I remember the first time I ever read this poem. A friend posted it and I remember being in a pretty low place with our son. Things were rough, REALLY rough. I remember being so lost in our very own Holland that it truly didn’t hit me that this beautiful description of raising a special needs child was so spot on.
But in a way, isn’t that how raising all children turns out? Different than we initially dreamed of. When I was pregnant with our oldest daughter I remember being asked what my birth plan was…I replied to our midwife, my plan is to have a baby. I really didn’t have a plan. I just wanted to stop throwing up everyday and hold my baby in my arms.
I did however have so many ideas in mind what it would be like to raise a daughter…and I can tell you a very small percentage of those “ideas” have been close to what it’s actually been like.
Raising a child with multiple diagnoses is certainly never something you plan for but what I love most about this poem, is that by the end you realize how much you can learn from your children. Something even bigger that I have learned. Our initial dreams are too small, my time in Holland has taught me that. I now have even bigger dreams for the world my children are in because of who they are.
Without further ado…I give you Holland.
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 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.