Friday, April 9, 2010

Let's do "Welcome to Holland"

When you become a parent of a special needs child, everyone talks about "Welcome to Holland". I assumed that everyone knew what it was (I read it many years before Maya), but when I mentioned it to Dave a few weeks ago he had never seen it. Here you go:


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.

c1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley. All rights reserved

My two cents:

1. Good, right? My favorite part is the bit about other people going and coming from Italy. I love "Yes, that's where I was supposed to go. That's what I had planned." Yesterday a Facebook friend posted "*Name of child* just walked across the living room." Now, it's not that I want to go knock other people's kids down or anything, but . . . some days it's no sweat to toss out a "hooray!" . . . some days it would get a sigh and walking away from the computer. Some days a few tears. Luckily, those days are the least common. (And that doesn't mean that you should keep your kids' amazing things from me---please, let me know their newest tricks, I really do care and want to be a supportive friend/family member. It's just that sometimes they sting a little.)

2. Do you think that the nation of Holland collectively read this and said "Did this lady just call us slow?" Clearly, they're the "special" kid in this analogy. She calls them slower paced, and the best compliment she can offer is that they have windmills? Do you think that they're bothered that "Welcome to Holland" now is a euphemism for "Now that you're in the special needs world . . ."? I picture some happy couple, tulips on their table, wearing their wooden shoes, reading this in a newspaper when it first came out . . . nodding, nodding . . . and they they would look up and go "wait---what, now?"

Anyway, we have a lot going on over here. A few ideas in the works, but none ready for public discussion yet.

As a side note, Dave thinks more people should comment on the blog. He says that he likes to log in and view the comments, because he wonders who is out there. There must be a good handful of you readers, because the ticker keeps going up, up, up (and I think my mom only view the page like 27 times a day). So whenever you have the urge to comment, just got right ahead :)


grandma said...

28 and counting :)

Lisa said...

I became familiar with Welcome to Holland when Collin was a few months old. Going out and seeing other people casually carrying their babies through stores while I carefully maneuvered my way around wires and a heart monitor just to get Collin in or out of the stroller. I felt frustrations with the situation as well as the analogy.

The thing is, that the people in this metaphorical Holland have so much more appreciation for the beauty in the simple things. They realize that the natural beauty of the tulips are more valuable than so many of the manufactured art that they may have planned to see in Italy. Holland is much less competitive than Italy. And in this Holland everyone wants nothing but success for everyone else there.

When milestones are more spread out it gives you more time to celebrate the triumph of each and every one.

And if you're reading Welcome to Holland, you should also check out How God Chooses Special Needs Parents,

Only certain passengers get diverted to such special destinations.

annie bee said...

Hi Dana. I read your blog all the time and am continually impressed by your honesty and strength. Maya is so lucky. Anytime you would like to come over and hang out with us, play our musical instruments, and visit with our dog, hilda, you are more than welcome....


Stacy said...

Hey Dave!! I read all the time and I am always very happy to see what you guys are up to! If I had more guts I would bring my boys down there to hang out but NY scares me just a little (mostly the drivers- I think I am OK with the people) I have read this poem and not that I have experience with the topic, I think that it is a great poem and helps to put what you guys are going through into words that others can understand and relate to.

Colleen H said...

Hi Dana & Dave - Like my daughter Stacy, I also read your blog all the time and enjoy seeing your pictures. I had never heard the "Welcome to Holland", but it really makes you think and put things in perspective. I think Maya is so lucky to have parents who just love her so much and are always there for her.

Sara Collins-Sedey said...

Hey's Nick...thanks for checking up on us...of course you want people to comment...Dana does all the work on the blog...and you want the gratification...typical...anyway...the long and the short of it is that we must of been on the same diverted at least we're there together...and I'm looking on the bright side...Holland is full of wonderful things...windmills are pretty cool...and have Holland on the cutting edge of alternative energy...tulips are beautiful...and as some of the first flowers to bloom each spring they always get me excited...besides they're perennials and don't take much work...the canals are dope...and we could conceivably live on a houseboat...and in the winter we might be able to ice skate to work...and by the way...I think that the author forgot about Amsterdam...not a bad place to spend a few days in my mind...see you soon...later man

Foxxy One said...

~giggling at Grandma~

I agree wholehearted with Lisa.

I know those stings of which you speak. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law love to do the dog and pony show with their daughter who is a year younger than my son. She's already reading, the kid was able to identify every make and model of car by the time she was 2. It hurts because it feels like they are throwing it in our face. He insists they're not... I'm not so sure

AuntJenny said...

Hi there! Just wanted to wave as once more person who checks in on Maya escapades.

Isn't it funny how this parenting thing is never quite what we expected? There is an allegory similar to the Holland one that someone once sent me pertaining to our experience with infertility and adoption. (Link below, if you're interested.)

Dana said...

Ah, see, there are people out there :) Thanks, commenters!

Mom-Ha ha. :)

Lisa & Aunt Jenny---thanks for the links, I'll read them some time when I'm in a happy place and not worried about depressing myself.

Stacy & Colleen-thanks for chiming in :)

Annie-I had no idea you were out there reading this! Thanks for checking in on us. When Maya can be trusted to be kind to string instruments, we'll take you up on your offer :)

Foxxy-sorry you're dealing with that.

Nick-the beginning sucks the most, and our hearts really go out to you guys. I owe Sara an email, which will be coming sometime today.

Jen Gordon said...

Me! I read your blog. I don't think I've ever commented, but here I am. :) I think you used to be on CAM and that's where I got to your blog.

I enjoy reading and Maya is so stinkin cute! Thank you writing. ;)

Sarah said...

Dana and Dave,

I think Maya is the luckiest little girl to have such dedicated and loving parents. I check in with your blog reguarly, and am always moved by your honesty.


Liz said...

Hi Dave (and Dana and Maya!),

I'm out here -- always checking in because I love Dana's writing and I love following the blog!


Dana said...

This is so weird---I know there are 11 comments, but right now I can only see one. I'm trying to remember who I was going to respond to last night.

Jen, Liz & Sarah, thanks for coming by!

Liz, thanks for the writing compliment :)

Sarah, we know too many Sarahs---I would give you a more personal shoutout, but I don't know which one you are :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing Welcome to Holland -- and for sharing in general. I'll admit: I used to check the blog primarily for the pictures of Maya. Then you started posting pictures of rats, so I started reading more closely. :)

Now I check the blog for what you write. I know this sounds incredibly English-teachery of me, but you have a really great voice. And now that I know that, I'd like to encourage you to post fewer rat pictures, as I promise to keep reading even when distracted by cute Maya pictures. :)


3pigletboys said...

I have mixed feelings about the Holland story. I don't have a diagnosis for my DS yet, & still hope that one day he may be in Italy instead of Holland.

There was a pediatrician who saw my DS & fired some questions at him. Now DS (3.5) is pretty non verbal. The ped. (this was his 1st time seeing DS) said "kids like this usually don't get any better". I felt like a deflated balloon & it took a while to get those words out of my head. Luckily I have a wonderful ST that gives me hope & says encouraging things about DS every time we visit.

I haven't given up on the dream that he may be in Italy someday.

Syncopa said...

My daughter Benedikte was born with Down Syndrome, so we kind of crash landed in Holland. While the "Welcome to Holland" somehow was soothing to my raw soul, it also made me want to scream. Finding your blog and your "Welcome to Holland" thoughts, most of all maybe, your thoughts on Amsterdam International Airport, had me crying and laughing hysterically all in the same time. You nailed it, girl. I've been trying for 10 solid years to wrap that situation up with words that make sense, but couldn't.
I love my life. And frankly, I'm not in Holland, I'm in Norway. Ha! For real. I love my girl. She brought me to Holland, which is ok more days than not. As long as I don't think too much about Italy. The best part of all of this, is that a whole lot of really great people also flew in to Holland, some knowing in advance and some not. Turns out that we, the detour people, tend to make friends. And while I'd still like to be living in Italy, a whole lot of my best friends are right here with us in Holland, and frankly, the people in Italy just can't see the treasure of this child of mine, and thus are missing out on the best parties.
Glad I found your blog!

Amber said...

This is the first I've heard about this analogy, and I must admit, having been to the Netherlands (Holland being a small part of the Netherlands, the Netherlands being the name of the country) I was slightly offended. I had to re-read it a few times to get to the "point" instead of the country. But I do like the analogy. Life can be similar if you are the one living with an illness too...looking around at others wondering how you ended up where you are. Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

I had a special needs brother long before anyone called kids like my brother "special needs." He had vision and neurological problems, and was very developmentally delayed. The term used back then was "retarded," but my mother refused to believe it; so she had him tested, and he was not mentally retarded. However, he was never "normal." Over the years various terms were used to describe him: "autism syndrome," "Asperger's," to name a few. My mother insisted that he be mainstreamed into regular schools, where he was teased and bullied unmercifully. One or two of his teachers were able to empathize with his "marching to a different drum" as one of them put it, but most found him impossible to reach, and difficult to manage.

There seem to be a lot more resources now for kids who are different, and I appreciated the Holland versus Italy analogy. If only my parents had been able to see my brother as anything other than a source of heartbreak. Your daughter seems happy in a way I rarely remember my brother being. I wish you all well.