My guess is that most parents who have a child with special needs (and many others who don't) are familiar already with this essay by Emily Perl Kingsley. I had neither heard of nor read the essay until after T was born.
Welcome to Holland
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.
c1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley
When I was pregnant with T, the ladies from our chapel planned a baby shower for us. However, the planned date of the shower was too close to my due date...and T was born before the shower occurred! The baby shower was re-scheduled...and by that time, I was familiar with this essay. It spoke to my heart in such a way that I shared it...read it to this group of ladies during the shower.
There is a post of a wonderful interview with Emily Perl Kingsley here.
Ellen of Love That Max blog sums up this March 2011 interview with these words:
Savor whatever experience you are fortunate enough to have. Make the most of the hand you are dealt. Try to find beauty in each day, if you can.