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 wonderful plans. The Colosseum, Michelangelo’s David. The gondolas in Venice. You may even learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day 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. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”

But there’s been a change of 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. Holland has tulips. Holland has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy, and they are 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 go away, because the loss of that dream is a 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.

© Emily Perl Kingsley

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