I can honestly say I was not prepared for parenting. Is anyone really? Thoughts of snuggly babies magically growing into well-adjusted, successful, smiling college graduates are the imprecise images of childrearing that lulled me in the days of pregnancy and postpartum bliss. And then the real story began to unfold. Sleep deprivation, feeding worries, preschool application processes (really?!), trips to the principal's office, backtalk, prepubescent conversations, narrow palates, dead pets, medical scares. These are just a few of the big ticket items you get for your parenting dollar. And we're just getting started.
In my 10 years as a parent, I feel I have been blindsided many times by parenting issues. Chalk it up to my lack of preparedness. A few years ago during one of those blindsides, someone passed along to me a passage about parenting a child with disabilities. Here is "Welcome to Holland" by Emily Perle Kingsley:
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 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 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.
c1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley. All rights reserved
Although the short essay was written about parenting a child with disabilities, I feel the greater sentiment of the essay can be applied to parenting in general and, to a broader extent, life. Life, because even with the best laid plans you may not ever arrive where you think you will. But if you can set aside your planned itinerary and take in the unexpected sites, your trip to Holland may be just as sweet.
After 10 years as a parent, I am getting better at the job. I am more prepared even for the unexpected. Largely, experience is to thank for that but also, I also have to thank my kids. They are resilient. They take things in stride. They don't have the dubious benefit of experience making them overanalyze situations to the point of worry and confusion. They look at things, good or bad, and say "okay, let's do this." They take the challenge and then move on to the next thing. They are tough. And I am growing tough again with them. I just have to go along with their spontaneous travel arrangements with a bit more grace.