Holland to Rome

Kevin Powers


This is a well-known story, Welcome to Holland*

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.

Ever since I first read this story, I’ve had a problem with it. Why do you have to stay in Holland?

Your trip was to Rome, and there’s not reason why you can’t get there.

First things first, you’re in Holland, you have to spend some time getting your bearings. This is normal, your plans have gone sideways. You’re resilient, this isn’t the first curveball you’ve been thrown. Once you’ve got a handle on the situation, you realize that Rome is only 1600kms (give or take) away. So now you have to rent a car and drive, but you can manage it. You’ll take your time, enjoy the sights along the way. The trip isn’t all about Rome now, it’s about the trip to get there. Along the way you stop at a hotel, while eating dinner you discover that there are other families there on the same trip. You get to talking and decide to make the trip together. It’ll be enjoyable to have some new friends along while you explore Europe.

As you get to different hotels, you find more people on the same trip, you make more friends, some have been in Europe longer, and they give you pointers on where to go and what to see. Soon you end up with a large group travelling together. As the numbers grow you find that the trip isn’t scary at all. You’ll get some flat tires along the way, there will be breakdowns, but all your new friends will be there to help you along.

Before you know it, you’re pulling into Rome. It took a while, you faced some serious challenges crossing Europe, but when you get there it’s so much more amazing. You’ve travelled across Europe, you’ve been able to experience much more than you originally expected. You’ve seen things only a lucky few get to see, and you know what, you’ll be a better person for it.


*c1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley

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