The Harnisch Family

The Harnisch Family

Apr 15, 2011

Welcome to Holland

 I'd like to take a moment to thank the good Lord above for blessing us with rainy dreery days.  
Sounds strange I know. But it's a form of discipline - forced accountability.  There is something refreshing about feeling okay and not "anxious" about staying inside, slowing down and assessing the neglected house, dishes, laundry mountains, and I'd be a liar if I didn't lump sitting the girls down in front of a Disney Movie on that list too.
Cold, rainy, over-cast days are motivators to grab a good book and sip on some Scooters coffee (thanks Lisa) in the front room with the window open listening to rain fall outside.
Very peaceful.
But depressing at the same time.

okay, I'm back, had to switch a load of laundry.

I wish I could escape with this book, but I can't.  I choose to blog about my feelings on my iPhone instead.
I find myself going to that place.  A place I try not to (and I don't) go very often.  Reflecting a bit on Macy's disability.  I go on every day, keeping busy (effectively distracted) and feel as though I am successfully living by the "glass half full", "optimistic", "rose color glasses" and "life is good" attitude.
She's a rockstar.  She REALLY is.  Yesterday, her Speech therapist came to the house and had a long list of "next steps" for us to work on.  But after a few minutes of "Macy Show-and-tell", Sharon was quick to cross everything off her list and start over with more advanced goals.  Oh yeah Macy, you go girl!
So, why my tears?  Because tears are good.  Tears are cleansing.  Tears are human.  tears are therapeutic.
This is silly, and I shouldn't be sharing this.  But I am going to.  Because it's my blog and I can do what I want!  :-)  

I knew.  I had been warned and have very much accepted and am okay with the fact that Macy's extra chromosome is going to make it more difficult for her to achieve certain (okay most) milestones.  As a result, she has to work so much harder and it will take a little bit longer.  I have actually really been enjoying this, as I get to enjoy each and every stage of her development ALL THE MORE!  I like to think that Down Syndrome slows life down just enough to truly appreciate each and every moment.
She is blossoming beautifully and WELL BEYOND all our expectations.


It's still hard.

Now that she is nearly 16 months old, it is hard to see other's her age literally RUNNING around.  This is SUCH a monumental season in most children's development.  The whole world is at their fingertips.
Please don't get me wrong.  I am SOOOO happy and excited for all these "little's" around us are doing so well - being so "typical" I guess you could say...I am a long ways away from jealous or bitter.  But I am human.  I'd be lying if I didn't admit that it gets to me every once in a while.

So - okay.  I'm done.  My pitty-party is over.  Thanks for listening.
As I sit hear looking out my front window and notice that our tulips are about to bloom ANY DAY...I am reminded of the beautiful and profound essay by Emily Perl Kinglsey.  It "hits the nail on the head"!  Thanks to all who led me to it shortly after Macy was born...


Emily Perl Kingsley.
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.

I really love this poem.  While I agree with the thought that "Holland" is beautiful. I still feel as though we get and will continue to get plenty of "Italy".   :-)
I also think of friends who have lost their children and would be eternally grateful and would probably give anything for a chance to experience even a tiny taste Holland.


Am I worried about little Miss Macy.  H to the double hockey sticks NO!  She is a super-star and has a deep, burning desire to KEEP UP WITH THE BIG KIDS. 
Bathing with the big kids
 Eating with big kids
 and discovering
JUST like the big kids  :-)

She is highly and easily motivated.  This kid's going places!

While I love the poem by Emily Perl Kingsley about Holland.  I came across this "in response" blog post by Dana Nieder a few months ago.  Thought I'd share it too.
I must disclaim, that fortunately we did not did not have all of these exact same feelings or emotions.  Luckily, our journey did not start out quite as rocky and unstable as so many others.
But it certainly hits close to home, that's for sure.

Amsterdam International

To fully get this post, please read (or re-read) Welcome to Holland before starting.  Thanks.

In the special needs world, there is a poem (essay? whatever.) called "Welcome to Holland."  It is supposed to explain what it's like to have a child with special needs.  It's short and sweet. 

It skips everything.

While "Welcome to Holland" has a place, I used to hate it.  It skipped over all of the agony of having a child with special needs and went right to the happy ending. 

The raw, painful, confusing entry into Holland was just glossed over.  And considering the fact that this little poem is so often passed along to new-moms-of-kids-with-special-needs, it seems unfair to just hand them a little story about getting new guidebooks and windmills and tulips.

If I had written "Welcome to Holland", I would have included the terrible entry time.  And it would sound like this:

Amsterdam International

Parents of “normal” kids who are friends with parents of kids with special needs often say things like “Wow! How do you do it? I wouldn’t be able to handle everything---you guys are amazing!” (Well, thank you very much.) But there’s no special manual, no magical positive attitude serum, no guide to embodying strength and serenity . . . people just do what they have to do. You rise to the occasion, and embrace your sense of humor (or grow a new one). You come to love your life, and it’s hard to imagine it a different way (although when you try, it may sting a little). But things weren’t always like this . . . at first, you ricocheted around the stages of grief, and it was hard to see the sun through the clouds. And forget the damn tulips or windmills. In the beginning you’re stuck in Amsterdam International Airport. And no one ever talks about how much it sucks.

You briskly walk off of the plane into the airport thinking “There-must-be-a-way-to-fix-this-please-please-don’t-make-me-have-to-stay-here-THIS-ISN’T-WHAT-I-WANTED-please-just-take-it-back”. The airport is covered with signs in Dutch that don’t help, and several well-meaning airport professionals try to calm you into realizing that you are here (oh, and since they’re shutting down the airport today, you can never leave. Never never. This is your new reality.). Their tone and smiles are reassuring, and for a moment you feel a little bit more calm . . . but the pit in your stomach doesn’t leave and a new wave of panic isn’t far off.

(Although you don’t know it yet, this will become a pattern. You will often come to a place of almost acceptance, only to quickly re-become devastated or infuriated about this goddamned unfair deviation to Holland. At first this will happen several times a day, but it will taper to several times a week, and then only occasionally.)

A flash of realization---your family and friends are waiting. Some in Italy, some back home . . . all wanting to hear about your arrival in Rome. Now what is there to say? And how do you say it? You settle on leaving an outgoing voicemail that says “We’ve arrived, the flight was fine, more news to come” because really, what else can you say? You’re not even sure what to tell yourself about Holland, let alone your loved ones.

(Although you don’t know it yet, this will become a pattern. How can you talk to people about Holland? If they sweetly offer reassurances, it’s hard to find comfort in them . . . they’ve never been to Holland, after all.)

And their attempts at sympathy? While genuine, you don’t need their pity . . . their pity says “Wow, things must really suck for you” . . . and when you’re just trying to hold yourself together, that doesn’t help. When you hear someone else say that things are bad, it’s hard to maintain your denial, to keep up your everything-is-just-fine-thank-you-very-much outer shell. Pity hits too close to home, and you can’t admit to yourself how terrible it feels to be stuck in Holland, because then you will undoubtedly collapse into a pile of raw, wailing agony. So you have to deflect and hold yourself together . . . deflect and hold yourself together.)

You sneak sideways glances at your travel companion, who also was ready for Italy. You have no idea how (s)he’s handling this massive change in plans, and can’t bring yourself to ask. You think “Please, please don’t leave me here. Stay with me. We can find the right things to say to each other, I think. Maybe we can have a good life here.” But the terror of a mutual breakdown, of admitting that you’re deep in a pit of raw misery, of saying it out loud and thereby making it reality, is too strong. So you say nothing.

(Although you don’t know it yet, this may become a pattern. It will get easier with practice, but it will always be difficult to talk with your partner about your residency in Holland. Your emotions won’t often line up---you’ll be accepting things and trying to build a home just as he starts clamoring for appointments with more diplomats who may be able to “fix” it all. And then you’ll switch, you moving into anger and him into acceptance. You will be afraid of sharing your depression, because it might be contagious---how can you share all of the things you hate about Holland without worrying that you’re just showing your partner all of the reasons that he should sink into depression, too?)

And what you keep thinking but can’t bring yourself to say aloud is that you would give anything to go back in time a few months. You wish you never bought the tickets. It seems that no traveler is ever supposed to say “I wish I never even got on the plane. I just want to be back at home.” But it’s true, and it makes you feel terrible about yourself, which is just fantastic . . . a giant dose of guilt is just what a terrified lonely lost tourist needs.

Although you don’t know it yet, this is the part that will fade. After you’re ready, and get out of the airport, you will get to know Holland and you won’t regret the fact that you have traveled. Oh, you will long for Italy from time to time, and want to rage against the unfairness from time to time, but you will get past the little voice that once said “Take this back from me. I don’t want this trip at all.”

Each traveler has to find their own way out of the airport. Some people navigate through the corridors in a pretty direct path (the corridors can lead right in a row: Denial to Anger to Bargaining to Depression to Acceptance). More commonly, you shuffle and wind around . . . leaving the Depression hallway to find yourself somehow back in Anger again. You may be here for months.

But you will leave the airport. You will.

And as you learn more about Holland, and see how much it has to offer, you will grow to love it.

And it will change who you are, for the better.

© Dana Nieder 10/2010 All Rights Reserved

1 comment:

  1. Sherri,
    As I sit at my computer, crying, I want to thank you for putting into words EXACTLY how I feel each and every day! Most days are awesome with Caden but I do have Ds days, days I wish he could stand up and run with his friends, play with his brothers, and just 'catch up' with everyone else. Then he gives me one of his million dollar smiles and I know he WILL do all that, on his own time. And I know I will be all right too. Caden is my beautiful, special, little man and I love him more than I ever knew I could!
    Keep blogging.. I love seeing your beautiful little Macy... maybe her and Caden can hang out together sometime. :)
    Okay, tears are done... must get back to housework as Caden will be up from his nap soon...
    P.S. I love the book Roadmap to Holland by Jennifer Graf Groneberg... a MUST READ!!