I think I was in high school the first time I read the essay "Welcome to Holland," by Emily Perl Kingsley. It was printed in my local paper's Dear Abbey column one weekend morning, and I vaguely recall being somewhat interest in the analogy--having anticipated one thing, you end up with another. By allowing yourself to experience the new and unexpected "other," you find yourself embracing it, finding beauty, and, eventually, living in joy.
Kingsley's piece is one of those rare, enduring gems that follow you throughout life. Since my initial meeting with it, I've stumbled upon it countless times. I've had it arrive in my email inbox, seen it noted in publications, and heard it referenced often enough to realize that it's part of the common vernacular.
Now that I'm actually parenting a special needs kiddo, I find myself confronted with Kingley's optimistic analogy far more often than I'd like. Acquaintances who realize that Oliver is not quite the typical 3.5 year-old will often quip that we didn't get to Rome, but that Holland is a fine place. Family members smilingly reassure us that we'll find the right guidebooks to help us "see all the sights" at our new destination. Doctors and therapists ask us if we're familiar with the essay--as if this one piece of writing sums up their own philosophy of special needs parenting in a way everything else they have offered cannot.
And yet, for all of its ubiquitousness and acceptance, I have to admit: I am no longer a fan of the Holland analogy.
I feel like something of a traitor admitting this, but there it is. I can't quite put my finger on the why, but something about that particular point of comparison leaves me feeling hollow. Maybe it's something like my gut reaction to those well-meaning folks who pat me on the shoulder and assure me that I must be a very special mother for God to trust me with Oli? As if people who parent kids with special needs won a Holiness Lottery? As if I people are lining up to watch their children struggle through disabilities, difficulties, medical maladies, cognitive issues, autism?
So, so often we Christians see people who carry burdens we don't want and assign to them a particular place in the order of Everyday Saints. "She is so good with him. I could never be that patient." "I don't know how they manage with all of her issues. I can't imagine juggling all that." "Just mothering that little one looks like a full-time job. What a crown is waiting for her in heaven!" Watching a mother or father calm a tantruming pre-teen, seeing the care taken in patiently leading a clearly disabled child through relatively simple steps, listening to the litany of modifications necessary for a certain child to participate in a seemingly normal activity ... it all sounds like the work of selfless, hyper-attentive special parents. Not the kind of parents who deal day in and day out with issues no bigger than ear infection and skinned knees, but the moms and dads who know the best neurodevelopmentalists in the region and can easily rattle off a list of alphabet-soup diagnoses that are meaningless to the public at large.
Maybe most of these people are destined for mansions in heaven for their utter devotion to their special little ones. Maybe they never look at their baby and wonder "what if?" Maybe they don't ask God "Why?" Maybe it's never occurred to them--not for one, tiny moment--to long to see their child with the veil of those diagnoses lifted.
I am not one of those parents. For me, Holland is a rotten analogy. Truthfully, I'd love to go to Holland--or someplace like it--someday. I am a fan of the road less traveled, the path not taken, and the drum that beats to its own time. The place I find myself with Oliver, though, does not remind me of a set of landmarks that I should revel in. Rather, being Oliver's Momma has more to do with loving him exactly where he is while hoping, praying, and striving for him to be all that he can be.
And the Holland thing? Well ... it just implies a certain amount of acceptance that I'm not ready to surrender to. Yes--Oliver has special needs. He has cognitive delays, physical delays, medical issues, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, hearing loss. Those are the labels that tell me where he is today, right now, at this moment. If I begin to buy the Holland analogy, I'm afraid that I will look at those labels and decide that this IS Oliver. But for me, well ... I prefer to think that the REAL Oliver is locked inside the cage of those things. That maybe, with God's healing and grace, with patience and prayer, with hard work and opportunities, with all of us pulling together and giving him everything that we can ... maybe, some of those labels will no longer stick.
I was devastated earlier this week to receive an official evaluation that all but wrote off Oliver's future. At less than four years of age, professionals have decided that this beautiful blessing shows very little promise of blossoming into a productive, capable citizen. In other words, he will stay in Holland. He will enjoy the "slower pace" and simply be. He has no hope--none at all--of ever even dreaming of seeing the sights of Rome.
I, for one, refuse to accept that. God didn't give up on me; I will not give up on Oli. The Lord pursued me, fought for me, won me. Surely I can do as much for my beautiful, sweet, loving son?
I am not a Super Mom. While I was specially chosen to be Oliver's momma, I don't think it was because I possess any particular holiness that the average Christ-follower can't find within him or herself. If anything, it may just be because I am as stubborn as they come and the Lord knew that I would not take the news of Oli's diagnoses as a death blow. Oliver deserves a chance to shine. He deserves as many learning opportunities, as much love, and as warm a family as we can offer him. My heart tells me that sitting on my haunches and letting Oli stagnate would be nothing less than a sin.
He may someday rise far beyond everyone's expectations. And he may not. But, you have my word--it will not be because no one took the time to water this tender little shoot's potential.