Several times, I’ve heard the phrases from well-intentioned mothers, “I just can’t imagine what it’s like…” (They’re right. They don’t know the joy of our boy’s twinkling eyes and laughing so hard he forgets to breathe.) “I’m so sorry you’re going through this.” (Really? We’re not.) “It must be so hard.” (Yes, but isn’t parenting in general?) “I just always think, ‘What if it was me who was going through what you’re going through?’” (They are, it’s called ‘life’.)
So many things about our lives are not like we had planned or even remotely thought it would be, but that isn’t to say it’s all bad. Different is not always bad, just different. Sometimes, we change our plans and sometimes our plans are changed for us.
I came across a writing this week which made me think again of all these different phrases I’ve heard over the last 10 months since we got Ben’s diagnoses. It was written by Emily Perl Kingsley in 1987. Think about this a minute…1987 was long before the rise of autism diagnosis; long before I’d even heard of autism and I’m guessing I’m not the only one; quite frankly, long before I seriously even thought about having children at all. And yet, it still describes our lives so perfectly.
Welcome to Holland
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.