Welcome to Holland ~Autism Awareness Month

by Jessica on April 19, 2011

There is a certain amount of letting it all hang out that goes along with blogging. So often do I share the nitty gritty details of our lives that I expect that at least half of my children will need some form of therapy. Imagine the scene: my kids sit down with their therapist and the first words out of their mouth are “my mom was a blogger.” The therapist nods knowingly, fully aware that my dear children have been subjected to all manners of public display.

But there are some details that are private enough to keep private. With that in mind, let’s just say that I have intimate experience with children with special needs. April is Autism Awareness month. It is estimated that 1 in every 110 children will be affected with autism, making it more common than childhood cancer, pediatric AIDS, and juvenile diabetes combined.

This poem, published in 1987, couldn’t be more fitting for a travel blog. The author equates the experience of parenting a special needs child to traveling to Holland instead of Italy. It is a poignant and vulnerable expression of the trials and triumphs of the gift of a child with special needs.. Having visited Holland, both literally and figuratively, I know that the trip has made me all the better.

Welcome to Holland

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 guidebooks 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 some horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.

So you must go out and buy a new guidebook. 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, 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.”

The pain of that will never, ever, go away, because the loss of that dream is a 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.

Written by Emily Perl Kingsley


lovedlikethechurch.com April 20, 2011 at 7:49 pm

That was so beautifully written! Thanks for sharing it.

Cathy April 20, 2011 at 8:28 pm

That was a seriously beautiful analogy. Thanks for sharing that.

Anne @ Modern Mrs Darcy April 26, 2011 at 5:46 pm

This poem meant the world to me when we were struggling with some serious (and seriously lifestyle-crushing) issues with our firstborn years ago. Wow, it takes me back to read it again!

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