Monday, July 30, 2012

An essay worth re-reading: Welcome to Holland

I’m buying a new computer soon, so started to clean out files today in anticipation of the transfer from old to new. A real spring cleaning was in order.  I’ve got dozens and dozens of documents stored away that I no longer need, not to mention, dare I say, hundreds of emails that should have made it into Trash, or at least folders, years ago. 

I found plenty of junk to delete, including plans for trips taken and files on subjects I’m no longer interested in. But I also found precious documents and correspondences that I hadn’t looked at in years. Coming back to them now was like reading a diary from years past. My files and emails tracked my life and the people in it.  I loved the email from my daughter telling me how much she loved me, and felt rather proud while rereading an essay I had written years ago for a diabetes education course I had taken.

One of the documents I had saved on my computer maybe ten or more years ago, then proceeded to forget about it. It's an essay called “Welcome to Holland”, written in 1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley. I remember first reading it relatively soon after our son was diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (as it was called then), and finding it quite brilliant, and even helpful as I began taking my first steps toward adjusting to the realization that my son had a disability.

The essay, written in the second person, employs a metaphor of excitement for a vacation to Italy that becomes a disappointment when the plane lands instead in 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."

I’m glad I found the essay again in my files. It’s one I won’t be deleting. I think it’s so good, I’d like to share it with you. Many of my readers may already be familiar with “Welcome to Holland”, but for those of you who aren’t, I hope it’s a pleasant, eye-opening and even inspirational read. 

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 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.