I recently read a story that left me in tears. This story captured feelings that I have experienced, but I’ve never been able to put my feelings into words. After I finished reading this story, I knew that I needed to include it in a blog post.
Welcome to Holland by Emily Perl Kingsley
I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability – to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this….
When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michaelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.
After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags, and off you go. Several hours later the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.”
“Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean ‘Holland’? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”
But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland, and there you must stay.
The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine, and disease. It’s just a different place.
So you must go out and buy new guidebooks. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.
It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills…and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.
But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy….and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say, “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.
And the pain of that will never ever, ever, ever go away…because the loss of that dream is a very, very significant loss.
But…if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things…about Holland.
My husband and I have been to Italy twice. We went in 1997 and again in 2000. No…we haven’t actually traveled to Italy. But when our oldest daughters were born it was like we were in Italy. It was exactly like we had pictured it. Everything that we had hoped and planned for came true. Our girls were well-behaved. They were obedient. They didn’t struggle with school. Yep…Italy was wonderful.
In 2005 we planned another trip. We assumed that when our twins were born we would get to go to Italy once again. But we soon found ourselves in Holland. I had to buy new guidebooks because the ones for Italy didn’t make sense in Holland. The girls were speaking a language that we didn’t understand.
Why did putting on socks always end in a meltdown? Socks never bothered the older girls. What in the world was going on? The guidebooks called it sensory processing disorder.
Why is it hard for the girls to answer simple questions? It’s because they have receptive and expressive language disorder
Why can’t they sit still and just listen to me? It’s because they have ADHD
Why do they constantly leave the “s” off of words like spider, spoon, and sticker? It’s because they have articulation disorder.
Why is it so hard for the girls to write, cut with scissors, and ride a bicycle? It’s because they have coordination disorder.
Yes, the author of Welcome to Holland is correct. It is slower paced, and less flashy in Holland. It’s hard to sit and watch the parents who are coming and going from Italy. They are bragging about their star athlete, their child who gets straight A’s, and all of the accomplishments that you can have while you are in Italy. And there you sit in Holland thinking “Yep…that’s what it was supposed to be like for us. That’s what we had planned.”
Life in Holland involves giving up the dreams that we had for our girls and trading those dreams in for new ones. It’s a life where we have to watch labels be put on our girls and there is nothing that we can do about it. A mom and dad’s job is to kiss the boo-boo, put a band-aid on it, and make it go away. Parents of special needs kids have to teach their kids how to live with boo-boos that aren’t going to go away. It’s heart-breaking and it makes us feel helpless.
I wish I could have back all of the years that I have spent wishing I wasn’t in Holland. I haven’t appreciated the beauty that Holland has to offer. The beauty of a child who giggles endlessly at something that people in Italy don’t even notice. The beauty of watching the girls hug their therapists and knowing that we would have never met them if we had been in Italy. The beauty of watching a lady at church…a lady whose name I didn’t even know…walk up to our girls and kiss them both on top of the head. She is now a very special friend to our family. She seems to understand Holland even though she lives in Italy.
God has chosen to allow our family to live in both Italy and Holland. Both places are beautiful and both places have struggles. I have cried more, questioned more, and hurt more while I’ve been in Holland. But I also pray more, trust more, and depend on the Lord more now than I did while I was only in Italy. I’m learning that I can’t truly enjoy Holland if I’m always longing to be in Italy. I have to choose to enjoy what I have instead of wishing for what I don’t have. Holland can actually be a beautiful place when I choose to gaze at the windmills and stop and smell the tulips. I’m learning to find joy in the journey.
Image of Italy credited to jmu.edu
Image of Holland credited to http://www.caffeinatedautismmom.com/