Any parent will tell you that raising kids is HARD. It doesn’t matter if you’re Super Mom, Super Dad or just super duper, parenting doesn’t always turn out the way you always dreamed of. It doesn’t matter if you are a parent to a new baby, a teen baby, or a fur baby, parenting requires a lot of love and patience. Parenting a child with special needs brings an entirely different set of skills, emotions, and experiences to the parenting game. I recently asked a loved one what it was like raising a child with special needs. She couldn’t find her own words to accurately describe her honest feelings, so she introduced me to a poem that gave me a better understanding of what it’s like raising a child with a disability.
WELCOME TO HOLLAND
Emily Perl Kingsley.
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 Sistine Chapel, Gondolas. You may 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’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 guidebooks. 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. You begin to notice that Holland has windmills. Holland has tulips. And 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 experience will never, ever, ever, go away. 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.
Holland may not be Italy, but it is just as beautiful and worthy in it’s own unique, special Holland-y way. My nephew may not be the ‘typical’ kid on the block, but he runs just as fast, laughs just as loud, and loves just as hard as all the ‘regular’ kids. In his short little life, he already beat the odds by surpassing doctor’s expectations. Although a bumpy road lays ahead, his heart of gold and contagious, ear-to-ear smile makes it hard to see the difference between Holland and Italy.
I’ve seen the hardships that parents of special needs children face, but I can never imagine how it really feels. I admire the strength it takes to wake up everyday to keep on keepin’ on, with challenges, unknowns and all. I admire the patience it takes to tackle the same uncontrollable, obstacles over and over and over and over again. I admire the relentless spirit of never letting any disability stop any one from having an active, fulfilling life. I am in awe of the courage it takes to live with the struggle, but never allowing it to blemish the present or cripple the future. These parents are the closest beings to saints that I have ever encountered.