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.
The day you find out your child has a genetic disorder that will cause them to be disabled is one you will never, ever forget. When someone tries to be helpful and gives you the “Welcome to Holland” poem above, you will find comfort in it but you won’t believe it. You don’t believe you’ll ever see the tulips.
But I promise you, you will.
One night, while you’re cuddling with your daughter and reading Frozen for the fourth time, you realize that if she was a typical almost-13-year-old, there would likely be no cuddling and reading a story together. This is your tulip.
In the morning, when you knock on her door, and say “Good morning, Lulu!” and she laughs and asks you to do it again, this is your tulip.
When you go to her in the morning and you have a tickle fight and she giggles uncontrollably, you realize that a normal mom of a 12-year-old probably misses this time with their daughter. And you get to do it every day. This is your tulip.
She never gets embarrassed by you, she always kisses and hugs you, she tells you she loves you, she wants to sit next to you and hold your hand. These are definitely your tulips.
She’s not worried about her body or her looks or the way her hair curls around her face. She wears glasses and will need braces and has a little acne on her cheeks and back and she could care less. This is your tulip.
There’s no drama with other girls or with boys. You’re not arguing with her over an iphone or texting after bedtime. You’re not worried about dropping her off at a basketball game or the movies with friends. This is your tulip.
You’ve never seen anyone as happy as when you pick her up after school. Or from Grandma’s house. She lights up, she squeals with delight, she flaps her arms. And she’s almost a teenager. You are her universe. This is your tulip.
Your husband, who you knew would be a great father, will turn out to be the most amazing father in the whole world. You will marvel at his strength and dedication to your family and the way he lights up at his little girl. This is your tulip.
Your boys, who are sweet boys, will turn out to be phenomenal human beings. Their compassion and love and understanding knows no bounds because of their sister. This is your tulip.
People will tell you that their son or daughter chose to be a special ed teacher because of your child. People will have car washes in her honor and support your golf outing all because they love your child. You will meet people in “Holland” that you’d never have even known were it not for this detour. These people will become some of your favorite people in the world. This is your tulip.
At first, the tulips are impossible to see. You wanted Italy, damn it! You wanted it all and instead you feel like you got worse than nothing. But it’s not true. Holland is just as wonderful as Italy, maybe even more so. Because in Holland, you stop and smell the tulips. In Holland, you appreciate each and every tulip you’re given.
I know you wanted Italy, and there are still going to be days where you wish you would have landed there, but I promise you that you will love Holland too. I promise you will see the tulips. Everywhere.