Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Welcome to Holland: My Journey

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When I decided to become a teacher, I pictured myself in a Kindergarten classroom surrounded by precious wee ones dressed in saddle shoes and crisp blouses with Peter Pan collars and pants with pleats.  Idyllic, I know, but it was my dream.  I was going to be the Miss Honey to the universe’s Matilda.  They’d never have runny noses, never not understand a newly introduced concept, and never, ever, ever, EVER throw up on the reading rug or poop in a urinal.  Check it, folks…all of those things happened during my {brief} time in Kindergarten.  Even the poop in the urinal thing. 

Ew.

I think most people entering into the world of education have the same warped dream that I had.  Don’t get me wrong…there are many, many precious moments that I reflect on, but watching a janitor spread cat litter on a pile of puke on the reading rug was not a precious moment.

So.  Not.

My dream was interrupted in early 2010 when the Lord let me know that I would not be teaching Kindergarten.  He also let me know that I wouldn’t be teaching general education.  The good news?  At the time, I was pretty flexible.  The bad news?  I didn’t have a degree in anything except general education.  I also had little to no experience in working with children with special needs.  It was terrifying and a little bit infuriating, but even at 21 years of age I knew that living in the Lord’s will and being scared was better than living out of His will and feeling confident.  So, I took the plunge, all the while looking over my shoulder at my former dreams. 

Goodbye saddle shoes.

Goodbye Peter Pan collars.

Goodbye Miss Honey and Matilda. 

Letting go of those dreams was incredibly difficult.  I took a series of certification tests and landed a job at Franklin County High School working as a Case Manager for students with mild-to-moderate intellectual disabilities.  While I was incredibly grateful for my job when most of my graduating class had to do without, I was secretly dragging my heels.  The frustrations I felt while working in Kindergarten and first grade were only amplified in my new classroom.  I wasn’t where I wanted to be, but I was where I was supposed to be. 

A few months ago, I stumbled upon a beautiful short essay called Welcome to Holland.  It was written just a year before I was born by a woman named Emily Perl Kingsley and it provides an incredibly poignant metaphor for raising a child with special needs.  It reads as follows:

“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 guidebooks and make your wonderful plans.  The Coliseum.  The Michelangelo.  David.  The gondolas in Venice.  You may learn some handy phrases in Italian.  It’s all very exciting.

After 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 guide books.  And you must learn a whole new language.  And you will meet a whole new group of people that 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…and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills…and Holland has tulips.  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 will never, ever, ever, ever go away…because the loss of that dream is a very, 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."


Ahem.  Excuse me while I face my convictions and cry.  The beauty of Kingsley’s words ring true for all of us, especially to parents of children with special needs.  I am not a parent and cannot even begin to pretend to understand what it’s like to raise a child with special needs.  I get a teeny, tiny taste of that experience each day at work, but it’s a drop in the bucket, folks.  A miniscule drop in a gallon sized bucket. 

I had an Italy.  It was Kindergarten.  It was saddle shoes, collared shirts, pants with pleats, and Matilda.  I even got a small taste of Italy.  And then my plane landed in Holland.  I didn’t know why and I wasn’t quite sure how, but it did.  And Kingsley is totally right…Holland is beautiful.  Holland has tulips.  Holland has wooden shoes.  Holland has windmills.  Holland has art.  Holland ain’t too shabby, sister. 

I have friends in Italy.  I see pictures of Italy on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.  Sometimes I even have conversations about Italy.  There are days when I’d love to ride in a gondola or eat Caprese salad.  But then I take a glance around Holland, my Holland and smile. 

It’s my home now.  Even though there are days when I long for Italy, Holland beckons me back.  I’d even venture to say that I couldn’t imagine my life without Holland because Holland is where I’m meant to be. 

For those of you just joining us, we’re celebrating Down Syndrome Awareness Month by advocating for our loved ones and Spreading theWord to End the Word.  If you’re a parent of a child with special needs and you’re new to Holland, feel free to email me at courtneycallicutt@gmail.com.  I’d love to introduce to a wonderful group of friends J
 If you haven't entered our Fall Giveaway, do so now!  The giveaway closes at Friday at 5:00 p.m.  All you have to do is leave a comment describing your favorite part of this autumnal season.  You dont need an account...so what are you waiting for?!?  

2 comments:

  1. Well you have done it again Anne.

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  2. Very touching piece :) I began my career as a Special Education parapro at Franklin County hospital, when I had hoped to get a parapro job at the elementary level - boy did I not know back in 2001, why the Lord led me that direction instead of the other. It wasn't until I graduated EC & took the first thing that came to me - Prek teaching position at Eastonallee Elem. & then was asked to co-teach Special Education at LES that it all was becoming very clear - that was in 2008(7 years into it all)!!! It never ceases to AMAZE me the path the Lord leads us down - not always the path we want, but the path that he knows we need. All that has now led me to teaching Kindergarten - where I am very fortunate and consider it a blessing to also have the opportunity to teach the Kindergarten special needs students! It excites my heart to read your message, because we need reminding that we might have our eyes set on something that might not necessarily be what He has planned for us!

    ~ Kimberlee ~

    Two Fulbright Hugs

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