Once we agreed, the slight panic set in. There is a dress code. T is 12 years old; no longer a little boy. He would be expected to be in a shirt, tie and coat. Deep breath. Can he do that?
I called the hotel a few months ahead of time. I asked for clarification on the dress code for young men, and it turned out that there was a little wiggle room. A dress shirt and pants would be fine for older boys. The tie and coat are optional, but still desired if possible. I explained about our boy, and chose not to play the "A card" - but instead said that he has intellectual disabilities and while he is a very happy and well behaved boy, he has just has never had to wear dress clothing before. No problem, I was told. Dress shirt & pants are perfectly acceptable. Whew. There was an out, a Plan B. I breathed a sigh of relief.
But then I set my sights on the goal: why not try it? Could I even imagine that he'd be willing and able to wear a shirt & tie? With the dream of seeing my boy dressed up, I headed to the mall for what I thought would be a relatively easy shopping trip.
Then came the comedy of errors: trying to find two dress shirts in stock that fit this boy that is growing leaps and bounds everyday, along with a decent looking clip-on tie that is long enough for a tall 12 year old. I started with what I thought was a slam-dunk: the pre-packaged dress shirt and clip-on tie. Nope. Size 14 too small. Returned for size 16. Nope, too small in the neck. Seriously??? Back to square 1. Oddly enough, the size Izod XL boys dress shirt from JCPenney worked, but the Land's End XL was too small. After a month of buying & returning and about 10 receipts in my wallet, I plopped down the credit card for the last time. Half the shopping mission accomplished.
There are more options for non-tying ties than I ever imagined. I was continually pointed to the zipper ties (I honestly still cannot see in my mind how they work), but that was a no-go. T won't allow anything over his head with the exception of shirts. No ID tags, necklaces, name tags - nothing. And most clip-on ties are for the little guys, so they are short short short. I finally got lucky and found one lone, longer, honest-to-goodness clip on tie at Sears (see picture above). I spent more time at our local malls for this trip than I have the entire last 12 months! So two weeks before the trip, and about two months after starting the quest, we finally had the gear. Now we just had to see if he'd deign to wear it.
The two dress shirts, one in white and the other in blue, along with the tie, were taken to his ABA clinic daily for two weeks. When I picked him up after the first day, his therapist came out with a big smile and a thumbs-up. He wore the shirt buttoned all the way up and the tie for about 10 minutes. Then 20 minutes the next day. She paraded him around the center each day while he heard multiple accolades about how very handsome and grown up he looked. After a week, he was wearing it for the full 2 1/2 hours. Now it was in our hands.
And why not go all the way and find a suit or sport coat? Some friends with older boys gave us an outgrown blazer, and I also found a spring-weight full suit at our local children's consignment clothing store. A $14 gamble - why not?
He loved the boat ride out to Mackinaw Island. At first he was a little stressed, with all the newness of getting luggage out of the car, waiting in a line for a boat, heeding the presence of others around him and not "cutting in front" of people lined up politely to get on the boat, but once the engine started and the water started splashing against the side of the boat as it moved, it was all smiles and loud laughter. From there on out, he was such a trooper. Riding in a horse & carriage up to the hotel? No problem. Brand new hotel decorated with large florals and bright patterns? A harp or piano playing pleasant music live? No worries. The only stressors were when he was getting too far ahead of us on an excursion and we had to call to him to come back. Turns out we move too slowly for this growing (nearly teenage) boy at times.
We checked into our hotel rooms, took in the views, opened the windows to hear the clip-clop, clip-clop of the horse & carriages going by, and relaxed until dinner. Then came the deciding moment: would he let me put his shirt & tie on? And could I dare imagine that he'd agree to putting on the coat?
As you can see from the picture above, the answer was yes, yes and yes.
The whole weekend was like a dream. He was such a good kid. He did just fine with the evening cocktail receptions as long as the crackers and cheese were plentiful. Sat through the 5 course dinners both nights like a pro, wearing his shirt, tie and blazer. He even let Daddy (Rob) give guidance on what buttons on his blazer should be buttoned while standing, and which should be unbuttoned when sitting at the table. (Well, there was a little consternation, but it was pretty quiet and very short-lived.)
I was - and still am - so very proud of him. And I'm proud of myself for setting the goal and sticking to it. I'm proud of my parents for taking the risk of inviting us to such a nice locale. Proud of Rob for how he's guiding T so well. I'm just so proud and happy and pleased - and a full week later, I'm still pinching myself.
My take-away: given the right supports, this kid can accomplish great things. Really, really great things.