Before we had a diagnosis but after we had come to terms with the unnamed yet significant differences in Maeve, a friend of Nathan’s sent him an encouraging email that went straight to our hearts and probably won’t ever leave. In it this friend shared a short piece written by Emily Perl Kingsley entitled “Welcome to Holland.” I love- I mean LOVE- a good metaphor, so this one comparing becoming the parent of a special needs or disabled child to an unrequested and displeasing change of travel plans really got to me. Turns out it’s well known in special needs circles (who knew?) Give it a read if you haven’t yet…
Welcome to Holland
by Emily Perl Kingsley
When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like you’re planning a vacation to Italy. You’re all excited. You get a whole bunch of guidebooks, you learn a few phrases so you can get around, and then it comes time to pack your bags and head for the airport.
Only when you land, the stewardess says, “Welcome to Holland.”
You look at one another in disbelief and shock, saying, “Holland? What are you talking about? I signed up for Italy.”
But they explain that there’s been a change of plan, that you’ve landed in Holland, and there you must stay.
“But I don’t know anything about Holland!” you say. “I don’t want to stay!”
But stay you do. You go out and buy some new guidebooks, you learn some new phrases, and you meet people you never knew existed. The important thing is that you are not in a bad place filled with despair. You’re simply in a different place than you had planned. It’s slower paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy, but after you’ve been there a little while and you have a chance to catch your breath, you begin to discover that Holland has windmills. Holland has tulips. Holland has Rembrandts.
But everyone else you know is busy coming and going from Italy. They’re all bragging about what a great time they had there, and for the rest of your life, you’ll say, “Yes, that’s what I had planned.”
The pain of that will never go away. You have to accept that pain, because the loss of that dream, the loss of that plan, is a very, very significant loss. But if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to go to Italy, you will never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things about Holland.
One of my favorite parts about metaphors, and this is no exception, is the fun of extending them, adding details, making alterations, and generally building them out. (Even if it means challenging parts of it you disagree with and rewriting it to suit how you feel about things!) It’s an awesome framework that Nathan and I have enjoyed making more personal for us.
(i.e. we’ve been to Italy before several times and really thought we knew our stuff. People have even asked us advice for their trip to Italy! Are we not “Italy people” anymore? Does our whole life revolve around Holland now? Do people traveling to Italy look at us differently? Holland is scary and intimidating. Holland has warm, welcoming, inspiring people in it who want to teach, help, and love you. The special family and friends who ask, “Can we visit you in Holland?”, learn about it, and love it there too will never leave your hearts. Our Holland journey has brought us closer to God than any time we spent in Italy…)
It’s been a gift of a way to sort out all kinds of thoughts and feelings surrounding our “tulip” and the changes in our family’s life. As time has gone by (not a ton, Maeve is still 2), the overriding emotions toward Holland and our unexpected trip have turned from sadness, frustration and fear to overwhelming gratitude and joy. We are the blessed ones. We didn’t know what we were missing! Nothing was stolen from us. Our Father hasn’t given us a stone. We’ve been given the trip of a lifetime by the Giver of good gifts.
“Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” Matt 7:9-11
(((The Holland and tulip prints coming in the Mae Bae Fan Club Spring/Summer collection were designed in honor of the imperfectly beautiful journeys that special needs families are on, the precious “tulips” we treasure, and the people who come alongside with open hearts and hands.)))