Friday, April 13, 2012

I get to go to Italy too?!? (A post I wrote a while ago, but saved for Autism Acceptance month)

"WELCOME TO HOLLAND"  is a pretty famous essay written in 1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley, about having a child with a disability. I stumbled upon it pretty quickly after I entered the ranks of special need parenting, and it's been a good metaphor to keep things in perspective and in re-adjusting expectations.

Here's the essay...

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 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 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 guide books. 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…. and you begin to notice that 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 Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things … about Holland.
c1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley. All rights reserved

Okay so with that now in your brian, here's my thoughts lately. 

I love "Holland". Some days are better than others, of course.
But I have learned things and grown in ways I can't even imagine giving up.
I truly believe the Lord has special lessons for me, that raising Aaron was specifically designed to teach (I say that realizing we're in this a mere 5 years, with a oodles of lessons yet to come!)

The other "travellers" with me in Holland....amazing, strong, resilient beyond belief. 
Stunning in their dedication, inspiring in their endurance and touching in their hope.
But I spend a lot of time with the people "in Italy" too, and I tried hard to relate. But the reality was that although I knew quite a bit about Italy-- I'd read parenting books, worked with lots of kids, got my Ed degree--- I still hadn't really been to Italy!

I confess, at first (during the poo-smearing months, the beginnings--little did I know-- of sleeplessness, the stress of realizing my child only ate a handful of foods, figuring out ways to communicate with our non-verbal child, all while simultaneously coming to terms with everything Aaron's diagnosis meant to our family's future) I was a bit jaded by other people's seemingly less-dramatic parenting concerns. How could they complain about Italy?!?!
It's like I've looked a the pictures of Italy and thought I "get it" . When I really didn't at all.

But I'm starting to. My little "Italians" give me a run for my money, every single day! 
And there are actually days I think Aaron is my "easy" kid!

The joy that comes from parenting Aaron is much like him--mysterious, sometimes sudden, but also unbelievably solid, in a quiet constant, unquestionable way. It is one of a kind.

The joy that comes from McKye and Levi, is also much like them--just more normal (typical if you prefer), so fun, easy to anticipate and easy to underestimate, too. While more expected and full of cliche moments you've seen hallmark commercialize on a million times,  til it's you and your kid-- kissing that scraped knee or receiving that tight toddler hug-- you can't really imagine how wonderful it actual is.
I'm seriously in love with each of my children. And like all romances, our intimacies seem so exclusive and unparalleled. Aaron my first love, could never be matched. And yet twice now my heart has enlarged and filled to what I think surely must be capacity.

Just recently I was describing to a friend my new found joy in my "typical" kids playing and interacting together. How different it felt. Not more joy just a wholey different  joy.

Right now, my two younger boys are in the tub beside me. One moment giggling uncontrollably in united brotherly bliss, the next screaming, betrayed, infuriated, crying until the giggles take back over, and happiness once again reigns. All the regular ups and downs of being social creatures.

And as water comes splashing out of the tub onto my laptop and I hear my self say, "Stop it!" a ridiculous amount of times to my oblivious children,  Aaron slips in to give me a quick kiss/sniff and runs out. There is difference. 
But the sameness is in the love. The loyalty. The belonging. A family: 
"a strange little band of characters" (Erma Bomback Quote) all on this trip of family life.
Journey tales always need a good interesting cast, don't you think?

And whether we're in Italy OR Holland this is it's quite the trip!
Heck, maybe we're in some random country no one's ever heard of! Every family is different. Every child is different. And while it's fun to relate, and many things about family life can be oh so familiar, the reality is we are the only ones being the moms to our kids, in our house, in our life.

And mine is just for me. 

My trip to wherever the heck it is we are!