Yesterday I spent some time talking to a father about the struggles both our daughters (also both Kaitlynns/Katelyns) have faced since birth. My Katie with VOGM, his Katie with Down Syndrome. As we shared stories about these brave girls he quoted a portion of the “Welcome To Holland” essay. I’d never heard it but just the idea made me weepy. When I got home I scoured the internets to find the complete version. (below)
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 even learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.
After several 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 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 but 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 placed than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there awhile 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 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.*
Though it’s only one page long, this essay moves me to tears every time I read it. My journey through “holland” was brief but I still had to “buy a new guide book, learn a new language” and I’ve definitely, “met a whole new group of people I would never have met.” For more than four years it was heartwrenching and terrifying but on May 14th, 2008, our trip to Holland was over.
This Mother’s Day I want to recognize all the Mamas whose days are made that much more challenging because their child has a disability or disease. The Mamas who will spend that day in a hospital at a child’s bedside. The Mamas whose sons and daughters protect our country. The Mamas who will spend the day laying flowers on a headstone. I know all these types of Mamas and second to my own, they are my heroes.
I also want to recognize all those Mamas who fight the good fight for other people’s children. Those Mamas who by career path or volunteer opportunity, have taken, “it takes a village to raise a child” to a whole ‘nuther level. Here are just a few on my mind today: The NICU nurses at Wesley Hospital, the NICU nurses at Roosevelt Hospital in New York, home health nurse Verdell, Jennifer White, Katie Grover, Jennifer Harjo, Jessica Richardson, Kathryn Welch, Kerri Hagen, Deena Flanigan Kreutzer, Andrea Anglin, Deb Davis and so many more I know I’m forgetting. Thank you for your boundless compassion. You’re my inspiration.
Happy Mother’s Day to all the exhausted, proud Mamas out there, and to those who help us get through one more day.
*Welcome To Holland was written by Emily Perk Kingsley, an Emmy winning writer for Sesame Street whose son Jason has Down Syndrome.