Many of you are familiar with what is probably the most famous essay ever written about special needs parenting: Welcome to Holland. I read it faithfully as a child, and as a young mother, and nodded sagely. Sure, I thought, so your child is different, but it's still Holland. There are windmills! And tulips!
Tulips, my foot.
Trust, me this bizarro-land is nothing like Holland. NOTHING AT ALL.
Here is how the true, untold story of the so-called "Trip To Holland" really goes.
Where I live, every few years families get surprised with a ticket in the mail to a tropical island nearby. The parents go there,without their kids, and get to stay for a few days. Others stay a couple of weeks, depending on whether they can find accommodations for their other kids. Staying on the Island is tiring and sometimes physically painful, but it's also exhilarating and beautiful. Some people make that trip very often and that tires them out even more. But by and large, people are happy when they receive the ticket in the mail. Every visit to the Island is a new experience, and people love retelling stories of their Island trips.
Everyone is a little scared before the trip. They hope the trip will be uneventful, easy, and meaningful. They hope they'll manage the jet lag and the physical work of the trip. But there is a huge, unspoken fear in the hearts of every parent when they enter the plane. For sometimes, instead of being dropped off at home on the return trip, the couple is unceremoniously dumped off the plane in a scary, horrible place nearby. No one knows what that island is called; I'll refer to it as There.
Those who have never been sent There, don't really know what goes on there. There have been all kinds of rumors. All they know is that life is very hard There. The parents who come back from There look exhausted, worn-out and sad. Some people never talk about their experiences being There. Some people deny going There, even though it's obvious they have been There. Others are open about their experiences There, though they admit it's not pretty. Being There takes a toll on their families. Even when they get a little respite (pun intended) from being There, they are not the same. There is a heaviness about them, a weariness that comes from seeing things and doing things that are hard to talk about. Their friends back home often don't understand them. And they feel different from the rest of the world. Spending time There changes a person irrevocably.
There are some silver linings in the heavy clouds hovering overhead There, like the sweet, kind girls and families from back home who volunteer their time There to lessen the burden on the families from There. And there is always the possibility of leaving There forever, but the price one pays for leaving There is constant pain in the heart. Some families wait for years to get permission to leave There permanently, even though they know they will feel that pain for the rest of their lives; but there is a long waiting list.
Being stamped as a resident of There is a lifetime sentence. However, one's stay There very much depends on what one makes of it. The mood There is gloomy, anxious, dark and heavy. But a resident of There can choose to decorate their house with bright lights, happy music, and fun decorations. The clouds part somewhat for a person who decides to make the most of their time There. It's a very difficult thing to do and takes years of hard work. But it's possible.
I waited many, many years for a ticket to the Island. I went there twice and endured a lot of pain and difficulty during my stays, but was lucky to come home instead of being sent There. I was relieved and happy. To my shock, about a year and a half after my 2nd trip to the Island, I woke up one morning and found myself There. Without a trip to the Island. Just like that. With no warning.
What can I tell you? This isn't Holland. There are no tulips or windmills. There are swampy roads, steep uphill climbs, massive treadmills, and unpredictable weather. I wasn't trying to get to Italy. Or to Holland. I wasn't even trying to get to the Island. I just wanted to stay home, in the happy comforts of my mundane existence. But it wasn't up to me. I was sentenced There, and all protestations didn't help. So I'm trying to make the best of it.
But just take this into your head: Holland this ain't.