Saturday, December 10, 2011

Welcome to Holland

When M was born, things got blurry.  I went numb and for a while I turned inward. Perhaps initially I though I was just passing through Special Needsville, just a quick stop before moving on to the beautiful landscape of Greener Pastures.  But alas, it had been determined that we would forever reside in Special Needsville.

When I reflect back on those first frightening months, I imagine it being like in the center of a tornado's path.  You have no warning and you don't see it coming, having little time to plan and then you are left in the stunned silence of  the aftermath.  It takes time to make sense of what just happened, to formulate a plan and to pick up the pieces and carry on.

In the utter devastation, you wonder how you will ever live a normal life again.  Will fear and despair give way for joy and happiness?  Initially you cannot see past the glaring shock of what has happened and into the future of  possibility and what may be.

But...the dust does settle.  You rebuild.  You live and laugh and smile again.  You find joy and happiness, but most importantly, eventually you find peace.

Through the years of parenting a child with special needs, I have been given some beautiful essays by others who have traveled this road before me.  Many I have read so many times I can recite them by heart.  One piece in particular is "Welcome to Holland." Chances are, if you are parenting a child with special needs, you are quite familiar with this essay.  Some parents love this piece.  Others hate it.  Regardless, to those who are new to it,  I find it worth sharing. Here is the piece:


Emily Perl Kingsley.
c1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley. All rights reserved
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 Michelangelo 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 guide books. 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.

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