I Once Hated 'Welcome to Holland.' This Changed My Mind.
So there’s a lovely little story called “Welcome to Holland” written by Emily Pearl Kingsley. It’s an analogy of sorts. It compares welcoming a little one with a disability to a trip to Holland when you were trying to get to Italy. If you haven’t read it, you should. (You can find it here.) It’s pretty amazing stuff… unless you’re still grieving, you bleed Italian blood or someone tells you this tale and botches it completely. Imagine my disdain when all three happened concurrently.
I was in the hospital after my son, Judah, was born, doing what I did at the time: crying huge, puddle-making tears. My face was crimson and splotchy, my breath was hard to catch, my brain was blurry and my eyes were puffy and tired. In this state, I would’ve preferred that no one see me. But when you are in the hospital, nurses must make frequent visits. Every time a nurse arrived, I felt the need to preface my crying, in case they didn’t know. Their facial expressions were all similar. They were nervous to be around me and annoyingly much less afflicted than I was. They held sympathetic eyes but didn’t quite get my condition. I shared, sobbed and longed for them to say something along the lines of “Oh, this situation is clearly upsetting you. Let’s put that baby right back, do it again and everything will be perfectly OK.” Anything less than that statement invoked more tears and inner anger.
There was one lovely nurse we already knew. She was a great teacher, but not a successful storyteller. When she arrived in my room, she carefully reviewed my fragile state. Satisfied that she could solve my suffering, she cleared a comfy space for herself at the foot of my bed. She then attempted to launch into the story of “Holland,” except she couldn’t remember the name of the place. “What’s that place with the tulips?’” she asked my husband, Bobby, and me. “The one with the windmills? Not Switzerland, what is it?” This was our introduction to the story.
I’m now convinced I had her flustered. When I say I was in a state, words do not do it justice. This kind, blessed, sweetheart of a woman was grasping for words that my state made her forget. The pressure radiating from my sad, swollen eyes told her, “Please! Make this all OK.” Now I know I was a lot to take… so much, in fact, that I made her forget the name of the place the story’s named after.
The nurse continued the story with the same amount of stammering. She knew some parts. She remembered we were supposed to head to Italy and that the place we were headed to wasn’t “disgusting or famine-filled.” When even more details escaped her, she ended with, “Well, anyway, basically, the story is supposed to show you that you’re just somewhere different — not Italy, but not bad… and if you keep thinking of Italy, you’ll miss out on the tulips and windmills in this other place.”
I hugged her as Bobby and I doled out thank-yous. Then, when she turned to leave, she put a finger to her lip and calmly rejoiced, “I remember now, it was Holland.” Not a minute later, when she finally retreated, my first words were: “Bobby, F#*& Holland!”… And that’s how I came to hate the story “Welcome to Holland.” It was that place with a forgotten name, told with careless disregard by a Holland-loving nurse. It was compared to the native land of my ancestors and told when my body was an anvil of grief.
Others (and really, thank you all, it was not you; it was timing and it was me) sent me this story via Facebook in private messages. I kindly thanked them all and never once re-read it. In fact, here’s a quote from my first blog entry when I renamed it “Finding The Joy”: “I have chosen to rename and remake my life. I choose to not rename my life with a trip to Holland, but rather to include the ‘Italy’ in all my obstacles.” Whoa! That’s the stuff denial quilts are sewn from. But I wasn’t ready, and you can’t punch your airline ticket to Holland until you’ve felt what you needed to feel.
Oddly, close to Mother’s Day, with no real acknowledgement, I was finally ready.
Now, an attendant didn’t announce, “Beth, you may board your flight to Holland now” and no one pulled my arm toward the gate. It was subtle, eerie, fated. I just happened to be scrolling through my Insta-friends, many of whom hold a passport to this different destination. Littlest Warrior was explaining another top-selling, toddler t-shirt that boasted “Holland Tour Guide.” She shared the story for her followers. For some reason, I decided to finally give the story another try. It’s like I read it with a new set of eyes. I bursted with pride at every line, screaming “Yes, yes, yes… that’s us!” I did imaginary victory leaps with jazz hands singing in the air. I cried tears for being understood and how the analogy nailed it just perfectly.
I was so excited, I had to shout it to someone and so I shared the story, via Instagram, with my sister-in-law/dearest friend. Being the busy women we are, we never actually discussed what transpired. Then, the very next day, a Mother’s Day card arrived addressed to me from her mother. Inside, folded in fate, in my hot little hands, landed the story “Welcome to Holland.” I couldn’t call my sister-in-bestie fast enough. When we spoke, we couldn’t believe the timing. It was too wild that I shared the story with her, just hours before the mailman delivered her mom’s card. She revealed to me, “My mom has been wanting to give that to you, and she knew she had to wait.”
The perfect amount of time had passed. The story was plastered firmly in son, Judah’s, book. My layover had expired, my journey was embarking, and I couldn’t wait to tip-toe through the tulips.
I’m proud to announce that I am elated to be in Holland. There’s no sadness, regrets, jealousy or projection here. It’s a glorious revelation. I’m Dorothy in Oz but with everyone I love. I know, I know… those of you with the “fresh diagnosis” hate my positivity right now, my magical mentality. You can. You can want to stomp on tulips and detest windmills. That might be what you need. For when it’s all over, and the grief is gone, you’ll think, Geez why did I ever hate Holland so much? Holland never came to kidnap me. It never took me captive there. It never made me love it. It just was… with its beauty and differences. All along it had sublime souvenirs, tour guides to teach me and brilliant brochures.
Most importantly, it had glorious natives like my very own Ju-Ju. They were right there, all along, to change my perspective. Tales of tenacity, compassion, inclusion and prosperity run rampant in Holland. They easily sway me from rich red wines and crusty bread in Italy. I love you, Holland. I’ve arrived. I’m putting down roots here. And I may still take that trip to Italy one day. But it will be to share all the fascinating artistry that Holland proudly holds.
A version of this post originally appeared on Finding the Joy.
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