I recently read this amazing essay by Emily Perl Kingsley, that I hear is rather famous. It’s called “Welcome to Holland”. Essentially the author compares being a special needs parent to taking a deviation from a planned vacation. You have spent your whole life looking forward to going to Italy. You have planned, and saved, and read every brochure out there about all the best places to see. So you purchase your ticket, board the plane, and sit back to relax.
As you land, the flight crew announces “Welcome to Holland!” Holland? You were heading to Italy! Why are you in Holland? Unfortunately you can’t go back. But as you get used to Holland, you begin to see the beauty around you. And even though you still have friends who will brag about their trip to Italy, you begin to love and appreciate Holland. And in the end you wouldn’t change it.
As I read this essay, I cried. It so PERFECTLY explained how I had been feeling as a special needs mom. Just recently I was privately lamenting how much I wish my son could have easy social interactions like I do. I love people and conversation. And it makes him so uncomfortable. It’s painful wishing that for him, and comparing it to what he experiences. I don’t let myself go down that path very far, because it is just asking for depression. But after reading that article, I realize I have been blessed in a different way.
My son has the biggest heart. He is expressive with his love, and enjoys spending time with me. This Mother’s Day he did something that warmed my heart. He wanted to get me a surprise gift. So he insisted we go to Target. It stresses him out to go to stores, and he usually avoids them like the plague.
But here was this 9 year old boy, marching with determination, into the store. When he was sure I would give him privacy, he ducked into the jewelry department and chose something. He went to the checkout and paid for it. And then proudly held the bag, and safely concealed gift, while I checked out. This is a sweet memory I would never trade.
Autism Land is my Holland. Here, social cues are hard to understand. Taking turns, sharing, and being in crowds are all challenging for my son. And I am still surprised by how attached he gets to toys and games. He will watch the most boring educational shows- for fun. His fixations can rule the whole family. And I have given up turning him into a Harry Potter fan. Fantasy just seems dumb to him .because imagination is hard for him. But when he accomplishes something, the victories are sweet.
My son has gifts that balance out his challenges. He has a heart of gold. He loves little kids and animals. He is super honest, often telling on himself when he does something he knows is wrong. He is smart and loves to learn. He wants friends. And when he makes a friend he is a friend for life.
It still breaks my heart watching his challenges. But I have learned to celebrate every success- no matter how small. For example, last week he showered every time he was supposed to. I was ready to dance in the streets!
I’ve got to admit, I am still getting used to being in Holland instead of Italy. But the view is getting better as I am learning to look for the good, and appreciate the different pace of life.