By Cathy Marciniak
Every parent of an exceptional child has, at least once by now, received a copy of an essay entitled "Welcome to Holland." The genesis of the essay is unclear. It is written from the perspective of a mother who has experienced the disappointments and frustrations of a special needs child, and compares that experience to planning a trip to Italy, and finding herself in Holland instead. I won't bore any of you, or make myself want to hurl, by quoting it here, but the last line, the phrase guaranteed to send me directly into high dudgeon, reads, "You're sorry that you missed Italy .... but then, you would never have learned to appreciate all the wonderful things about Holland."
Great googly moogly, if that isn't just the stupidest analogy I ever heard.
It's totally implausible and insulting on every level. Who plans on Italy? What woman in her right mind, let alone a pregnant one, thinks that parenting any child is going to be even remotely similar to a Mediterranean vacation, I'd like to know. Who's that stupid?
And why, in the name of all that is holy, would you liken ending up with my child, to finding yourself unexpectedly in Holland? I mean, seriously. Holland?? Holland, is the most analogous thing you can come up with for my life? Not even close, honey. Holland, at least, is on the map, I'd heard of Holland before I undertook this little jaunt. They breathe oxygen in Holland, everybody in Holland is a biped, Holland is recognizable, it's a peaceful country... For heavens sake, there are Starbucks in Holland! You think I'm all discombobulated and out of sorts and at my wits end just because I'm in Holland? What kind of basket case do you take me for? I may be high-strung, I admit, but it takes more than a minor navigational miscue like a diversion to Holland to turn me upside down. You underestimate me: I could get used to Holland. I would be fine with a nice negotiable little pleasantly gifted Holland-child. I would be thrilled, delighted, totally ducky, with an identifiable and easily-remediated LD Holland-child. I dream of a life as easily managed as Holland. Holland, my dear, would be Club Med, compared to where I wake up every morning.
I'll tell you what I want to say to the 'wonderful things about Holland' lady: How about you get on a plane bound for, let's say what you assume will be Italy (which is seven kinds of stupid, but let's just say), and for some reason you don't get the trip insurance, (which is by the way also stupid, but it's your analogy) and when you disembark, you find yourself not in Italy, and not in nice recognizable manageable Holland either, but smack dab in the middle of the bar scene from 'Star Wars'. Let's try that. Then you can try to survive and raise and protect another vulnerable little human being in that environment, and listen to me tell you that you're just some over-invested yuppy with unreasonable expectations who should simply relax and appreciate all the "wonderful things" about your disorientation.
Don't you try to tell me that it's nothing personal. "Oh, he's 'just' different," is a blow-off. It's an insult, and I do take it personally. Whether you say "quirky", "eccentric", "unique", "high-spirited", or any other euphemism for "complicated", you are implying that he's not really complicated. You are implying that managing my life is really very simple. This is an insult to my intelligence and a dismissal of my experience. I'm not just sightseeing here, people; I'm not a tourist. This is sloggin' hard work, and if you can't appreciate that, spare me the platitudes about the lovely windmills I'm missing and the tulips I'm not stopping to admire.
Spare me, too, the insinuations that the challenge is all in my head and that if I'd just loosen up and go with the flow instead of trying to avert any oncoming catastrophes we'd all be just fine. I love my child, differences and all, but you are wrong to think, and it is wrong to say, that all of my child's differences are completely benign, if not marvelous in their own rights. If there's anything beautiful about negotiating a maze of medications and specialists and therapists, if there's anything wonderful about higher rates of depression, job loss, and divorce, if there's anything lovely about institutional indifferences and societal cruelties, I haven't seen it. The whole premise of this piece is flat out dangerous. If I actually "loosened up and went with the flow", something or somebody would get destroyed.
Which reminds me: I have another idea for the "Welcome to Holland" lady. Let's say that the challenge and the frustration of parenting a high needs kid is not about the parent of the high needs kid. Let's say that it doesn't matter one bit where I expected to end up. Let's say it's about the child. Let's say that my kid speaks Italian, is dressed for the Mediterranean climate, and is carrying lira. In that case, I don't want you to tell me to lighten up when he gets off the plane in the Netherlands and is lost and confused and cold and hungry and sick. What I want, when my child is misplaced, is a full and immediate refund. I want you to focus on him, not on me. I want you to quit yammering at him in Dutch, and I want you to see to it that I get the service I paid for: that he is transported to where he belongs, where he will fit, where he will be healthy, where he will be understood. That, in my opinion, would be a "wonderful thing."
Cathy Marciniak is a writer, teacher and financial counselor. She lives and homeschools her 2e son in San Antonio, TX, which in no way resembles Holland. Ms. Marciniak retains the copyright on this essay. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.