Many years ago, a parent of a Special Needs child addressed the Parents Association of our school. Her child was transitioning to Secondary school and she wanted to explain why “inclusion” in the local school was so important to the little girl and to her family. It was a very moving address, particularly the poem she quoted by E. P Kingsley about the dramatic life changes a parent of an SEN child needs to make.
In recent days I heard the same poem quoted in a very different but equally relevant context by a person who had a life changing illness. The ultimate message of this poem is that things don’t always go to plan: there are things we can’t change; But we can try to accept, to adapt; the alternative is to be miserable.
A Trip 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 Sistine Chapel, Gondolas. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting. After several 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 guidebooks. 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. You begin to notice that Holland has windmills. Holland has tulips. And 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 experience will never, ever, ever, go away. The loss of that dream is a 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.