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 and to imagine how it would feel. This poem was given to me when my girl was just eight years old and it changed my entire view of what I was given. In time this poem made more and more sense to me as I learned to not only accept the challenges that we had but also see that she was literally the little spark of goodness that opened so many doors for me to heal, and as a result it led me to do the magical work that I do with people with brain injuries and other disabilities in my community.
Today, I am proud to say my girl has grown into a sweet, kindhearted and somewhat independent young woman. She enjoys her volunteer job at the local animal shelter and loves caring for her dog, Emma. I was able to renovate my house a few years ago so that she has her own make shift apartment in my home where she lives with her dog as independently as possible. It has been my goal and focus that she become as self-sufficient as possible, not just for her own well-being but also because the reality is I will not live forever and I want her to either have success in supported living in the community, or be the least big of a burden to one of her brothers should they choose to have her live with them.
She has surpassed so much more than what anyone ever thought she’d be able to do. Of course, this came with decades of advocating, teaching and patience on my part and her willingness to do hard things.
This poem was the game changer for me and our life together navigating one of the hardest forms of parenting. Please feel free to pass this along to another parenting navigating this strange, yet beautiful experience.
Welcome to Holland
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.
Follow me for more goodness!