My Thoughts on A Trip to Holland
Years ago, when I was in college (the first time), I came across a poem by Emily Perl Kingsley called A Trip to Holland. It is about how she wanted to go to Italy but somehow ended up in Holland. It compares the expectations of having a "normal" child to the realities of having a child with special needs and the different journey it takes you on.
I thought it seemed like a nice poem and even seemed to fit what friends of mine with special needs kids seemed to be saying they felt. Over the years I even sent it to some of them, acknowledging I did not know how they felt, really, but this seemed like a nice poem. Some said it pretty much expressed how they were feeling, others had different takes on it.
Since that time, God has blessed me with three children. Each of these children have their own special needs. They are blessings, I have no regrets. That is not to say I have not been angry. At times I think anger is an appropriate response as long as I do not let it get out of hand. I have also cried and been sad, also appropriate as long as I do not let it become self-pity. At other times, I just feel blessed and think how lucky I am to have not only a child, but children. God has truly blessed me.
Here are my takes on the trips that I have been on that never quite made it to Italy.
My husband and I knew we wanted children. In 2003 we found out we were going to have a baby. The baby was a little girl and she would be born in the summer of 2004. The pregnancy was normal other than extreme morning sickness in the first trimester. We were looking so forward to our baby girl. It had taken us a while to become pregnant. I had prayed not only for a baby, but for the patience to wait for God’s time and not mine. (I often have said he answered both prayers at once when he gave me this precious little girl.)
I would say that the expectations were like the trip to Italy that Kingsley described in her poem. I naively expected perfection. It was going to be wonderful! I had it all planned out! I read all the books, I purchased all the right clothes, I had an itinerary in my head for everything. Then, suddenly it all changed. I did not land where I thought I would. I landed in a different place. I would say I landed in Australia. The books I had read did not apply. This did not mean they were not good books; they were just not the right ones for my situation. The Italian phrases I learned would not be of any use, but that was okay because the place I landed still speaks English, just a little differently at times. The packed clothes were also wrong. The season was wrong and she would not be comfortable in the clothes. (I liken this to her extreme sensitivity to certain fabrics and stitching. She HATED all the beautiful smocked dresses I bought.) I had wanted to go to Italy in summertime, but ended up Down Under in winter. I had two choices: pitch a fit that I did not get my way or decide to look around and see the beauty that Australia had to offer, after all God created Australia too.
My time in Australia has been wonderful. It is tiring at times when nothing seems to fit, like living in a different season from all those around you. However, I have learned so much and I have been inspired by the love of life and other people that I see through the eyes of my daughter. She may not think like everyone else, but that is okay. She is smart, loving, and creative. One of my all time favorite quotes comes from her. I once encouraged her to color more in the lines in her coloring book. She looked in my eyes and said, “Mom, I am just not a color in the lines kind of girl”.
Trip two happened in 2006. This time we were having a boy and I was sure we would land in Italy! I would finally use those handy Italian phrases , the advice from all the books, and I would have appropriate clothing! Italian countryside, here we come! Even my little Australia loving daughter would have fun!
Boy, was I wrong! We not only got on the wrong flight, we somehow ended up on the wrong flying contraption! Maybe it was by following “Australia” as she danced through life not really paying attention to where she was going. Maybe it was because my husband is Air Force and we ended up taking that a bit far …Who knows…anyway…somehow we ended up on a space shuttle and it took us to some undiscovered planet! We were not alone though; there were other families there that had somehow made the same mistake. None of us knew how we got there, but we knew one thing for sure - It was not Italy! Nothing had prepared me for this.
With these kids, nothing really seemed to fit. Most clothes were inappropriate, the books were still useless, and no one was ever really sure which language to use. Everything surrounding us was foreign and at times challenging. However, we formed a community and that seemed to help. We did not feel as alone, so things were not so bad. That is not to say things were not challenging, because you see there were other people who kept coming to the planet as well. They had “perfect” children or no children, and liked to judge the “improper” way the “planet” children behaved at times. However, we learned to not let that bother us (much) and to stick together.
Did I still wonder what Italy was like? Sure! But, I liked this planet as well. These kids may be sensitive and even “strange” to other people at times, but they were also very smart. We knew with the right help, they could learn to live on Earth (with all the people who think they are whatever normal is) and would even make it a much better place because they are there.
Okay, it was 2009 and this time I was going to Italy! I had learned to love the other two places and was even glad I had gotten to go to them. But I was still curious what Italy was like. After all, I had spent YEARS planning to go to Italy.
Again, I got on the wrong plane. This time I would say that I did end up in Holland. It was different, everything (including her) moved at a slower pace. It was nice though. There was beauty to be seen here as well. We have to wait longer for things, due to the slow pace, but that is okay. Slowing down and letting things take longer makes you appreciate them more sometimes.
So, I never have gotten to go to Italy. That is okay. I learned so much from Australia, Undiscovered Planet, and Holland. If I changed any of it, I would change my children. I would not want to do that. They are special and precious and were created by God Himself. For whatever reason, He trusted me to take care of these special, precious, wonderful children for Him. The trip to Italy was not in His plans for me, but He gave me so much more with my other journeys!