"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."
I heard this short story last weekend. It is written by Emily Pearl Kingsley in 1987. She wrote it about her son who was born with Down Syndrome. She was a writer for Sesame Street - and her influence is why they included children with special needs - she was far wiser then the times. She was an advocate for her son and for other children with special needs.
I have been blessed to learn a lot from my friends with special needs. It gave me a glimpse (and I do mean a glimpse) of the pride and struggles that come along with these beautiful children. I spent time in college with a group of children that fell on the Autism Spectrum. From that moment on, those children sparked my curiousity - they are very unique learners. They see, hear, and feel the world differently then us 'typical' learners. After collage I was an aide for a special needs classroom - I was constantly moved by the sincerity that I received from those children. The experiences that I learned from them I carry with my every day. I am sensitive to the struggles they encounter in learning and with peer relationships. Kids can be mean, but there angels among them too. And they treat everyone with kindness, special needs or not. I pray that Brayden is one of those. Then I was blessed with my nephew Drew. He acts with intention, in the love he gives and the sneaky things he does - Just like everyone else. You can't help but smile. When he is happy and excited the room lights up - and he does that when someone enters a room. He lets you know that he is SO excited to see you. He makes you feel special. He doesn't say much but he wears his heart on his sleeve, and it is a beautiful heart! Then, a few months ago I met Tucker and his sisters which brought me to the reading of this story at his memorial service (I wrote about Tucker here). Within the first few sentences of "Welcome to Holland", I was hit - it felt like by a truck. I could never possibly understand the feelings of the parents of children with special needs. I still don't. As a "typical" parent it gave an interesting insight. That story moved me to tears and I thought about my experiences with my son and how often I rejoice. Parents of children with special needs, I assume, rejoice deeper. Through the struggles, it makes the happy times shine very brightly. When I had Brayden my world changed forever, for the better. As too are the lives of these special parents. The world is changed forever, differently but just as beautiful. Actually, I think there is so much that we could learn from those families. They have many challenges and obstacles but they thrive - really live. They cherish life not in spite of what turns they have taken but because of them.
It is appropriate that this is Autism Awareness month. Donate, Give, Walk, Learn, Advocate. Teach your children about differences - everyone is different and that is why the world is so beautiful. Show them that true character is not only standing up for what is right but for standing with those who make the world beautiful.