Welcome to Holland — 5 Minutes for Special Needs

Welcome to Holland

by Cheryl


As parents of special needs children, we are often handed this poem, Welcome to Holland, originally written by Emily Perl Kingsley (If you need a refresher, click the link!) Most people, I think, give it to you with good intentions. However it is a little tiring getting the same poem over and over. I’m sure you know the one, right?

I felt like I was never able to explain WHY I just didn’t like this poem. I mean, it’s great and I’m sure the writer didn’t expect for it to get so widely known. Or maybe she did. Kudos to her if she did! (I secretly hope something I write will have some sort of presence too!)

Last October, when I attended Blissdom Canada and finally realized I am a special needs blogger (I know, sometimes I deserve a “V-8” smack upside the head). And while I was there,  someone sent me a NEW poem. “Amsterdam International” this one seemed to resonate with me better.

Being thrust into the special needs realm of parenting, I felt pretty alone. I am thankful for my own blog and here as well to talk about things important to myself, my family and you all as readers. Since we are a small family of 4, living 4 provinces away from “home”, it’s been a tough journey. One that doesn’t seem to have that fairy tale ending….yet.

As part of an escape for me, I read. A LOT. Besides my previous life in music, this hobby is very expensive to upkeep too. I generally look for “escape” models. Cheesy chick lit or even mysteries. Nothing usually dealing with special needs. I came across a facebook status from one of my friends. She was recommending a book I hadn’t heard of-  “Schuyler’s Monster” eagerly, I googled to see what it was about. From the official book page-

When his daughter Schuyler was eighteen months old, a simple question by her pediatrician set in motion a slow transformation for Robert Rummel-Hudson, from a sarcastic, befuddled dad to the very last thing any new father or mother ever expects or desires to become: a special needs parent.  Armed with nothing more than his love for his tenacious little girl and his determination to defeat her rare and invisible disorder, he fought his own depression, his past family dysfunction and the nagging suspicion that he was not the right person for the job.  In doing so, he discovered a sense of purpose and responsibility, and became the father and advocate that Schuyler needed to help fight her monster.

Schuyler’s Monster is more than the memoir of a parent dealing with a child’s disability.  It is the story of the relationship between a unique and ethereal little girl floating through the world without words, and her earthbound father.  It is the story of a family struggling to find the answers to a child’s dilemma, but it is also a chronicle of their unique relationships, formed without traditional language against the expectations of a doubting world.

Ultimately, it is the tale of a little girl who silently teaches a man filled with self-doubt how to be the father she needs.

Immediately, I wrote my friend asking her if it was something she thought I could handle. She replied “he writes a lot like you. A lot of humor” I decided to give it a try. I normally don’t recommend books before I’m finished them (I’m 87% completed, thank you Kindle app!) But honestly this book resonated with me SO much that I actually reached out to Rob, thanking him for the book. (I told Rhea that I was nervous to write him. She didn’t understand. I hold writers in higher esteem then what I consider myself. I probably should change that mindset too).

The part that resonated with me immediately was Rob’s explanation of Welcome to Holland. Finally. For years I couldn’t put into words what bugged me, but he did.

“…The original author was writing about having a child with Down syndrome, and I doubt she intended it to get dragged out by well-meaning chirpy optimists trying to get their parent friends with broken children to turn that frown upside down. I also doubt she intended for it to come across as a subtle request to cheer the hell up already, although I am not the first special needs parent to note that this essay seems to be given out to us almost exclusively by people who are not in that same slow boat to Amsterdam with us…”

Finally. Someone who “got” it. Let me know, does “Welcome to Holland” work for you?

Email Author    |    Website About Cheryl

Cheryl is a 30 year old mother of 2 living in Toronto, Ontario. Lauren is a rambunctious 4 year old and Jillian is a very active 2.5 year old. Jillian was diagnosed with Spastic Diplegia Cerebral Palsy at 13 months old.

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1 Amanda August 1, 2011 at 1:11 pm

You know, when a well meaning friend showed me the “Welcome to Holland” poem, I wanted to shove it up their butt. It annoyed me. It made me feel like the other feelings I had weren’t valid. It made a situation that’s not always sunshine, unicorns, and rainbows seem to be painted that I should feel that it is that way.

2 The Best Policy August 3, 2011 at 2:09 pm

Concur, except perhaps I wanted to look around for a little wooden shoe and use THAT instead of the Holland thesis, to put the point across.

People who hand out that poem truly mean well. But it’s a crappy poem and the point of it is simply not taken by anyone with an iota of logical thinking. If you want Italy, you want Italy–that’s why you bought the ticket to ITALY. If you’re looking forward to pasta and wine, legal prostitution and weed for sale in coffee shops are NOT “equivalent.” You aren’t getting what you wanted and expected, and that’s the end of that.

You’re quite right to feel that you are left “unvalidated” by that effort, well meaning though it may be. The only thing that lessens the sting is that the obtuse person handing it to you is trying (and failing) to “help.”

They can keep their “Holland,” and maybe offer to babysit if they really want to help out!

3 Cheryl August 3, 2011 at 11:40 pm

Hmmm… Legal prostitution and weed?? Why am i still living in Canada?!

4 Cheryl August 3, 2011 at 11:39 pm

I do so love the illusion that it is always sunshine, unicorns and rainbows.

5 Rhea August 1, 2011 at 2:17 pm

Well, coming from someone without a special needs kid…I have always loved this poem. I am one of those “well meaning friends” who never understood. There is NO way I can understand how you feel. No matter if we share the same brain or not. 🙂 I love learning from you and seeing things through your perspective.

6 Laurie August 3, 2011 at 12:37 pm

Love your gutsy honesty here. And that you love your friend/family member who’s dealing with this issue enough to be here in the mess, reading about issues too. Awesome.

7 Cheryl August 3, 2011 at 11:40 pm

she totally rocks. 🙂

8 Cheryl August 3, 2011 at 11:40 pm

It’s ok, beastie, I still love you the mostest.

9 Jo August 1, 2011 at 3:33 pm

Thank you for sharing. Amsterdam International is what I needed to read as it tells it like it is. The early days are hard, scary and lonely. There is no manual, no book that explains how to look after this child who happens to have some special considerations. It took much trial and error and considerably criticism. I love my boys and am so incredibly proud of how far they have come but that has not just happened. It has taken much therapy for the youngest, advocacy for both and searching for the right people to help us.

10 Cheryl August 4, 2011 at 12:08 am

I personally feel like I’m throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. I honestly believe too that having special needs children will have a grief period as well. I guess I feel like “Welcome to Holland” is a kick in the face for being upset.

11 The Best Policy August 4, 2011 at 7:08 pm

You make a SUPERB point. See, despite all of the “I love my kid just the way he/she is” that one repeats to the well-meaning people who give you the “sad face” ad infinitum, if we were to be honest, if there existed a magic wand that could make our child “typical” or “normal” or whatever word one wants to use, who among us wouldn’t wrestle one of our fellow travellers to the ground and punch them senseless if there was only one wand that could be used only once? I know I would. I’d fight like Rocky Balboa to grab that wand!! So yes, there IS a ‘grief period’ and it is a period that never totally goes away. Who among us doesn’t think that if (insert name) didn’t have (insert condition), what would he/she be like/be doing at this stage in life?

It’s abnormal to be excessively cheery. It’s NORMAL (dare I say) to be upset, or to feel as though you and your kid were dealt a crappy hand. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a bit of “plucky optimism” on many, even most, days, but that Holland treatise denies people the “off day” where a pity party is in order and is a lot like trying to blow sunshine up someone’s posterior!

12 Val August 1, 2011 at 8:37 pm

I’m one of those “special needs moms” who loved Welcome to Holland from day one. I guess it was my light at the end of the tunnel. Or my door out of Amsterdam International! Even on bad days now I read it to remind myself that this isn’t a “bad” place. It’s just different. Not what I was expecting. But Amsterdam International…freakin hilarious. That’s going on my Facebook 🙂

13 Cheryl August 4, 2011 at 12:09 am

Thanks! Maybe because I’m given this particular poem so often that I’m desensitized from it.

14 Lauren August 1, 2011 at 9:24 pm

I guess, it depends on the circumstances. I really think a work of fiction or prose is very subjective in a sense that it is really written personally on a specific instance or thought. If it resonates or not, it depends on how you take or not take it.

15 Cheryl August 4, 2011 at 12:12 am

I totally agree with you! Thanks for commenting!

16 TammieMP August 1, 2011 at 9:46 pm

In our area we have parent mentor program, we can talk to people that have already been there done that…gives us (at the time) newbies a chance to ask questions and learn from others that have more field experience than someone with a one year old just starting out. The first person I was set up with e-mailed me the poem, because I didn’t know what she was talking about…and I never heard from her again. UGH! That wasn’t helpful nor did it make me feel better. The poem never sat right with me either. Thanks for confirming what I was feeling also 🙂

17 Cheryl August 4, 2011 at 12:16 am

I really like being told I’m right! 😉 All kidding aside, thanks for your comment!

18 Charity August 2, 2011 at 11:27 am

I myself love this poem, as a mother of a special needs 2 yr old it helps me accept the beatiful innocense that my child is and has helped me adjust to this new life. I can see how some can find it frustrating because it does not truly explain the pain that our reality carries. I guess it is left to interpretation. I display it on my daughters website on the home page because I feel it helps many people understand some in a tough situation where it’s hard for them to see inside our glass box so to speak.

19 Kathleen August 2, 2011 at 11:53 pm

I would never presume to tell a special needs parent to cheer up and turn their frown upside down, although I think you do a great job of doing it and I have no doubt that your upbeat spirit is what has helped Jillian flourish. Sometimes well meaning people make mistakes when they are trying to “help”

20 The Slacker Mom August 3, 2011 at 12:06 am

The first time I was introduced to it, i was about 8 hours in to our 2 year old twin sons autism diagnosis and a twitter friend just tweeted “Welcome to Holland” and nothing else. I figured there was something to it and looked it up. I cried. I kind of held on to that one for a bit. Now, 8 months later, I feel like Welcome to Beruit and Holland Schmolland are a better fit.

21 Laurie August 3, 2011 at 12:39 pm

I resonated with your realization that you “are a special needs blogger” at the conference. I have been writing a book for special needs parents and as a life coach, have been struggling with how to be where I’m headed with my career and who I am in my house :). But I’m slowly responding to the v-8 smack to the head…

22 Maggie August 3, 2011 at 12:49 pm

Didn’t do it for me either. Here (http://walkonthehappyside.wordpress.com/2011/08/03/hollands-a-stop-over-to-here/) is my experience on my flight into special needs parenting (or any parenting for that matter)!

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