Sunday, April 05, 2009

Autism Awareness #2 - Holland

As promised, I am posting everyday in honour of Autism Awareness Month.

The following was written over two decades ago, has been translated into numerous languages and continues to have the same powerful effect today.


Friday, May 19, 2006


A woman named Emily Perl Kingsley wrote an essay that has greatly helped me to keep things in perspective when I feel overwhelmed with sadness for the loss of the future I thought we would have with our boys. I believe that she is the mother of a child who has Down's Syndrome.

Welcome To Holland
byEmily Perl Kingsley
c1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley. All rights reserved

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.


Heather said...

That essay is wonderful - and she is so right. You have enjoy what you get, even if it's not what you planned for. That's a great perspective to have on everything in life, not just children.
Oh, and I'm glad I was able to spread the news about Sister Hazel all the way up there to Canada. :) They've been around for years and just don't get the attention they deserve!! So enjoy and share with your friends!!

V. said...

Y'know, I've travelled to both Italy and Holland many times. They're lovely places.

Parenting a child with disabilities is not like ending up in Holland instead of Italy. It's more like going to Baghdad and navigating endless minefields. It's not a vacation, it's not "gee I planned for a boy, but I had a girl instead, guess I'll have to learn to appreciate pink." It's life-changing and (at times) soul-killing and HARD, dammit!

Do I love my son? With everything I have. Would I have done things differently? No, probably not. But this ain't Holland. In the real world, you could leave Holland. You could also sue the airline for a breach of contract.

If you find this sort of thing inspiring, great. Unfortunately, the severe oversimplification embodied in this essay gets me steamed every single time I read it.

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