Meet Mr. Cook
I grew up the youngest of 5, in a model all-American family: Church, vacations, weekly family dinners, PTA Mom, and all of us kids in Sports year-round of one type or another.
I grew up with a tight knit group of friends from pre-school on through high school. I had the same teachers as my siblings before me, and they before the next.
Being the youngest, I somehow managed to earn the title of ‘Mom’s little caboose, her favorite’.
To this day I believe, or so would like to think at least, that title still stands.
I knew I had it good growing up. Blessed with a very close family, with nothing but green pastures ahead. As I made my way through elementary school, I sadly witnessed my friend’s families splitting up, divorcing. Families where you would have never seen it coming. It was sad. I always felt so bad for them, though I did not know what to say or how to support them. I could not relate. As I entered middle school the trend continued. This time with various extended families that I was very close to. I grew up having sleep overs with them, and by this time started sneaking out with their kids. Again, no idea what to say or how to best support them. I still could not relate. My family was rock solid … right?
Wrong. Our ticket was up, sadly. What I had not realized, or understood was that my parents had been on the brink for years and the dam finally burst. By today’s standards, when compared with even the families that I’ve had worked with over the years, it still takes the cake of one of the nastier divorces ever. No one came out unscathed.
My dad immediately took the first out he could and moved several states away. And within no time at all, the once vibrant family home turned into a quiet desert, left with just Mom and me.
I now knew how those others before me felt. It was lonely, empty and surreal. Now those other family and friends that I had grown up with and were part of my DNA, if you will. They slowly began to creep away. They did not know what to say or how to console me, because they could not relate. Now I was on the other side of the fence. My mom did her best, though as a teenage boy going through a bad family break up, she had to admit to me, as well as herself, “This is my first time at this as well. I don’t know what to do or say, except I am sorry for what you are going through.”
Before this time in my life I had never skipped school. I was always terrified of what would happen if my dad found out about it. Growing up he was solid with fear motivation, and I will admit, it worked for the most part. Well, with him no longer in the picture, and just feeling lost I just could not sit around a boring classroom and listen to the teacher, or act engaged and feel the awkwardness with my used-to-be-close-friends sitting all around me. So one day, I just decided to go do something else. Anything other than sitting in class one more day! So one day I skipped school.
Nothing happened. Wow! So I decided to go ahead and skip school again. It was at least bearable walking around town, exploring and finding anything that I could do to take my mind off of my life at hand.
This quickly became a theme. And soon, I had to answer for it … sort of. My mom found out about all of the school I had been missing and confronted me, in a very sympathetic, and eager to understand sort of way. I explained I just didn’t have it in me. In hindsight, I was grieving. And I just couldn’t do it anymore.
We got called into the Principal’s office to visit about what was going on, and where do we go from here. As mentioned at the beginning, everyone knew our family at my school. My siblings had all attended the same school, and of course gossip gets around. Everyone knew my family had fallen.
With this in mind, as opposed to any serious consequence, I got some coaching and a pat on the back. From that moment on I felt like the world had just handed me a blank check. I was thinking to myself, “Seriously, there is not a single person on this planet that is going to hold me accountable here? Ok, I can go with this.” A very dangerous notion for a 15-year old kid going through the breakup of his beloved family.
From that point forward I went from down-in-the-dumps-lonely-kid, to you-will-never-see-me-at-school-again. Continuation/Alternative School or not, and hey while I am at it, why not really check out and start smoking pot and drinking with my “new friends” while I am it. My new friends consisted primarily of kids a couple of years older than me, parents had already divorced or were just plain neglectful. They could come and go as they pleased. They had already been kicked out or dropped out of school. Several had already been arrested, and some of them had been arrested several times already. This was a recipe for disaster. For many of you, by now this may begin to sound very familiar, or at least it will all too soon.
I went from a victim of my parent’s life decisions to The Leader of my own destruction. And in several instances, I was The Leader for destruction in the lives of other kids around me as well. I was on a war path and nothing could slow me down, nor get in my way. I was on a race to the bottom vs. myself.
Sweet Mama Bear was now locking up her Den at night to avoid missing items, and money in the morning. Items and money which would only be tools used to help fuel her son’s fixation on personal destruction.
Moving forward a bit, I am certain many of you can fill in the gaps to this point. My mom had tried counseling with me, she tried to be stern, she tried tightening the house rules, imposing restrictions, she tried to give me space, she tried anything and everything she could think of … but she was no match for my out-of-control spiral.
We went through a slew of therapists: “let’s talk about feelings … let’s draw this or that … if you want to just sit there you can, we don’t have to talk if you do not want to” I even had one therapist for about 6-weeks, but I have no idea what the person’s name was because we really never spoke. I would go to his office after school, take a nap on the couch, leave and go make my plans for the night. And my mom had no idea this was the routine – she had no idea what a total waste of time it was, not to mention her money and her hopes. But I didn’t care.
For a while I felt in control. People feared me, avoided me, some even envied me. It was all relative, as long as I could do what I wanted at any given moment. I didn’t care. This feeling did not last for too long though. Eventually it did become lonely, very lonely. I realized that the new friends were actually the biggest losers I had ever met. I had parted so far from the real friends that I grew up with that they wouldn’t have anything to do with me, nor would their parents allow them to, which was a great call on their part. I was now “that kid.”
By now, my pain had derailed me far off the track. I had been raised well, with love and kindness. I opened doors for the Elderly. I did chores growing up. I loved being with my family, you know the type. But now the destructive choices and self-imposed toxins had left nothing but a shattered life, too much to put back together on my own. Too prideful to ask for help, and no trust nor feelings of rapport with anyone who could have helped – like teachers or therapists. I’d painted myself into a corner. All I had left was my tough-guy image, and I wasn’t willing to let go of that. I was a mess.
Moving forward, what I didn’t know was my mom had been frantically searching for help for me for weeks. She asked everyone she knew. Odd as it sounds, none of the professionals had any resources for her at all. It was a friend of hers who finally stumbled across a possible resource. She told my mom about a Program for kids that were in my same shoes. My mom did her homework and knew instantly that this was the solution she’d been looking for; new environment, sober, structured, far away from home, family involvement, academics. This would be like being able to hit the reset button for my entire life.
For my mom, up to that point with me, it had been like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall. And she’d run out of nails, months prior.
Within a few days she had completed the paperwork, gathered my belongings and I was off. I was livid. I made sure that message had not gone unnoticed. For the first time in a while, I had no control any longer. Though the dirty little secret that I would not admit to anyone for some time into my Program, was that I felt like the weight of the world had been lifted off of my shoulders. I was still locked in such a power struggle with the world I could not let my guard down. I was only worried that I would look weak or wrong, not really what I was looking to project at the time.
The night that I arrived to my Program they let me take a shower to wash off the day’s travels. I recall looking in the mirror, staring into my eyes for the first time in a very long time. I peered into my soul and said to myself, “Thank God it is finally over.” I had no clue where I was, who I was with, what I would be doing, how long I would be there. Though I did know for a fact, my mom loved me and would have done her homework and landed me softly into a place in life that I would be taken care of, have a chance to stop the chaos in my life, and from there it would be up to me to flourish or fail. This seemed like a pretty fair proposition.
I chose to flourish. I loved it. I still do. That is why I am here working with kids and families.
What a lucky guy I am to bear witness to the same “me” of long ago. Watching one kid after the next get that same second chance. A moment for each kid to step away just once in life from the chaos, loss, loneliness, anger and choose to explore, and love life and become reunited with their families, for life!
If you happen to be in “last resort mode” and feel your best chance for you son is to enroll him into a Boarding School, I invite you to please give the following some consideration.
I am of the strong belief that a Boarding School, when chosen properly, is a one-time opportunity to positively change a teen’s trajectory in life.
When a family can be open, step out of their comfort zone through this process (Admissions Process) and match up their son with a School that best resembles their son’s true interest. One that provides unique daily challenges and where he will be surrounded by mentors who have been in their shoes, it is a beautiful process.
A Boarding School, is not intended, nor should ever be used or viewed as a punishment. As with any of us, true change comes from the heart which is located on the inside, not the out. You cannot change from the outside in, only the inside out.
I am the only one in this field operating a School who has actually gone to bed in a Program and then woke up in that very same place night after night, day after day. I am the only one who can mentor your son, from a place of actual experience of knowing, recognizing and appreciating the value of having my parent do for me what I couldn’t do for myself.
Lucky for me, my mom choose wisely. Somehow, by a miracle she put aside distance, time and money. She was willing to sacrifice her needs over her son’s future. That’s what Mama Bears do!
Had she not, I would have been kicked out, runaway, or frankly just been miserable every single day and in turn, not learned a thing except how to chisel one mark at a time on ‘the wall’, tracking how long I had been there, and how soon until I’d leave. No one wants that for their son, especially not you. And believe it or not, neither does your son, not in his true heart and true spirit. That good seed you placed within him, is, and always will be there. It just needs to be kindled correctly to reignite again.