview" us and to meet Joseph. When they arrived, I believe that Grumpy was curious, but cautious. I do not know if he fully understood the scope of what was about to happen, however it was not a long time until the chief was showing Grumpy photos from camp, and telling him about the activities that they do, and was extending an offer to him for a spot at camp. He said that there was a waiting list, and if Grumpy agreed to go then he also had to agree to work hard to get better while he was there. During that meeting Grumpy was in a good place, he was having a good day, and I think that in looking back and remembering the conversation it was one of the first times that he could see and hear how heartbroken we were, and how helpless we felt. It made for the perfect storm. He agreed to be placed on the waiting list.
We were told it could take up to three months to get him in. It was 4.5 weeks. We packed him and drove him to camp. Took his belongings into the lodge, watched the staff sort and pack his foot locker, we met with the staff, set goals for Grumpy, we held our breath that he would still be agreeable to the program, because they ask one last time before you leave your son, if the boy is willing to do the hard work at camp and is still in agreement with the plan. Holding our breath, he agreed. Silently I praised the Lord and with tear filled eyes I watched my 12 year old ride off on the back of a four wheeler with his foot locker into the woods praying that this would indeed make the impact on his life that was needed. At the same time feeling relief because he was in someone else's capable hands and I could rest. Our family could heal.
For six weeks we wrote letters, encouraged others to do the same. We worked hard to encourage him, and praise him for his willingness to go to camp and to get better. Our fist home visit was the weekend of Labor Day weekend 2011.
To say that his first home visit was wonderful would be a lie! (Every 6 weeks they come home for 4 days, and holidays, they get 5- 6 days home) It was the worst of the worst, and because it was Labor Day weekend it was an additional day long. His reports were that he was doing great at camp, staying out of trouble, working hard... But you do remember how I told you about the honeymoon period ? Well this was exactly what was going on, just in reverse. He was honeymooning at camp and acting out as always with us. I remember calling the chief and asking if they could come get him, (and to their credit, they said they would...) but we knew we had to endure, and it was hard. With great joy on the day ending home visit, we drove him to the bus stop. Happy he was going back, happy that we survived the visit, happy that he was at camp, and praying that he would start showing his true colors there as well. Praying that he would be broken, so that he could start to heal.
With dread the next home visit came around, it was more of the same. Alas, we repeated this cycle for some time, and somewhere between the 6th home visit and the 18th home visit we started seeing the shift. Was it huge at first, no. But did we start to enjoy having him home a bit more and more, you bet. Did his siblings start to miss him, yes! Did we start looking forward to his home visits, indeed we did. Along with that we started to not like taking him to the bus stop, we started wanting him to stay home with us and return to the family. Yet there was still much to be done on Grumpy's part. Part of being ready to graduate, meant the home visits and camp visits had to look the same, having a good attitude, being responsible, being a leader, making wise decisions....
There have been walls broken down, relationships built up, there has been trust established, there has been new skills learned for communicating, for dealing with disappointments, for dealing with struggles and desires to have things our own way. There have been memories made, hiking, fishing, canoe trips, living outdoors year round, cooking and planning his own meals and those of his tribe. There have been lessons on longitude and latitude and attitude. At the center of it all, Christ. Surrounded by young men that give two years of their lives to live in the woods with these troubled young boys to mold them into young men that return home to be a blessing to their families, not a burden, to be productive in society, not a drain, with softer hearts for their loved ones, a new appreciation for life, and a clearer understanding of what motivates them.
Last Thursday, June 6th we attended Grumpy's graduation. We are so grateful to the camp, to the staff, to the Lord, for the work that has been done on Grumpy's behalf and in his life. Is he fixed, nope. But we did not send him there expecting that they would fix him. We sent him there expecting that he would be changed, that his life would be altered. It has been. He has now been home a week. There are some difficulties but for the most part the road has been smooth. Is he "honeymooning" again? Time will tell. So as this chapter has closed a new one begins... you really can't make this stuff up.