My first-ever guest post! I asked this beautiful woman I married to do me a solid and contribute something to BigCalfGuy. This is her offering. She also asks that you click the first link and read Welcome To Holland before getting too involved in the text. Without the poem as reference, the rest won’t be easily understood.
Show Beth Whitehouse some love with:
This Ain’t No Vacation!
Just before Jake was diagnosed with Autism, we were introduced to a poem called “Welcome To Holland”. And we were like, “Wow! That is the most amazing poem! Couldn’t have said it better myself! What a wonderful poem!” It didn’t take long before we came to the realization that “Welcome To Holland” was not exactly an accurate way to describe coming to grips with having a child with special needs.
Sometimes I think that parents of children who are newly diagnosed with autism have a more difficult time because we (as a society) try to sugarcoat everything. When in reality, if we could have an open and honest conversation about what having a child with autism is like, it would be much more beneficial. I have wasted too many hours feeling sad and/or guilty about my child’s diagnosis. I don’t dwell there, but it happens. There are questions that I have gone over and over in my mind. Could I have done anything differently? Did I eat or do something that I shouldn’t have when I was pregnant? What did I do wrong? Are we doing enough for him? Just to name a few.
The “Welcome To Holland” poem does not take into account the full picture. It skips over perhaps the most important details and those are that the entry into the country sucks and you will be given no map or translator to help you! You don’t just walk off the plane into an enchanted, wonderful world that is a little different from where you thought you were going. You are dragged off in the pitch black of night by several large, scary men who are kicking and screaming at you. It is confusing and scary and you have no idea which end is up. Then, they throw you onto the runway from the door of the plane. Your world literally drops out from under you. You also don’t have time to stop and look around and try to appreciate your new surroundings or even take inventory of what is in front of you. There is no time for that. You need to get moving right away. If you stay in one spot, you will be swallowed up. Nope, you begin to move forward even though you don’t speak the same language or have a clue where you are.
I feel like parents could make more progress if the rest of us were just real and not try to paint a flowery picture. Because, quite honestly, I spent so much time wondering what was wrong with me that I couldn’t appreciate the new place that we had found ourselves in. I couldn’t see windmills and tulips…even when I tried really hard. When we first got our diagnosis, we had had very little treatment, so the challenges were great. We were trying to figure out how to raise a child who wouldn’t eat anything, couldn’t speak a word, was melting down several times a day, hitting me often, and didn’t care to interact with the world around him. Not an easy task if you have no support. Heck, not an easy task even with lots of support. We were isolated, unable to go out and didn’t know who to turn to for help. None of our close friends or family had a child on the spectrum, so we were on our own to figure it out by ourselves. We eventually found parents to connect with who knew what it was like and they were well intentioned but they were further along in the process. All we were hearing is, “Autism is amazing! I would never change my child for the world! Having a child with autism has taught me so much!” All of this is true…or mostly true. But in the beginning, it is a foreign concept.
So, after many years and finally learning the language, I have come to understand that having a child with special needs is not just different. It is hard, it is discouraging, it is gut wrenching. I love my child wholeheartedly, but I would pack up and leave for Italy tomorrow if the choice were there. Let me say this again, I love Jake for exactly who he is, but if there was a cure for Autism tomorrow, I would be first in line. If I could make his life easier for him, I would. If I could keep him from being scared every time we went somewhere new, I would. If I could help him communicate more effectively, so that others could understand him when he needs something, I would. If I could be assured that someday, when I no longer can, he would be able to take care of himself, I would be first in line for that, too.
The final problem that I have with the idea of this poem, is the fact that it does not mention that this is not a vacation. You can’t just pack up and leave Holland whenever you want to. You have to live there indefinitely. Honesty and reality can be helpful to the families of the newly diagnosed. Not well written, candy-coated poems.
Over the last 8 years, I have come to see the beauty of the place we inhabit. Each and every day I count my blessings and appreciate where we are and how far we have come. I attribute our success to the many wonderful people that have crossed our paths over the years…the ones who have held our hands and helped us along.
So, I leave you with this: Eventually, we were introduced to another poem and perhaps it sums up our life better than I can. It is called “Holland Schmolland.” So much so that I have to wonder if someone was looking in our windows when they wrote it. Here’s a link to Holland Schmolland.
Editor’s Note: Thank you so much for your contribution, Beth! I love you, and appreciate your words.