Saturday, January 9, 2016

A Hug for Christmas

We took a trip to Montana to be with Jack over Christmas. Like most schools, Montana Academy has a break between "blocks" during the holidays. Because the school is year-round, the academics are presented in 12-week sections. During the break most kids go home or on a winter vacation with family. Because Jack had been there only a month he could only leave campus on day trips. That was fine with me. To be able to see and talk with him was the greatest gift I could have received for Christmas.

We traveled so that we could hang out with him on Christmas Eve, Christmas and the day after. Katie had flight issues, delays, which prevented her from coming in on the 23rd. Though it was unplanned, the school allowed Jack to go with us, back to Kalispell, to surprise Kate when she got off the plane. Remembering the two of them hugging still gives me chills. This was not going to be our typical family Christmas but we all knew it would be amazing.

The combination of 80 days in wilderness and a month at Montana Academy has already changed Jack. He is becoming a mature, grounded and patient young man. He handles set-backs and unforeseen circumstances like a Monk. We fully expected that he would be allowed to have an iPod at school and that his long hair would be OK. Though both of those things seem small to most of us, to him they represent a part of who he is. When both were denied, the news rolled off of him. He would remind me later that if you can't control something there's no reason to get upset by it. That was a good reminder for me, a person that becomes frustrated easily by life's little curveballs.

School is a source of tremendous stress for Jack as it is for many of the kids at Montana Academy. The school's strategy is to ease kids into the academics, looking for the symptoms of stress as the workload becomes more demanding. Each day is structured to allow the kids time to apply themselves to their school work but still, for kids like Jack, the anxiety emerges. Jack's classes in his first full block reflect his interests well. He has a music class, an art class and American Literature. The music and art will include some work outside of playing piano, guitar and sculpture projects. "Lit" requires a bit more concentration and effort and the symptoms of his stress are already surfacing.

While I hate the idea of Jack being stressed out, he is in the right place for facing it head-on. The teachers and his therapist are experts on how to help him discover the source(s) and develop strategies and processes for dealing with it. I'm confident that in a few months he will have made significant headway towards learning to handle his school stress in such a way that he will become a good student. He is after all, a very bright kid.

Therein lies the conflict with this whole process. If left to satisfy my own needs, I would pull him out of MA and bring him home tomorrow. It's only my confidence that he needs the help he's getting that allows me to keep him in Montana. The sacrifice the family is making by not being together is going to allow Jack to pursue his life in a happy and fulfilling way. He misses us, we miss him. That's confirmed every week in the phone call we have with him. That will have to do until we see him again in March.

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