In the 1987 classic essay Welcome to Holland, Emily Perl Kingsley wrote brilliantly about what it is like parenting a child with developmental disabilities. She compares it to having your plane unexpectedly land in Holland, when for your whole life you had planned to travel to Italy instead.
I think this might be hard for parents of neurotypcial children to understand, but I have always felt a strong kinship with parents of developmentally disabled children, and not just because I am the aunt of a child with Autism.
As the parent of a gifted child, I deal with special learning needs and behavioral differences too, which often makes life difficult for our entire family. Intellectual capability (either high or low), does not determine a child’s future, but it does make their journey different. But try explaining that at your next playgroup…
All the moms at the park have just come back from Italy. They have pictures and postcards, and are passing around home movies on their I Pads. All of them are wearing designer leather shoes straight from the master craftsman in Milan. Everyone is joking about gaining a few extra pounds from eating so much pasta.
You have just come back from Italy too, only instead of staying at the Marriott you were on a cruise ship, and not the Costa Concordia.
The other moms are including you in their conversation, but there is a palatable whiff of envy. How much did the cruise cost? How did you talk your husband into it? How did you afford a suite? It must have been easy traveling without having to ever unpack at a different hotel each night, or put up with a smelly tour bus.
How can you explain what the cruise was really like? Oh yes, a lot of things were easier. There were unlimited English movies on TV and you had round-the-clock room service. But keeping up with all of your shore excursions ran you ragged, and you hadn’t planned for all of the extra expenses in your budget.
You were just starting to recover from being seasick when you came down with Norovirus. While you sat on your balcony trying to hold down a cracker, you watched Venice pass by and thought “When can I enjoy this? When can I relax?”
Nobody at the park wants to hear about what really happened on your trip. It’s easier to just slip on your Italian sunglasses that you picked up at the airport and pretend to fit in. But before you disappear behind those shades you catch a glance from the mom who just came back from Holland. Maybe it was nothing, or maybe it was a glimpse of recognition.
By Jennifer Williams Bardsley