Welcome to Holland by Emily Perl Kingsley
While studying special education in college I came across, “Welcome to Holland.” I’m currently reading, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb and she includes this brief essay in her book as well. In case you haven’t come across it, it’s a short beautiful poem that captures coping with the unexpected.
It was written by mom, writer, and advocate, Emily Perl Kingsley who had a child with Down Syndrome. While Kingsley wrote it to help people understand what raising a child with a disability is like, I feel like the premise can be applied to anything unforeseen. For example in Gottleib’s book, a woman shares it with her friend who is diagnosed with cancer. Disability, cancer, death, job loss, injury — it’s all about coping with the unanticipated hand you are dealt.
Excuse me, this isn’t my life. I didn’t sign up for this. Someone or something is confused but this wasn’t what I had planned. At various points and to varying degrees, I’ve found myself silently or audibly saying exactly these lines. It could be small scale, large scale, or anywhere in between. The unexpected can be challenging and absolutely rock you to your core. Being an imperfect, flawed individual tasked with raising other imperfect, flawed individuals — no wonder being a parent can feel so challenging!
Welcome to Holland
BY 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 guidebooks and make 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 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 never would 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 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 go to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things…about Holland.
©1987 BY EMILY PERL KINGSLEY.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
I just love this. She captures both/and so perfectly. She captures the desire to kick and scream and yell while simultaneously accepting the hand you are dealt. My kids and I can both relate — That’s not fair! I didn’t want that! Why does she get that and I don’t? Whether it’s not getting the blue cup, missing out on a promotion, or grieving the loss of a loved one, the pain is real. The disappointment is very real. I didn’t sign up for this. This isn’t what I want. But it’s what I have.
Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet: clap your hands twice and twirl in a circle and the pain will be gone. If only that were an effective strategy to deal with major challenges. But simply recognizing and accepting the pain of the loss may be a productive first step. And with a strong support system that includes friends, family, therapy, and/or medication, maybe, just maybe we can be free to enjoy where we have landed.