my holland (reprinted from hopeful parents)

The following was yesterday’s post over at Hopeful Parents. I’m not quite ready yet to bid it adieu, so I’ve reprinted it here.

The Welcome to Holland essay seems to engender some strong reactions, to say the least. As I said in a comment on HP yesterday, “While the original essay rings true for me, I have to acknowledge that the beauty of this life doesn’t exist without pain. BUT, neither does the pain exist without some beauty.”

That’s MY Holland. What’s YOURS?



For my Italian friends … The following is based on the beautiful essay, Welcome to Holland, by Emily Perl Kingsley.

There are the days that I wouldn’t trade Holland for the world

The days that I stand in awe of the windmills’ quaint majesty

And marvel at the overwhelming beauty of the tulip fields

There are the days that I scoff at Italy

The days that I feel downright sorry for those who have never been to Holland

Never wondered at the beauty created by Rembrandt’s brush

What they are missing here, I tell myself

Poor souls!

How much richer they’d be for a visit someday

For a walk in these wooden shoes


And then there are the days that I look more closely at the Dutch landscape

The days that I see past the tulip fields to the mothers wringing their hands, waiting – always waiting

The days that I see the doctors – the specialists and therapists – everywhere it seems, filling the streets, doffing their caps as they move from one house to the next – an endless conveyor belt of service and need

There are the days that I see the siblings, struggling with dual citizenship in two dramatically different nations – neither of which they can fully claim as their own

There are the days that I can no longer smell the fragrance of the flowers for the stench of desperation and fear

The days that I send my girls off on the train, backpacks full with supplies for their daily trip to Italy

Knowing that only one of them speaks a word of Italian

Relying on a host of translators and guides to keep my youngest safe on such desperately foreign soil

There are the days that my heart simply breaks because I can’t make the whole world speak Dutch

There are the days that I watch the planes flying in – filled with mothers clutching their children, looking out the window, ready to point to the Spanish Steps and the Colosseum – knowing they’ll find out soon enough, that’s not where they are

There are the days when I wonder if my girl even notices the windmills, or the tulips – if she knows there are Rembrandts here

Or if she simply wishes that she were in Rome


There are the days that I see my Holland for what it really is

A breathtakingly beautiful place

A place full of love and compassion

Freedom and camaraderie

And a place where children hurt and mothers’ hearts ache with the impotence of not being able to make it better


26 thoughts on “my holland (reprinted from hopeful parents)

  1. Jess, your words often bring me to tears, but I completely broke down when I read, “There are days that my heart simply breaks because I can’t teach the whole world to speak Dutch.” I’ve been struggling lately when we are in public situations. My guy is very quiet and withdrawn and when others speak to him and he doesn’t respond, I so want to tell them he isn’t being rude, he just doesn’t understand their language. If only I could teach them his language. Wouldn’t that be a beautiul thing.

    • I too have handled this dilema, however rather than try to verbally explain, I had small business cards made, they read, “the face of autism is sometimes very quiet, it isnt that i am rude, rather, I have trouble communicating” please understand”
      It was amazing the responses we got, and now that my child is very verbal( sometimes too verbal) we look back and realize the acceptance he recieved when he was learning to be social, helped him get to this place.

  2. I’ve talked about being in Holland when I was supposed to be in Italy as well. It is most definitely a bittersweet place, Holland. I praise God for giving me the beauty of Holland, but I do grieve for Italy at times.

  3. I adore this. I too cherish “Welcome to Holland”, even though I find it extremely difficult to appreciate the tulips and Rembrandts. The reason the original essay always captivated me was the image of just landing in the wrong country, with the wrong guidebook, and spending your life knowing that you had planned to go somewhere else. If the author had simply said — make the best of it, smell the tulips — I would have hated the piece. But she acknowledged that it’s always going to hurt, and her honesty and realism enabled me to try to be optimistic.

    Your piece is amazingly beautiful. You capture the same blend of optimism and realism. Thank you.

    Your essay came at the perfect time for me. Next week, I am attending a lecture called Warrior Moms – How Parents of Special Needs Children are Changing the World. One of the speakers is Emily Perl Kingsley, the author of Welcome to Holland. I am so glad that I can go there with both the original essay in mind, as well as your lovely adaptation. And when I think of Warrior Moms, I will be sure to think of you, Jess.

  4. Beautifully written (as usual!). Those two sentences about “noticing” and “wishing” are at the heart of what always gets to me about dealing with my oldest’s version of autism. I like to think he’s happy where he is, but there’s a good chance I’ll never know for sure. Here’s hoping we all get to know that one day.


    Just beautiful and heartwrenching. Especially the line about how only “one of them speaks Italian.” Yeah, that one got me.
    I hope someday we all speak the same language.

    October 17, 2010 | Alysia

    I never could stand when people refer parents of newly diagnosed kids to that poem. As if that’s going to make autism so much better. Autism is a nightmare, plain and simple. Anyone who says that living in “Holland” can be a magical place is dreaming. I never met one parent who wouldn’t give their right arm to have their child be typical and non disabled rather than watch the them struggle so much day in and day out. And what about the future when no one is there to advocate? Believing in that poem is living in denial. It makes me cringe everytime I read it.

    October 17, 2010 | Allie

    Never like the Holland analogy……never. That being said, if it works for some, great. I wish there were more Hopeful Parents spread throughout the country, sounds like a great place.

    October 17, 2010 | Sheila

    As difficult as this life can be sometimes, I think it would be a real waste if we didn’t at least try to learn what we can and find what joy we can on the journey that’s been handed to us. To endure the pain and not receive the blessings isn’t only withholding them from ourselves – it’s withholding peace and acceptance from our children. Our negative feelings need to be acknowledged and accepted, but they aren’t doing our children any good. They already have such challenges in life. It seems like the least we can do for them is to try and appreciate all that we can and help them to do the same, so they can benefit from the peace of an accepting and happy family. We don’t have the power to fix all their difficulties, but we do have the power to give them that.

    For what it’s worth, most people believe in what they see, when often it’s the other way around. We tend to see what we believe in – or at least what we’re looking for. If you don’t really look for the good beneath the outward appearances of a situation, you may not ever get to see it.

    I liked the post and the original essay, which I hadn’t read before. For those who are bothered by it, I hope you find some other path to peace that works for you. We all deserve to have some peace and to e able to share that with our children.


    October 17, 2010 | Diane


    i agree. while the original essay rings true for me, i have to acknowledge that the beauty of this life doesn’t exist without pain. BUT, neither does the pain exist without some beauty. if i let myself lose sight of either completely, i think i do myself – and more importantly my children – a grave disservice.


    October 17, 2010 | diary of a mom

    I haven’t wondered for one second. Thank you for showing me around Holland. The beauty that is there is more breathtaking than anything I’ve seen in Italy.

    October 17, 2010 | “a random person”

    Allie misses the point. I’m as much of a realist as anyone, but the point of that metaphor is that if you end up in “Holland,” and you are stuck there, to not look for the good wherever you find it is to resign yourself to despair. I guess you can dislike warm fuzzy metaphors, but you can’t criticize optimism.

    October 17, 2010 | A Dad

    This is lovely. I think the thing about Holland is that there aren’t planes that depart from there, so it’s kind of pointless to discuss whether we would want to build an airport. All we can do is make Holland as beautiful as we can and try to get the tourists to drive by and realize the same.

    October 17, 2010 | Stimey

    You’re really right about that dual citizenship.

    October 17, 2010 | Carrie

    I like your version of the metaphor a lot better! xo

    October 17, 2010 | Tanya @ TeenAutism

    I just read the Italy-Holland metaphor for the first time in Shut Up about Your Perfect Kid book, and had mixed feelings (not because I’m Dutch, either!). For our first child with severe CP, the comparison worked. For our second child, who suffers from no malady, the comparison took on another meaning. For our third, who also has moderate CP, the metaphor missed the marked since we had now been to both “countries.” However, that’s our situation and I think a few comments above do miss the point. The poem to me was a beautiful tribute where I could clearly understand the author’s perspective (like the above) and what I saw was a writer doing their best to make sense of this world in which ‘hopeful parents’ find themselves. It was her metaphor and it helped her heal as she pieced it together, in my opinion. It doesn’t have to work for all but I sure could assimilate with her and that’s the reason we’re all here in the first place.

    October 17, 2010 | Tim Gort

    “There are the days that my heart simply breaks because I can’t make the whole world speak Dutch” – truer words were never written… my VERY self-aware 8 yr old Aspie has said as much to me many times… She has invented her own PLANET, where she retreats when the rest of the world is too hard for her to live with / in. All she wants, really, are a few more BILINGUAL citizens. but they are hard to find…

    October 17, 2010 | Dana

    I only liked the Holland essay for a brief early moment many years ago when I first landed there. Since then, I have found it far too treacly — but I loved your version of it, particularly the line about siblings. Our “typical” children are so often overlooked in this strange world we find ourselves in…

    October 17, 2010 | Elizabeth

    Very beautifully said.
    “The days that I send my girls off on the train, backpacks full with supplies for their daily trip to Italy

    Knowing that only one of them speaks a word of Italian.”
    moved me to tears.

    My son is a preemie with no “real” diagnosis. He is not thought to be on the autism spectrum, but has almost global delays. His prognosis is good, but for now, is quite delayed. I think he’s just the bee’s knees, but sometimes, we visit “Italy” and am reminded just how different Holland really is. Not all good, not all bad, but definitely both.

    October 17, 2010 | Trish


    EK ~ I am with you on this one. The sentiment rings true for eveyone, everywhere; typical and atypical.

    NA ~ truly, our eccentricities our differences are to be celebrated. I see everything From temper tantrums to screaming (in joy) as my holland. and although I think I’d like to visit Italy and even view the Italians 😀 as perhaps without problems; I KNOW that everyone and everyone has issues.
    sadly others, even ones own family do not see our holland and would rather live in denial.

    KSK ~ I truly have a love/hate relationship with Holland.

    HN ~ I love Holland but I still long for Italy. My son loves Holland-he is proud to be Dutch and I have no choice but to meet him there and be part of his world. He doesn’t travel well to Italy 😦

    DP-P ~ As always, brilliant writing and such a talent for expressing what many of us are feeling.

    MMWW ~…great minds think alike? I JUST posted this on my blog in honor of our first walk for Autism Speaks.

    CG ~ Thank you for the perspective. I would not trade her for anything, but how I long for Italy.

    TB ~ Love it…the line about wishing others spoke Dutch…that was my life this week. Thank you. I think as parents we need to appreciate the beauty of “Holland”. My daughter is who she is. Sure there are storms in Holland, some pretty bad, but, there are storms any place you may live.

    LM ~ I was never a huge fan of that poem, but what you have added to it – makes it perfect. Definitely passing this on.

    JKQ ~ You just took Holland and improved it by 1000%… as always, you seem to be able to put into words the thoughts spinning in my head all too frequently. 🙂

    NQ ~ All that you wrote is the same way I feel………my biggest wish is that the world spoke Dutch. That would make is so much easier for our kids.Thank you for putting all our thoughts in writting

  7. I was tagged in one of those random internet things recently. One of the questions was, “If you could go anywhere, all expenses paid, where would it be?” It was the only one I didn’t have to think about. I typed “ANYWHERE BUT HOLLAND!!” I’m probably the only one who got it, but it was weird how it flew out like that. Especially since I’ve been tiptoeing through the tulips for quite some time now. At least windmills go around, and around, and around…

  8. Oh, I got tagged in another one, about a week later, and it asked if I could live anywhere, where would it be.. I answered in a much more civil and coherent fashion. Holland never even came up. =)

  9. There are the days when I wonder if my girl even notices the windmills, or the tulips – if she knows there are Rembrandts here

    Or if she simply wishes that she were in Rome

    This says it all for me. I can be okay with Holland – I can learn to love it – as long as I know that my son loves it, too. It’s the not knowing that makes it so hard.

    Thanks for this. It’s gorgeous.

  10. more comments from Hopeful Parents:

    I do like your take on this poem, Jess. While I’m not always excited to be in Holland I’ve found acceptance that this is where we are for my oldest child. I am saddened for the people that seem to be so bothered by this poem in this form or in it’s original form. I just don’t/can’t feel defeated or gloomy b/c I’m too busy being a warrior to make the rest of the world a place my daughter can function and trying to help her adapt as well. Sure, I have my moments of despair and upset that this is where we’ve landed, but I can’t stay in those moments b/c it serves no one.

    October 19, 2010 | Ava’s Advisor

    Interesting to hear others’ opinions of this poem. I agree totally with everything you said, Jess. I may not always like being in Holland, but I can certainly make the best of a situation that I can not change. I would give my right arm to allow my son to not be disabled, but I also know that realistically, this is something I can not change and have instead chosen to enjoy him for who he is and what his journey has taught me.

    October 19, 2010 | Heather

  11. I’m tired of the Italians, especially those who think they are bilingual but are only speaking French and German. I’m tired of the Italians who tell me I don’t do enough or do too much or need to do this or that when they have never lived with the Dutch. So as far as I’m concerned, forget Italy. Denmark looks nice.

  12. I find “Welcome to Holland” and “My Holland” great reads. I tear up everytime I read the first and did as I read the second because it really puts things into perspective in that when your doctor says “Autism” it really is like landing in another land that you aren’t prepared to go to by any means but as you move through the dark tunnel, you start to see light peeking in through the walls, it might be here and there but there is light and if there isn’t any light then you make light, you find light for you and your children. You realize that your child’s small baby step is their gaint leap so you learn patience, you learn that you have to educate yourself about this new land you’re in so that you and your children can flourish and live happily. You learn that you go when you don’t think you can go anymore because you are stronger than you ever realized for your children and yourself. The new land brings about things you would have never knew about yourself, amazing things that most normal folks don’t ever experience. But as with every land, there are just those rainy days, those days where it’s snowing and blowing cold air and it’s miserible but you adapt and play inside and you try a new approach.

    I realize that some of it very hopeful but I’ve found in my family that you have to have some hope to keep going, not that hope will make everything normal or that there is this magic wand that just makes it all better but hope that your child is going to have a happy, healthy life surrounded by those who love him or her. As parents, if we give up and just stop then our children suffer because we are their best advocates, no one else does it for them and people pass in and out of their lives (teachers, therapists, doctors, etc) but we are constant. If we give up and let autism take our very souls as it does on some days then our children stop with us and have no one to turn to when the world is cruel, hard, etc.

    Autism for me has been a very interesting ride to say the least as you can probably tell from my above rambling and I can’t say that I’m in the complete acceptance because it’s like the grieving process and one days you’re in stage one and the next you move to stage three or four but after a few days or months, you find you’re back in stage one or two again for a moment in time. It’s very hard ….but you know I look at it this way, I brought a healthy, happy baby home from the hospital four and half years ago, he was able to cry to wake us up in the middle of the night and let us watch him sleep, etc. He is making slow progress, we can hug in now and stare in his beautiful brown eyes for two seconds at a time, etc. I’m thankful. :o)

  13. to the moms (and dads) out there struggling – yes, it’s very difficult at first, especially with ‘normal’ siblings. But wait until they are older (teens & young adults). You know where they are, you know what they are doing. You know who their friends are. No cell phone calls at 3AM. No internet issues, IMs, etc. No driving by themselves or with friends. No worry of pregnancy or STDs. No boyfriend/girlfriend issues. No drug or alcohol temptations. No peer pressure to do stupid things. Yes, Holland is a safer place. No, my ‘normal’ young adult is not wild, she is 21 & still at home, working PT and striving for a degree.
    Yes, it gets easier raising a child with autism into adulthood.

  14. Pingback: Welcome to Holland | Basically FX | Living with Fragile X Syndrome

  15. This is so beautiful, but I’m wondering if we could also write a “My Italy” poem. My concern with the “Holland” essay has always been the idea that my whole life, no matter how beautiful it can be, is still viewed as a second choice.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s