When Nolan was first diagnosed with autism, the team of professionals who did the diagnosing gave us a copy of a short, written piece called Welcome to Holland.
In it, the author, Emily Perl Kingsley, draws a parallel between having a child with a disability and a trip to Italy that ended up unexpectedly being a trip to Holland instead. You don’t get to experience some of the things you had planned on, and the language and culture are not what you had prepared for…
Ms. Kingsley goes on to explain that once the shock wears off, you can start to see the beauty in the place you’ve landed. Sure, there is no Michelangelo’s David, but there are Rembrandts. She goes on to say that despite finding the good, we’ll still mourn the Italy that we never got to see. But she encourages us to not miss out on the good because of our grief.
Really, it’s not a bad analogy.
And really, I try to look for the windmills and tulips, but some days are harder than others.
This past weekend, Kirk and I took Nolan to a flea market about two hours from our house. Nolan loves a good car ride, so I rarely worry about how he’ll handle a long drive. Usually if we can keep our bathrooming consistent, most everything else falls into place for trips like this.
But we’ve been having a rough several days. It could be that the weather has gotten hot, he’s antsy because the end of the school year is almost here, we’re adjusting medication, he’s having a growth spurt, some planet or star is in retrograde (can you tell I’m not much of an astrology girl?), or just that he’s a 16-year-old—there’s no way for us to know why, really. Whatever the cause, it was a rough trip. Even rougher still was the day after—our sleep routine ended up out of whack, his belly seemed to not be agreeing with him, and he was just aggressively crotchety. It was like some kind of road trip hangover.
We started the day on the right foot... Unfortunately it didn't last.
There were many conversations between Kirk and I that went something like this:
Kirk- Maybe we just can’t do this kind of thing anymore.
Me (looking for tulips)- This could just be because of [insert one of a billion reasons here].
Kirk- But neither of us wants to go through that again if we can avoid it—he was miserable and so were we.
Me- I mean… (and that is usually where we were interrupted by Nolan needing something or my brain just ceasing to form a cohesive thought.)
I am an optimist by nature. Maybe it’s genetic or maybe it’s something I developed during childhood… Heck, maybe it’s some sort of coping mechanism. Whatever its source, it’s not enough to keep me focused on finding the good all of the time.
I know grief and mourning are important. And they’re part of the journey that parents of special needs kids take. But sometimes for me, that grief gets pushed back because I know it will take up time and energy that I seldom seem to find in everyday life. It can be easier to focus on the positive if for no other reason than that it feels better to go through than the negative.
While Welcome to Holland encourages us to not lose sight of the good when we’re going through the bad, I feel like the opposite can also be true. We (okay maybe just I) need to not lose sight of the grief by covering it with the search for the good.