Tiptoe Through the Tulips

The day before they were born a friend came to visit. She told me a story with intentions of comforting my worries about raising a daughter with disabilities. It had been two weeks since we learned of Alice’s problems and my mind was struggling to accept what this meant for our future. For her future. Would she survive surgery? If she did what would her life be like?

WELCOME TO HOLLAND
c1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley. All rights reserved.

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.

Neither of us realized that this story was instead speaking to my life of grief. I’ve never looked up the actual story (not realizing it was published online until this very moment writing this) but my friend told it nearly word for word that day. The image sticks in my mind so clearly. I walk the parallels.

I’ve actually been to Italy as I’ve also been blessed with one amazing little girl here on Earth. I know the joys of being a mother. I packed those bags and studied those books and spoke that language even though it took us much longer than most to get there (our “flight” was delayed and rerouted with infertility). Many people can plan their trip easily and hop on a plane whenever they’d like. Not so for us.

My mind is still muddled about how I relate to this new life. We boarded the plane for Italy but I’m not sure where we landed. Is it Holland? Are there tulips and windmills in this new destination we’ve landed in? I’ve certainly met a new culture of people. Grieving parents who share similarities in their grief and struggles. But are there tulips? I’m still searching. I’m determined to find some sort of hope on the other side of this. I’m thankful to have a visual reminder to search for that hope.

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4 thoughts on “Tiptoe Through the Tulips

  1. Amanda says:

    This is so great! As I read it I could totally relate to my life and the way my plans have played out. I too am on this new journey. I may not have a biological Child but I will have a child to call my own. whom of which we are going to love to pieces and I have a feeling it is going to be a wonderful journey. Thank you so much for sharing this!

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