On parenting in Holland.

Post date: May 21, 2012 6:08:19 PM

I have shared the poem Welcome to Holland Before, right?

I know I have shared it on Facebook, so just in case, let me share it again, it helps to set the stage for today’s post…err rant…err reflection.

Welcome to Holland!

by Emily Pearl Kingsley

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 guidebooks and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum, the Michalangelo 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 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 go out and buy new guidebooks. 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 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." The pain of that will never 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 will never be free to enjoy the very special, very lovely things about Holland.

We live in Holland. No, not really. We live in Illinois, where the wind whips my beautiful wicker furniture off the porch and 100 yards into the neighboring corn field!

And once you live in Holland, it can be very easy to find yourself spoiling the child who brought you there. Our basement is full of toys – mostly guilt gifts. There is the Little People castle, the one that we bought the bear the day that she got off of the breathing tube that she’d been on for 23 days. There is the kitchen set that Santa brought her the year that she received her transplant. There are the My Little Ponies that she used to line her crib in the hospital with. It is hard to say no when you look at the scars. It is hard to say NO when you remember the blood transfusions, the bone marrow biopsies, and the biliary tubie. But it must be done. I’m not saying we never say yes, only that it’s all too easy to give in to the wants when you think about how you got to Holland in the first place.

It should be said that we started saying no, early in her life. At 3 weeks of age she came home from the hospital, and slept in her own room, in her own bed. If she woke, I gave her time to settle herself down. People always remarked to us, “For everything that she has been through, she sure is a great sleeper!” “What a great baby!” And you know what? We had to work at it. It would have been easier to let her climb in with us then, like it would have been easier to let her climb in with us at 3 after a midnight tumble out of the bed. But we knew that when she was sleeping she was healing. When she was sleeping she was growing.

And I guess that the same can be said for parenting in general. Sometimes, “Yes,” or “Fine,” is the quick answer, the easy answer, the “it gets her out of my hair answer.” But I am learning, in year 8 of my parenting journey that there is something to be said for the value of “no.” There is something for her, and for all of us for that matter, to be learned in the art of waiting. A lack of instant gratification means patience learned. And having to do without something now may just teach her coping mechanisms for disappointment later on. At least that’s the plan.

We’re learning to accept with faith that she will live to tomorrow. We believe that she will live to next week and maybe even to her next birthday. When she was small, we didn’t think about her future. That’s the honest truth about it. I didn’t think about it because death surrounded her…transplant, and rejection, and cancer, and clotted vein, oh my! But little by little, we are learning to talk about our future with Natalie still in it. We are learning to let go and let God (take over). I am leaving it all up to Him.

Life won’t always go her way. Heck it hasn’t always thus far…see liver transplant before the age of 2. And I won’t always be there to fight her battles for her. We’re not just saving her life anymore. We’re teaching her how to be a contributing member of society, patiently.

But that also means that we’ve got to prepare her for it. It’s a big world out there and I don’t want her expecting ANY special treatment. I want her to work HARD for what she gets out of this life. I want her to see the value in hard work. I want her to know patience and the virtue of an honest job. I want her to thrive!

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