Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Welcome To Holland: Get to know the author!

I don't remember exactly when I first read Welcome To Holland, Emily Perl Kingsley's essay about the journey of raising a kid with special needs. I do know Max was pretty young, and that I was deeply moved by it. Welcome To Holland gets passed around a lot online; I'm sure you've seen it at some point. What Emily wrote:

I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability – to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this...

When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans...the Coliseum, the Sistine Chapel, Gondolas. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting. After several months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go.

Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland!” “Holland?” you say. “What do you mean, Holland? I signed up for Italy. I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.” But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.

The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place full of pestilence, famine, and disease. It’s just a different place.

So, you must go out and buy new guidebooks. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met. It’s just a different place. It’s slower paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy.

But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around. You begin to notice that Holland has windmills. Holland has tulips. And Holland even has Rembrandts. But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy, and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life you will say, “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.” And the pain of that experience will never, ever, ever, go away. The loss of that dream is a very significant loss.

But if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things about Holland.

When Max was around three, a newspaper ran an article about Emily and her son, Jason, who has Down Syndrome. On impulse I picked up the phone, tracked down her work number and got her on the line. Stalker-like, yeah, but she was kind enough to spend a few minutes chatting and encouraging me to have hope. She even gave me her email.

A friend of mine recently heard Emily speak at an event and gushed about her. So I emailed Emily to tell her that, and ask if she'd be willing to answer some questions. She is!

So, what would you like to ask the author of Welcome To Holland? Leave your q below; I'll gather them, send them off to her and run her responses here.



  1. How is her son doing

    What is advice does she have on helping transiton kids with disabilites into adulthood

    (spell check this Ellen before u email this thanks

  2. No questions here. Just tell here that this Momma of 7 was brought to tears, because now I can tell people about Holland. And I thank her from the bottom of my heart.

    No more consolation from strangers for having Logan. We're in Holland. SO THERE, people who think Logan is a tragedy!

  3. I can remember when someone sent me "Welcome to Holland" not long after my son was diagnosed with Down syndrome. I thought that Emily's feelings were so beautifully expressed, & they just moved me to tears. I wonder if she feels the same way now as she did when she originally wrote that piece.

  4. Does it ever bother her that the essay has become such an entity itself that it can cause division amongst members of the Special Needs community? That some embrace it and others do not? I'd be curious to hear her thoughts on that.

  5. Everytime I read this, it still brings tears to my eyes - now it's in the best way possible. This essay helped me change my attitude about so many things with my son. and it helps others slightly understand our situation that much more. Please just thank her from my family.

  6. No questions here either.... I'm sending a 'thank you' to her, from me via you for writing something so wonderful and hopeful. She is the reason I planted my own slice of Holland in my back yard that Oia and I take care of every bloom season. Maybe you can share this with her...

  7. Did she ever think that her essay would be this popular?

    Also express thanks to her for helping us with our son's dx of epilepsy and genetic disorder.

  8. I'd like to know if it ever feels easier. Being 3 years into this, every day still feels hard and I'm still sad. Does having a child with special needs ever feel "normal" (not to society, but as the mom of the child). When do decisions like what shoes to buy or cups to use become routine rather than overanalyzed based on the chid's need. Also, does it get easier to integrate your child into situations like birthday parties or playground play when you know other children will ask questions or not want to play with him because he can't climb as well or play "correctly". Third question, does she have any other children and what is that dynamic like?

  9. Not to be a spoilsport, but I never got behind the whole "Holland" analogy. It never "worked" on me. 2 kids with issues, a dead husband, income cut by more than half, beans and rice, wearing coats in the house to stay warm in winter...that's not Holland, that's hell. In Holland, they have windmills and little wooden shoes, not kids who tease your children at the playground. That said, if people get something out of the essay, more power to them. I just wasn't feeling it. Even now that we've crawled our way out of hell, I am still not feeling it. I'm more in the "What don't kill you makes you stronger" camp, I guess.

    I don't get mad at people who get something out of the parable, I just can't relate to it. Hope I haven't offended anyone.

  10. I would like to know how old her son is now and where he lives and what he does. And whether she still has moments where she grieves for her son. Thanks Ellen!

  11. I'd love to know if she's seen "Holland, Schmolland" (, and what she thinks of it.

    I read Welcome to Holland when I was a teenager, but I never quite got it. I get it now, though many of my days are Schmolland days.

  12. From what I know, Ms. Kingsley was instrumental in introducing "different" kids to the audiences of "Sesame Street." My son has Down syndrome and I can't tell you how much it means to me to watch Sesame Street and see how they show kids with all sorts of disabilities and treat them like it's no big deal. They are just one of the gang. It puts a lump in my throat every time.

    I guess my question would be, what was the reaction, initially, to showing kids that were "different." Were people scared? Unwilling? Was she met with resistance?

    And also, a hearty, hearty thank you. Ms. Kingsley and her son were/are inspirational pioneers in my eyes!

  13. I've never read the essay and I do "get" it. But like all analogies although it serves to express an idea or feeling, it isn't all encompassing. You see I have three kids without disabilities so have toured Italy extensively. Life's a world tour and although each child is like a different country it's the journey that's important.
    I grieve for the little boy I won't see but enjoy and celebrate the little boy I have. I grieve for the man I'll never know but look forward to growing old with Ashley.
    It's good that this piece of writing has helped people rethink their situation. Thank you for that Emily.

  14. I'm relieved I'm not the only one who doesn't always relate to "Holland". I totally get what the essay is about. But I know many of us can relate more to "Schmolland" or "Beirut" (have any of you read that one?). Especially those who are also single parents, who have multiple children with disabilities, or who have a child with an emotional or behavioral disorder. There are occasional "Holland" moments, but unfortunately they are more the exception than the rule. I, too, hope I have not offended anyone by writing this. Also, there is a beautiful video- "Holland, Beirut and Holland Schmolland" by Christianne Pollack-

  15. My neurologist gave me this poem when we were discussing my sons CP. She told me he was there just "trapped" in his own body. And of course,as any mother would do, I just cried. She went and got this, said some love it some hate it. I didn't read it until I got to the car and I just sat there and cried some more. This poem is beautiful and where some ppl dnt relate, I get that, it's an easier way to explain things than to be like "we go to drs umpteen times a month, therapy even more, etc." I think this poem is absolutely amazing! Just want to commend her and thank her for this!!!!!

  16. Excellent questions! I will pass them along to Emily, along with your thank-yous.

  17. Please tell me when this poem was written. I got it when my daughter was a baby 18 plus years ago.

  18. I cant relate to the one about autism since my daughter doesnt have autism. I read Holland and loved it. Anon it was written in 1987.


Thanks for sharing!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...