There aren't many special needs parents out there that haven't read or at least heard about Holland. Holland is the place we all end up when we get off the plane... into the world of a child with special needs, when we thought we were traveling to Italy. We all thought we were going to get a typical child... and instead we get a child that is different than what we expected. We get a child that is equally wonderful but not what we had prepared for... or researched. And the poem (though really not a poem per se) talks about how we eventually will get used to Holland but will always wonder what would have happened if we, indeed, landed in Italy. (read a copy if you are interested in more than my awkwardly paraphrased version here )
I, too, read this essay when pregnant with Addie. I have since developed a soft spot for tulips and quit reading any of the travel guides for a typical child. But a funny thing happened on the way to Holland -- at least, for me.
I started to realize that none of my children are Italy. Yes, I was blessed with two healthy children. Yes, I had the fortune to deliver my boys and have them room in. I didn't have to prepare for separation from them in their first first days of life, I didn't have to use a mechanical cow I called Bessie to provide them with breast milk for nourishment. I didn't have to sign consent for them to have brain surgery on their first day of life. I didn't have to leave them at the hospital when I was released to go home. I am not saying that I was not blessed to have two "typical" birth experiences, because I was. And it is my sincere hope that every parent would experience that part of 'Italy' at some point.
But to say that I have ended up in this magical place that I had planned for my whole life, that it's turned out exactly like what I had meticulously planned... well that would be a lie.
You see, no child is alike. No parent's destination is the same. No one can prepare for what their children will become. Yes, some children may follow this mythical ideal path of perfect behavior, attendance, grades, hair, etc. They may marry the quarterback of the college football team on their way to Harvard Med. But to say that every child... every child ends up in either one of two places...
that's just not how it works.
I have three very different children. And yes one of them is considered special needs. But I wouldn't put the other two firmly in the Italy category. On the flip side, I hesitate to put Addie in the Holland category either. Yes, she has hydrocephalus and seizures, and yes she has more doctor's appointments than most kids, but she's developmentally typical for her age. Could she develop more delays as she ages? Of course... but what child couldn't?
Are the kids that suffer TBI when they are 3 years old from being run over by a car firmly in the Holland category? Not in my eyes, they aren't. Are the kids that are in general education curriculum but have a diagnosis of ADD or speech issues only firmly in Italy?
Why do we try to lump children into categories?
My children, I have decided, are from France, Germany and Norway. And that's ok.
And maybe those aren't places I set out to go. Maybe those aren't places anyone sets out to go. Maybe there are people that want to go to Italy and actually do arrive in Italy, and that's ok. Maybe there are people that didn't plan where they were going, so they would know only when they arrived where they were.
I guess my point is this - no child, no matter their diagnosis, is the same. Every newly diagnosed hydro mom I talk to (and yes I did the same thing) wants to know what my child will be like. And there are no answers to that. No hydro child is the same. But guess what? NO CHILD is the same. I couldn't have told myself at 23 years old what Grayson would be like, and I couldn't have known or predicted Jack's abilities either.
None of us know what or where we are going to end up. And maybe we should stop trying to predict it. Maybe we should just enjoy the journey. And we'll know where we end up once we get there.
Life is short. Children are precious. Love is the most important thing.
Holland v Italy?
Does it really matter?
I don't think there are many parents out there, at least not one that would bother to contemplate these things in the first place, that would say it matters. We LOVE our children. All of them. I love my special needs child as much as I love my gifted child. I love my child that has speech issues as much as my child that has ADD. I love them. They are mine. I didn't go to Italy... I didn't go to Holland. I didn't go anywhere but where I was meant to be. And we should all take comfort in that.