You may be familiar with the story written by Emily Perl Kingsley. Mrs. Kingsley wrote it back in 1989 to describe to others what it is like to raise a child with a disability. If you search around the internet, you’ll see that some people take exception to it while others grab it with both hands and say, “Yes! This is exactly how I feel.”
I first came across it several years into my life as a special needs mom. I remember the relief I felt that others had gone through the same feelings of shock. After a couple of decades in the world of special needs, I feel it’s time to become tour guide and travel agent for those who find themselves in Holland. So without further ado…
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 flight attendant 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.©1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of the author.
Is Holland My Forever Home?
Most parents immediately want to know, “How long do I have to stay in Holland?”
I’ll be honest with you. You won’t necessarily know that when you get there. For some people, it’s a short stay of a few years. For others, it may take until adulthood. For still others, it’s a lifetime.
Regardless of where you fit in, try not to be so focused on getting out that you forget to enjoy the time there. Whether measured in months or years, it will be a time of growth for everyone in the family.
- There will be amazement at how the human body functions and develops when you see it mature in slow motion.
- There will be times when you want to give up because it’s too hard.
- You will constantly be amazed at the human spirit as you watch your child struggle to get to that next milestone.
- It’s a different kind of life and it will redefine who you are as a person, but all of these are good things.
Some may go on to Italy with few traces of the Holland detour. Others will go to Italy, but with an extra suitcase of adaptations and accommodations. The extra suitcase is packed very carefully during your stay in Holland as your child masters the world around them.
For the rest, feel free to plant some tulips and some trees because you’re already home.
So What’s Next?
- Identify where you are: Holland? Italy? One foot in each country?
- Look to the future to see where you want to be. (Hint: That would be an adult who is as independent as possible and whose life has meaning and purpose–even if it’s only to a very small group of people.
- Plan out your next steps of the journey. This can be accomplished with doctors, therapists, books, websites like this one, or other special needs parents.
This website is intended to be your tour guide in Holland and your travel agent to help you move to a new place.