I grew up in a home where our school photos from kindergarten through high school graduation were prominently displayed in framed collages for all to see. It’s one of things I still love about my parents house. The history. And my kids loved looking at those photos of my young self and my brother. My mom was dedicated to such things. I am grateful for that.
I strived to be like my mom in those kinds of ways and I still do. I felt really lucky when my own three kids were young because I was one of those fortunate parents who didn’t have to go out and earn a living for my children. Their father was their breadwinner. Just like my mom. When my kids were little I was one of those moms who planned class parties and baked. I had every intention of filling up those photo collages of my three beautiful and exceptionally bright kids.
Now I can’t even find those frames and the pictures are in messy boxes. And there are no current school photos to put in them anyway. This fond memory has instead become a source of pain. The last few years of school have been a struggle. That’s not because there is anything wrong with my kids. There is nothing wrong with my kids. But there is something very wrong with the school system where we live and they have all been forced off the public high school track. It has made all of our lives hard.
I do have faith they will be fine and even stronger for what they have endured. I know they still have so much life to live. So much untapped potential. But I still mourn the childhood I imagined for them and that they did, too.
When I am feeling this way it helps me to remember that I am not alone and that this too shall pass. There is a very poignant essay that I have heard read often in my circle. It helps. It was written by a Sesame Street writer about raising her own child with a disability.
“WELCOME TO HOLLAND”
By Emily Perl Kingsley, 1987. All rights reserved.
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 guidebooks and make 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 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 never would 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 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 go to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things…about Holland.
Lisa Ann Weiss