“Welcome to Holland”
The first time that I read, “Welcome to Holland” I was studying for my Master’s Degree in Special Education. I had no children at the time, so I saw this remarkable piece through the eyes of an educator. It touched me deeply and I often referenced it to parents whose children were being diagnosed with any sort of special needs. I tried to bring the spirit of these words into my classroom, seeing each child as unique & working to meet their own individual needs. But, it wasn’t until I became the mother of a child with autism, that I truly got it. The life in Italy that I had planned for, hoped for & dreamed about was not to be. I ached to the very core of my soul & I mourned that loss openly & honestly. But slowly I came to accept & embrace my life in Holland. Our family made a home there, built a life there and to this day it is where our roots are planted. Don’t get me wrong, there are days I wonder what Italy would have been like. I cry, I ache & I get angry. But, in the end I do my best to make peace with the course that my family’s life has taken. Some days I am more successful at that than others. I have shared this piece with other parents, many of whom have just been diverted to Holland and are feeling sad, lost, confused & alone. I hoped that it would bring them some solace & comfort. I share it with you now. Whether you are the parent, family member, friend or educator of a child with special needs, I welcome you to Holland. I hope that you will come to appreciate & celebrate the unique and beautiful view.
WELCOME TO HOLLAND
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.