Monday, June 23, 2008

Holland's Reprise

Welcome to Holland may be a familiar essay to you. (If so, skip ahead to the sequel which I bet you haven't seen.)

Welcome to Holland
is often quoted and handed out to newly diagnosed families. It captures the emotional loss and dismay at that stage of the journey. It also stirs hopes for a new dream. Originally written by Emily Perl Kingsley about her experience with downs syndrome, it has significance to those of us experiencing other diagnoses as well.

Emily Perl Kingsley is the mother of a child with down syndrome. She has done much to improve the ways in which people with disabilities are portrayed in the media. She received many Emmy Awards working as a writer for Sesame Street and integrating mentally and physically disabled children and adults into their format. Her inspirational classic has been reprinted in many languages. Dear Abby runs this piece every October to commemorate National Down Syndrome Awareness Month.

When I shared it the MOPS (Mother of Preschoolers) group at our church last year I was reminded that it is even more universal than that. One of the older mentor "grandmoms" pointed out an application in her life that was not at all disability related. The fact is: managing expectations is a lifelong, human condition. Life takes many twists and turns that often diverge from what we have planned or envisioned. So, whatever your current circumstance, I hope you will pick up something new from this retelling of Welcome to Holland. You can read it below or watch this brilliant interpretive reading of it.

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.

Now, for the sequel which to my knowledge was written by Lisa A. Eicholtz. It describes the relentlessly stubborn drive that we must have (or must develop) as parents of kids with autism. The conviction to never say never, always find a way, and think out-of-the-box until goals are met and skills are mastered one by one, as long as it takes.

When you wake up and find yourself in Holland, you realize it is a beautiful place. But, it's not the place you want to be. So you need to I stay here and enjoy the tulips and the farmlands? Or do I want to see the mountains and valleys and the beauty of Italy?

We have decided that in spite of winding up in Holland, we really don't want to stay. No offense to Holland, but after awhile, Holland is really no substitute for Italy. So, we get out new guidebooks and we discover that sometimes, you can get from Holland to Italy.

It looks like rough going and the terrain is not clear. And for some reason, there are no flights...we set off walking. We make some wrong turns and get lost--several times. But we persevere. Some day, with the right guides, and the right amount of effort, we will see Italy.

Who knows this better than Jesus, our Lord and Savior, who had Eden in mind as the destination resort for all creation? When sin derailed the agenda, He stepped in Himself to walk us across borders through the "horrible, filthy place" of Earth right into Eternity--which is way more beautiful than Italy.

You have taken account of my wanderings; Put my tears in Your bottle; Are they not in Your book? Psalm 56:8

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." Isaiah 55:8-9

Let us not
become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Galatians 6:8-10


  1. Excellent and meaningful bridge of concepts. There is a book (or two, or three) in you. I'm quite pleased you're letting pieces of them out.

    PS. The trip from Holland to Italy is wonderful.

  2. Thanks for sharing this, I had heard of this essay but had never seen it. Just a little chuckle I got out of it.. when I was 11 years old my family was supposed to move to Holland, but instead we got sent to Italy! I didn't want to be in Italy, I wanted to be in Holland (but I never did get to visit there!). I like that this essay, while it does mention that there is a bit of a sense of loss because an expected goal isn't obtained, doesn't get into the whole grief thing.