"Welcome to Holland"This is pretty much our life. But instead of detouring from Italy to Holland, we were living life perfectly happy in Italy and woke up in Holland.
By Emily Perl Kingsley, 1987. 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.
One of my very favorite blogs questioned why we can't go to Italy. We can go to Italy any time we want!
I really think this is true. So I make it a point to go to Italy.
I know, just follow me on this one.
Going to Italy is really just a metaphor for going to "normal."
I make a point to do this.
I get up every morning and put on a little too much makeup and take a little too much time to do my hair. Especially when all I have ahead of me are therapy appointments, daytime television, unreturned messages, and dinner to make.
I gossip with girlfriends...a lot.
We watch Wednesday night television (Modern Family, The Middle) as a family on our big couch with too many pillows.
Speaking of television, I watch trashy reality TV and eat cookies at midnight while everyone is fast asleep.
I try to go out of my way to go to Italy. I really try. But I'm only visiting because I have a permanent residence in Holland.
And then there's my Lola bird. She's my Italy. She wakes up happy and smiling and doing new things, grabbing for toys and rolling around and...my cup runneth over. This is Italy. God knew exactly what he was doing when he sent her to me.
And then I'm sad. Because my heart is in Holland. As much as Holland wears me down, I miss it.
I went to see my old friend, Target. (They have Targets in Holland, too.) I noticed all of the Easter necessities - plastic green grass, chocolate bunnies, translucent eggs that will be filled with candy or maybe even money or broccoli (funny story for another time). I decided to pick some things up for the kids because in my household, EVERYONE gets an Easter basket. When I was little we didn't have much, but we always had Easter baskets or Easter umbrellas or Easter purses left by the Easter bunny. He was good about that.
So there I was with my old friend, Target. And I was in Italy - just so excited to be there picking things out, um, to assist the Easter bunny, of course. I was almost in a delirious frenzy. I got matching shirts for my boys and a new sun hat for Lola. I picked out small things to fill Gabe's basket and then traveled to the isle in the baby section with all of the sensory toys and rattles and...BAM!...
You don't belong in Italy! Go back to Holland!
It was a small stab in my chest. What do I get for Christian? What kind of basket does he get? Damn Italy.
I reminisce about Italy for a couple minutes while searching for something for Christian. Last Easter, Christian was in his long john pajamas, so sleepy and unaware of what was taking place. He just knew he was being propped up next to fuzzy things. He wore a collared jumper and hated when his feet touched the grass. He tasted a cupcake.
I guess he's not too far from that. He'll still probably be so sleepy and unaware of what is taking place. Not so bad, I guess, but a harsh reminder that we live in Holland now.
Both Christian and Lola will have a tiny basket with a rattle in it. Lola's will be pink and Christian's will be black and white - good for his vision. Christian got a new outfit for Easter, as I mentioned before, a plaid shirt that will match his big brother's. Gabe will be thrilled.
I pick out the clothes more for me than for Christian. And they all say Made in Holland because these clothes won't rip or tear or be rolled around in. They won't have grass stains or crusty mud. These clothes won't fall victim to a terrible two year old. It's not like that Holland.
Am I struggling to adapt to Holland? Not really. We're all making it work. But sometimes I put on just a dab of perfume to cover up the baby throw up smell and I close my eyes really tight and I feel a little...Italian.
On Sunday, we'll celebrate Easter - the girls with their dresses, the boys with matching outfits. We'll make sure to put on our wooden shoes because although Italy is and was so much fun, we belong in Holland.
It is, indeed, slower here and it's a new way of life. But it is also so very lovely.
My Holland and My Italy
"Don't worry, brother, I'll save you!"
"I'd rather play piano."