Revisiting “Holland”

Several weeks ago, I shared a poem written by Emily Perl Kingsley entitled, "Welcome to Holland." (click here to read the "Holland" Reflections blog post) The poem reflects Kingsley's experience of raising a child with a disability to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it and in some small way imagine how it would feel. A recent experience Based on the overwhelming response to my previous post and the poem, I thought it would be appropriate to share a recent experience I had with my son, Casey, who is autistic. Casey recently spent several days with me at our Suttons Bay home after the Fourth of July weekend. As often happens during the summer months, when balancing two separate homes and office locations in Farmington and Suttons Bay, my wife had returned downstate with the other two boys after the holiday for their summer job and sports camp commitments. This left Casey and me on our own. Although the summer months result in a lot of activity at my firm's Suttons Bay office, including client meetings and work to do, Casey and I were able to take some time off together. Casey's "list of things to do" One of the items that is consistently on Casey's "list of things to do" when we are together up north is to take a day and go kayaking on one of the local rivers or lakes. Casey Penning Kayaking on the Crystal RiverOne Saturday morning, we packed our provisions for the day and headed over to the Putt and Paddle at the The River in Glen Arbor, Michigan (www.theriverglenarbor.com) and met Mike, the owner, to outfit ourselves with a kayak for the day's trip. We chose a trip down the Crystal River and Mike and his crew took good care of us in driving us to the "drop spot" for a several-hour journey down the river. While a lot of what I anticipated on our trip, of course, happened, in most cases, right on queue, (i.e., dropping items like our lunch in the water, me getting a workout pushing the kayak over the sandbars and getting sunburned in all the spots I missed putting sunscreen on) I experienced another in what has been a long series of "Holland moments" with Casey as we paddled down the river. "Who knows this stuff?" Casey proceeded to give me a dissertation on the types of trees, plants and vegetation we passed by; recited facts on when the area had been first settled and where the people originated from who moved there; and how, before that, he identified the Indian tribes that used the river and related several stories he had read in various books about the history of Leelanau County. As I listened to my son talk, I thought to myself, "Who knows this stuff?" Then it occurred to me. Casey does! The pizza ritual We finished our trip with the ritual of eating Shrimp Alfredo Pizza at Riverfront Pizza (www.riverfrontpizza.com) and laughed about our lunch that got wet, and that we had to run after our kayak as it floated away after sliding down a steep hill after we portaged the kayak across a country road during the course of our trip. At the end of our day, Casey, once again, proclaimed as he often does that, "This was the best day of my life." It is these experiences that remind me that Casey not only is a young man with special needs, but also a person with extraordinary and special talents. Enjoy your time with your families and friends this summer. Three young Penning boys tubing at the family cottage during the summer vacationRemember, whatever disappointments you may experience in your vacation that was supposed to take you to your version of "Italy," that sometimes the experiences you have in "Holland" are even more special and meaningful. Dan A. Penning