We have returned from our first "up north" adventure this summer. If you aren't from Michigan you probably don't know about "up north". People who live in the lower part of Michigan spend a lot of the summer time headed north. I heard someone who had lived here for a year saying, what is with this "up north" thing? I don't get it. A friend said they'd show her and brought her to beautiful part of northern Michigan. All she could say is "now I get it". You just have to experience it. And no matter where you go, it's generalized as "up north". Every time, on our drive we get to a certain point, I don't know where it is, but there is a spot on the highway that the hills begin and the evergreens extend high into the air and I exhale and think, we are now "up north". Even though our destination is another hour and a half away it is a feeling that always happens. It's wonderful.
We spend our "up north" time in Charlevoix. It's nickname is actually "Charlevoix the beautiful" and that about sums it up. It is a tiny town, that has Round Lake as the center of it's downtown. There are enough yachts and sailboats there to make you think that someone in Michigan must still have a job....Round Lake connects Lake Michigan and Lake Charlevoix. No matter where you are you are surrounded by gorgeous blue and turquoise water. It's where my in-laws grew up and where we now make our summer pilgrimages to. This long holiday weekend we brought our friends with us. The whole family. They are moving away from us, well not from us, specifically, but their family is leaving Michigan for Florida within the next few weeks. It will be life changing for our family as well, because "the mom" Alyse is my closest friend. Her oldest child is Zachary's best friend. Mike, the dad is Todd's good friend. They have two gorgeous girls who I would love to take home with me permanently. This sucks for us. Big time. We decided to steal them away for a weekend and keep them to ourselves for a fun time in Charlevoix. So we did. I knew it would be fun. I knew it would make memories for our families. What I didn't anticipate would be what Daniel would get out of it. Honestly I hardly considered him when making the plans. It's one of those happy accidents that took me by surprise.
The youngest of this family, Elin, is nearly three. This month actually. Recently when we've been together we have noticed a connection growing between her and Daniel. It is a really interesting relationship. She is a petite little thing and Daniel is, well, gigantic and will be a teenager in 3 months. But Daniel of course, still loves things like Blues Clues and Arthur. He likes to play games that she likes to play. Developmentally, they like a lot of the same things. I believe it goes deeper than that though. There are some people who you just connect with, and I think this pair does. Despite the huge differences between them. Daniel, who has zero patience, has so much patience for her. Elin, despite her petite appearance, is one of the strongest personalities I have ever met, and since she isn't MY child, I think it's adorable! What this weekend did for Daniel is what all kids need to break out of the autism "shell". It's what we try to do for him daily and can't do. The visitors broke up his Charlevoix routine. All of a sudden there were all of these people there who also wanted turns with the dvd's and walks in town. People you had to wait for and share your bubbles with. It pushed him out of his box. A lot of the time that comes with much distress for Daniel and he gets very agitated. But this weekend he took it in stride.
When he was watching a dvd Elin came marching in and watched him rewind to the same spot over and over and over. She looked at him and giggled and said, "Daniel, what are you doing??" Not with a mean spirit, but she'd never seen someone do that before and she's only two! Todd suggested to Daniel that Elin may want to watch with him, but she likes to just sit and watch the video all the way through. So he put it to the beginning and sat and watched it with her! What?? That does NOT happen. Then she suggested that she would like to watch Arthur next. Ok she really marched to the videos, picked it up and said I want this. I told her she could watch it when this one was finished. So HE PUT IT IN AND WATCHED THE WHOLE THING WITH HER. Without yelling. Without anger.
Every night he records his voice on a Vtech computer before bed. I had him do it early on the fireworks night, anticipating a late night return and him falling apart because of the time of our arrival home (which was midnight). So he actually did some of his routine before we left for the fireworks to get it out of the way (that actually worked be the way, shocking, I know). Elin wandered in while he was recording his voice. I stayed with them because I saw nothing but a bad ending coming. He has an order that he goes through and does not like it interrupted. She plopped down by him. I explained what he was up too. Of course she said, "I want to try". So she started belting out "Tomorrow, tomorrow, I'll love ya tomorrow, it's only a day away...." in pure Annie fashion. Where was a video camera? He listened to it back. She was starting to take over and he said to her, "I'll say . . . . . this, then you say that....." AND SHE DID. He incorporated her into his routine and he changed it. They took turns, she listened to him. Then the test. His last recording is always SILENCE. No one can talk. So he says to a two year old, "You have to be silent, no talking", and she did? It was just, for lack of a better word, weird.
One of the mornings, all of the kids, except Daniel were drawing. Daniel was up in his room, probably doing his getting dressed routine which takes up to 20 minutes. Elin was drawing a typical almost three year old drawing. I was talking to her about it, trying to find out what she was working so intently on (I couldn't see anything but scribbles in my head) She showed it to Todd in the kitchen and she seemed disappointed in her drawing. She showed him and said, "it's broken" in a sad way. We sort of all thought, huh? How can a drawing be broken? A few minutes later Daniel came down and Elin handed him her drawing. He glanced at it and said, "this is broken" and handed it back....? What the? Alyse said wow, they have quite a connection. My mother in law, said it must be a developmental thing. I think it's both. They are the only two who could see what was so obviously to them, "broken". Any thoughts?
As I've mentioned in routines, Daniel's routine for snack is a chocolate Poptart and 10 saltine crackers. The 10 crackers is a VERY important part of this. We often ask him for one, knowing that he will say no and protect it with his life. But we try to give the possibility that he may one day give up a cracker. Why? I don't know, to give him some flexibility. Of course Elin has no concept of this and when she saw Daniel's snack she said, "can I have a cracker?" You guessed it, he gave her one. Honestly, of everything that happened this amazed Todd and I the most. This is very rigid for him and I have never ever seen this happen. He just handed it to her like he does it all the time. No angst. Nothing. She asked for another, Todd suggested she may not want to push it....
Zachary had been coveting a Nerf gun. Not any Nerf gun, but the "N strike longshot CS6". (sounds sort of A Christmas Story doesn't it?) Todd and I went to K Mart (there is no Walmart in Charlevoix where I refuse to shop anyway. Charlevoix ran them out of town when they wanted to build there, yet another thing I love about Charlevoix). After some discussion of the fact that Zachary literally never asks for ANYTHING we decided to splurge and buy it. Todd very observantly said that we then needed to find something for Daniel. A nearly impossible task. We found a purple bubble machine and purchased it. He loves purple and loves bubbles. We got a giant refill of bubbles and bought it. I knew he'd be possessive of the bubbles, which he was, but he pretty easily shared them with the girls and let them use them when they wanted to. They spent a lot of time watching the bubbles floating way into the sky over the houses and out toward the lake together.
While this weekend was partially very selfish for me. I wanted to make even more memories for our two families. I wanted our friends to be able to spend time away from the stresses of trying to move their whole family across the country and all the work that comes with that. I wanted Zachary to get as much time as possible with his buddy. What I didn't expect was Daniel to be pushed out of his box by his good friend Elin or for him to find a connection that I know he will never forget with an unlikely friend for him, a blond haired, blue eyed two year old, who seems to know just what he needs. I am sure that the connections our families have found will extend all the way to Florida. Ties like that stay together no matter the length of time between visits. And while we'll miss them being part of our every day lives, I look forward to our visits together and seeing what else will grow out of them.
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