We at Safe Haven School are getting ready for our annual Open House, and this year, as in years past, I will be addressing our parents. I will read “Welcome to Holland.” It’s a poignant piece, a metaphor for what it feels like to have a child with special needs. My hope is that all who read it will carry the metaphor with them as they accompany their child on their journey. The impact of the piece is immediate, but I never really knew for sure how much of a lasting impact the reading had on our parents. Until last year. One of our parents sent a letter to us after his daughter fully transitioned back to her high school. His letter follows “Welcome to Holland.”
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 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.
Good afternoon, Sheila, Sherry, Holly, and Duke.
What a long journey this has been, and just like my younger days as a single man, I wouldn’t want to go through that again, but I wouldn’t trade a single memory for all the tea in China. What can I say to people who helped save my daughter’s life? What words can express that gratitude??? What can I do to express how grateful I am, when, in my family’s darkest moment, you were there to show me the light. When I as a father was questioning myself as to whether or not I made the right choices for my family, your resolve gave me strength. And Holly, when my whole life, I wanted to go to Italy, you taught me how to love Holland. And I really do love Holland; it’s a great place to be.
I’m not sure that what you do saves every kid. I don’t know if every kid can be saved. I certainly hope so, but I just don’t know. But I can tell you what I do know: what you do saved my kid, and on my knees tonight when I speak to my God, and on the day I leave this planet, and meet that God, and every day between now and then, I will give thanks for Sheila, Sherry, Holly and Duke. I can only believe that it was through divine intervention that you 4 angels came into my child’s life, just in time.
Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.