Why ‘Welcome to Holland’ Never Resonated With Me


When I was young, I heard the essay, “Welcome to Holland,” by Emily Perl Kingsley, which compares being a mother of a special needs child to planning a trip for Italy, only to find your plane has landed in Holland. Both have their beauty, but Holland was not what she had in mind.

I understood that this poem resonated with a lot of parents, but for some reason it never resonated with me. “Surely it should,” I would think. “After all, I’m a sibling of special needs kids, and that’s close to a parent, right?”

Wrong.

After weeks of mulling it over, I’ve finally realized why: I grew up in Holland.

As a younger sister of a brother with special needs and sister of 13 siblings, 11 of whom have special needs, I was an American born in Holland.

Although I always knew I was American, Holland was home. In a land where medical procedures roll off the tongue and auto-correct in your texts, I learned to speak the language of prescription medication. I learned to appreciate the celebrations, like the getting-off-medication parties and the happy tears when a 4-year-old with delays says your name. I learned the culture, where co-sleeping, oximeters, doctor’s appointments, wheelchairs, hearing aids and restricted diets are the norm.

I love Holland. It made me into the person I am today. It’s made me appreciative, compassionate, more gentle, more forgiving and more willing to serve. It’s made me more aware of the people around me, and most of all, it’s given me many friends who, too, live in Holland.

Here’s the problem: There’s a big world outside of Holland.

The world outside of Holland is a fast-paced race to the top, where test scores and high pay reign supreme. Where we always need to know who is the best and where the different, the odd and the outcast are looked down upon with pity or distain.

As I grew up, I thought there was a lot that I was missing from not being around “normal” people all the time. But as I grew up and ventured out of my little Holland, I realized something…

I don’t like life outside of Holland much.

author and her family

I don’t like a world that can’t or won’t accept all people, regardless of their ability. I don’t like a world that thinks my siblings are a waste of resources or that intelligence is measured by a score on a standardized test. I don’t like a world that won’t stop to see the beauty of my siblings’ smile, their life and their joy.

As an adult, a lot of people come to me to ask about what having siblings with special needs has “done to me.” I won’t lie, it can be hard. It’s true you might have to share a room and might have to give up extra things. It’s hard sometimes to have to pick and choose activities and hard to have parents split between home and hospital. But the more I grow up and assimilated myself into the real world and the work force, I realize how blessed I have been to have been gifted these siblings. I believe God chose them and brought them to my family for a reason. They have taught me grace, peace, love, joy, sorrow, faith, and so much more. They have taught me to sacrifice myself for the needs of others, to consider others above myself, to celebrate small victories and to always show love.

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