I started writing a post this morning to kick off Autism Awareness Month, but I stumbled upon this one from 2011 and since I’ve not consumed nearly enough caffeine yet this morning, I’m going to start with this one . . .
I haven’t always liked living in Holland. I’d like to visit Italy, just for a day. There’s a part of me that feels a little guilty saying that, but I’d be lying if I said I never felt it. I’m sure many of you already know what I am talking about, for those of you who may be thinking I’m nuts because I don’t actually reside in Holland, not the real Holland anyway.
April is Autism Awareness Month, for some of us, every month is Autism Awareness Month. Every week, every day, every hour, every minute, every second, every moment, we are very aware of autism because someone we love is autistic.
Why Holland? Because in 1987 a mom named Emily Pearl Kingsley wrote a moving piece about having a child special needs child. Her analogy has touched many hearts.
Her Holland may be different from mine, different from yours, but the her trip resonates in some way with just about every special needs parent I’ve ever known.
Her description is about the experience, the moment you realize your forever plans have been forever changed, and while those plans you’d made would have been wonderful to experience, the unexpected upheaval of them can be a whole new kind of wonderful.
Welcome to Holland brings tears to my eyes every time I read it. The first time I read it In 1989, was ‘planning my trip’ to Italy. I was consumed with everything I would do while I was there.
I never made it to Italy.
You know what? My Holland is beautiful and I’m thankful to live amongst the tulips, but I’ll admit, every now and then I wonder what it would have been like if I had just made it to Italy. I planned my trip more than once and each time, I arrived in Holland.
I can say now, with hesitation, if I had the opportunity to go back and choose my destination, I would choose Holland. I know this without a doubt in my heart. It’s not always an easy place to live. People from other places will often come here for a visit, but some of them make you feel like you aren’t good enough because you’ve never been to Italy or to Paris. They never stay long though.
There are other visitors too, ones who arrive with love and acceptance and a willingness to learn the culture, they make my heart soar.
Some days I’m sad. I watch my boys try so hard and when they get knocked down it hurts. I know I can’t keep it from happening, they need to fall if they are to learn how to stand, but sometimes I swear if I could carry them, I would.
I don’t think sad is the right word. I’m not sad. I’m not angry, and I’m certainly not mourning. I’m not sure there is an actual word to accurately describe what happens in my heart sometimes. I am so proud of my boys. They face trials and hurdles every day, more than some people face in a lifetime, and sometimes I look at them and it just doesn’t seem fair. They shouldn’t have to work so hard while others sit on the sidelines, not even cheering them on.
Not everyone sees them the way I do. They avert their eyes or stare accusingly at them, at me. Maybe if everyone could just visit Holland and give it a chance . . .
People tell me how strong I am and how much they admire me, I just want to tell them I’m not really that strong person who can handle everything all the time. I get tired and I cry and I feel weak. They don’t truly reach out because they think I can do it on my own. I feel alone and hurt. This feeling though, is thankfully fleeting.
There will always be days I just have to fall upon my knees and ask God to renew my strength.
HE always answers my prayers and sends angels my way to lift me up and wrap me safely within their wings until I can stand. My children are my greatest source of strength and when I am at my weakest, I look into their eyes and find it.
How can something as fragile as they be so strong? I wish I had the fortitude they posses. At times, I envy them their innocence. It shields them from much of the pain the world tries to inflict on them.
I know the day will come when that innocence won’t provide the protection it does now, I just hope and I pray I am able to help them learn the skills they will need to protect themselves from it all and I will be able to instill in them such a strong foundation nothing will be able to uproot them from where they stand.
I have faith and I believe with everything in me they will be okay, God would not have given them to me if he didn’t think me worthy of the job. Maybe it’s the other way around. Perhaps they were sent here simply to teach me. I’ve already learned more from those boys than I could teach them in a lifetime.
I’ve tucked my old itinerary away in a special place, it’s been so long since I’ve taken it out, I’ve forgotten where I put it. When I am tempted to try to find it, I go out to play beneath the windmills. Holland truly is a beautiful place. I wouldn’t wish to be anywhere else . . .
Welcome to Holland by Emily Perl Kingsley (c)1987
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.
(C) 1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley