Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas 2008, Missing Tiana

Perhaps now is a good time to reflect on my very lovely and my very special 17 year-old daughter, Tiana, who is spending her first Christmas away from home. Equally meaningful, to me at least, is that I'll be spending my first Christmas ever away from Tiana whom I miss now as much as I did in early October, when she first went away. Which is to say, a lot.

As most of you who read the blog know, my wife and I had been seeing serious and dangerous behavior from Tiana for the last year. It culminated in early October when we had her removed from her bedroom in the middle of the night and transported to a treatment program in Oregon, where she was involved in a hardcore wilderness-based protocol of drug abuse and behavior therapy, during which we were only allowed to see her once. At the end meeting, after the 51-day treatment program, we made the very difficult decision to commit Tiana to another six months at an affiliated therapeutic boarding school. That day, when Tiana was transferred to the school, was one of the most difficult of my life. Adding to the poignancy of the event was Tiana's incredible stoicism and acceptance of staying at the very rustic and demanding school, where she will be until at least late spring.

A few weeks later, in mid-December, we again drove down to see her at what's called a "Parent's Weekend." Part of this event was a workshop/social gathering of all the kids' parents with selected staff members. That went well, as I had a chance to meet some of the other parents and hear the stories of their kids. It ran the gamut from one dad who was totally freaked out by his son's occasional marijuana use to the somewhat more reasonable concern of the mom who was dealing with a daughter's addiction to heroin. One of my bigger fears going into this therapeutic program was that Tiana might not fit in with the other kids, for one reason or another. That concern has been totally put to rest as she has really proven to be the dictionary definition of the average participant.

After the parents meeting, which lasted until about noon, it was time to bring in the kids for a group lunch. It was a very cold and wet day and yes, my stomach was in knots about meeting Tiana again. Would she look happy or sad? How would she react when she saw me? How would I react when I saw her? The parents went outside of the assembly yurt and the kids slowly filtered up the muddy trail, reuniting with their parents. Tiana sort of appeared out of the mist--I hardly even noticed her. She ran right up to me and gave me a big hug. We both started crying but she regained her composure before I did and said "Don't worry dad--I'm doing good. I'm happy." Grammar aside, the words meant so much to me that I could hardly bear it.

The rest of the afternoon was spent on pleasant walks around the school's campus, interesting one-on-one talks with Tiana, and reviewing her school work, which she was very excited about. While Tuuli and I were wondering to ourselves how we would spend all that time together, the day went by very quickly, and before we knew it, it was time for dinner, after which we headed back to the motel in Albany. It was a very emotional day and on the ride back to town I reflected on how well it went and how well-worth saving Tiana truly is. She may never fulfill her utmost potential (neither did I) and her road into adulthood may not be smooth, but at least I feel strongly now that she has a chance, that she'll have the tools to lead a happy and fulfilling life.

Now might also be a good opportunity to review the costs we've incurred to date and the strain that has put on our budget and on the family's psyche. The first 51 days of the program came in at $450/day. Santiam School is at $5900+ per month, with a 6-month minimum and a 7 month average stay. There is a gear charge of nearly $1000 for Tiana's clothing, sleeping bag, etc. There is the cost of the motel we need to stay at for at least 2 nights a month. At Tiana's request, we will need to renew her Concerta medication, which is $145/month + the cost of the psychiatrist who needs to prescribe it, at $175/hour. There are other costs for miscellaneous gifts and extra gear, gas money, etc. I'm often asked, and sometimes wonder myself, if there had been a less expensive option. I don't know, but I think about it quite a bit. I'm comfortable with the program and I know it has a good reputation. There are kids enrolled at Santiam Crossing from all over the country, including Hawaii and even up to to Winnipeg, Canada. And it's not just rich kids of rich parents, but families from every socio-economic group. When we originally made the decision to send Tiana away, it was something that had to be done real quick--we didn't have time to do a lot of research. I feel very fortunate that we chose as wisely as we did. She's close enough where we can drive to see her in 4 or 5 hours, unlike some parents who have to take a transcontinental flight. When you add up the costs, they're staggering, at least to someone of our financial means. How we're going to survive, especially given the current economic climate, I have no idea. Is it worth it? Is it worth the strain on the marriage and the disruption to the family? Is it worth $60-$70,000 for Tiana to live in a very primitive environment, without even running water, for 8+ months with no guarantees that things will be better? I don't know, but the picture at the top of this entry tell me it's worth the chance.

But now it's Christmas. And I miss her. And I hope she is doing well and knows that I love her.

PS--Happy Birthday Mom!!

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