Monday, July 11, 2011

Postcards from Holland

When we first had Roman somebody shared the link to a poem called, "Welcome to Holland". It's a poem written by the parent of a child with special needs and since its creation has been passed around to new mothers everywhere...about 12 times a day. 

The first time I read the poem about Holland I thought, "I can do this, and I will be amazing at it." Within about 6 minutes I had gone back to my previous state of mind, the one where I thought, "Awe crap, I have no idea what I'm doing."

The point is, for 6 minutes or 3 hours or 9 days or forever, this poem changes the way you think. It changes how you see yourself, your child, your new life and your ability to overcome and adapt. For some it was easy, for others....neh.

For many, this poem served as a welcome packet. A way to say, "Welcome to your new life!"

I was a tender 3 years old when this thing was written, so in case there are a remaining 4 people who have not read it, I will share it here:

“Welcome to Holland" By Emily Perl Kingsley, 1987

"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."

Thanks Emily! Very true, very touching and it pretty much summarizes what life with a special needs child is like. But, I wanted an updated account of things. I didn't want just ONE person's perspective. Every mother has a different point of view, a different experience and a different opinion about what it's like living here. So, with the help of some of my friends, I brought you a spin on that poem. The following is our first installment of "Postcards from Holland".

Holland is beautiful! It feels like just yesterday we arrived here by mistake, but now I realize that it is anything but a mistake. It is not anything like we expected, because we didn’t expect it. Being in Holland has allowed us to appreciate the little things in life and really take it all in and not take anything for granted. What a blessing to be able to see what so many can’t or won’t ever be able to experience. 

Navigating Holland is a little tough, the maps are all wrong and our GPS doesn’t work. We think we are going in one direction and before we know it, there is a detour and we end up somewhere totally different. Sometimes it is the last place we would want to be, but before we know it the GPS straightens out and we are back on our way. I know Italy has detours also. 

I am working on mastering a new language, AFO’s, Chiari, syrinx, myelomenigocele, are no longer foreign terms and if you need help I can translate. The big kids, who I so worried would be affected by this, could care less. They are just as happy here as anywhere and Holland has so many lessons to teach that they will passively learn just by being here. They are truly blessed to also be on this journey in Holland.

If you are considering a trip here, or someone has told you Italy is sold out and going to Holland or not going anywhere at all are your only option, please join us in Holland. It is not what all the unintelligible travel magazines say it is…it is as great as Italy. There are tons of awesome people here, ready to show you what life is really all about. 

So if you are wondering when we will take our trip to Italy, we don’t plan on it. You can find us in Holland navigating windy streets with ill placed dead ends and loving it and what brought us here. -The Stanfield's

The thing about Holland is the weather can be quite dramatic and can change very quickly. A raging storm can blow up overnight that threatens to knock your home flat. But when the sun comes out, the flowers bloom and you see that smile on your little one's face - there is no more beautiful place on earth than Holland.-Matt Linden

To those who made it to Italy,

Congratulations on making it to your dream vacation...the place that you always wanted to go, the place that you dreamed about your whole life. I was once so devastated that I couldn't be there with you. I thought that I would never get over that disappointment. I so badly wanted to experience everything along side of you. I had all of the travel guides, I knew exactly where to go and what to Italy. When I found out that we were in fact not going to Italy, but to Holland, I wanted to give up. I wondered if I could ever be happy. I felt like Italy was where I belonged and that Italy was where I should be. That is, until I got to Holland. 

Holland is an amazing and wonderful place, a place that leaves me speechless everyday and a place that I never, ever, want to leave. Miracles happen in Holland. Little things happen in Holland that here, are amazing and wonderful. In Italy, these small little things get overlooked and people just pass them by. Sure, there are places in Holland where I didn't want to go, sites that I didn't want to see. But we did, as they are just part of our journey through this amazing place. In Holland, I have found myself. I figured out who I am and who I am meant to be. I became a better person. I wish everyone could see Holland the way that I do. See it for the miraculous and inspirational place that it is. I wish that everyone could see the beauty and magic that is Holland. Maybe one day, people will get it. Until then, I will just keep spreading the word that coming to Holland was the biggest blessing that I have ever received and I am so so grateful that this is where I ended up -Leigh Neal Gibbs

from the Keicher’s, from Italy, which was our destination long before the Spina Bifida Diagnosis:

When we were diagnosed with Spina Bifida at 18 weeks gestation, the stewardess on our
flight insisted we divert our plane to Holland. Instead, we strapped on our parachutes
and jumped out when we saw Italy. Best decision we every made! It’s lovely here –
everything we always imagined, only we appreciate it so much more. We are slowly
changing the world around us. I’m glad we ignored the stewardess when she said we
didn’t belong here. That stewardess, like much of the medical community and often
the world around us, tried to push a value system on us, that kids with special needs
don't belong in their society. I am glad I looked beyond her facade of pleasantries and
condescending kindness as she tried to tell me what my child’s destination would be.
Sometimes I’m aware that people don’t think we belong here. Some people in Italy are
uncomfortable with us. But by staying here we begin chiseling away those inaccuracies.
We let everyone know it’s okay to have leg braces; to have a shunt; to use a walker, or
crutches, or a wheelchair; to cath, or use a cecostomy button door for potty time; to need
more time reaching milestones, and to need help getting there.

By going to Italy as we originally planned, we’re showing Emily that she chooses what
she wants out of life, that she can go anywhere and do anything and be anyone she wants,
and we’ll always be here to help her along the journey she chooses.
Ciao Bella – Chris, Liz, and Emily Keicher

Greetings from Holland!
I must tell you, I was shocked to learn I would not be vacationing in Italy, but Holland is not so bad. I was rerouted here for a reason! 

Holland has shown me so much that I was missing in life – I never knew how much I was missing! They weren't kidding when they said I'd have to learn a whole new language and I'd be lucky enough to meet a whole new group of people! But, wow! - what great people they are! They're showing me the way around Holland, and I couldn't have asked for better tour guides.

Otherwise, the days are longer here than what I am used to, but it only gives me more time to see the beauty that is all around. I've become much more patient since being here. I think it's a beautiful place, now that I am used to it and I know a little more about it. I feel lucky that I was chosen to go to Holland instead of Italy. Sometimes the most unexpected surprises are the best surprises! 

With Love (from Holland!),

Holland is more beautiful than I could have ever imagined. We have been welcomed here with opened arms by the people who arrived before us, and I am trying my best to repay that welcoming spirit to the newest arrivals. Not everyday here is vacation, but there is no other place I would rather "not vacation" at, now that I know this place. Holland is full of hope and determination and makes me want me to be a better person. I am blessed to be able to be here.-Lisa Silvestain Maskus 

Dear friends and family,

We wanted to share some of our trip with you. We know many of you have prayed for us and we appreciate it! :)
We are learning soooo much! We've learned more patience in 4 years than we've learned in our entire lives! We've also learned to appreciate EVERYTHING. 

One of the best parts has definitely been the people we've met and networked with. Who knew you could have such great friends online! 
We've also met two families here in Holland from our own county. Cody has inspired them and given them hope for their own daughters. We are thankful for our friendships with them. We get together and learn from each other.
We've also enjoyed sharing the miracles that have happened with many. We've even spoken in churches!
Anyway, keep praying and expecting the unexpected. We sure are! 

Love and blessings,
Cody's family

Dear Mom:

As you may have already heard, after some turbulence, jolts and scares the plane landed safely! The bad news is, the hubby and I ended up stranded somewhere off the itinerary. I'm pretty sure the pilot was drunk or high or both... and we touched down in Holland! Holland! Can you believe it?? I've been wondering around for a while, trying to find our baggage, arrange accommodations, and generally get our trip back on track. I'm happy to report I've met with some success. Life isn't in order yet but we are settling in and at least its not as scary as up in that airplane when I was wondering what was going on. Things here in Holland are different. Most people here speak English but there is still some kind of communication barrier. They keep telling me things I have to look up on google to understand. But I had a Dutch pancake this morning for breakfast and even though they aren't like your pancakes (they have way more eggs), they were very good. The people are friendly. The views are nice. I know that soon you and the rest of the family will be flying out here to join us. I can always count on your support and it means so much. Life is often full of the unexpected, but not even an alcoholic airline pilot with a lemming's sense of direction can stop us from being together as a family- even if it is in Holland!

I love you. See you soon!

Greeting from Holland!

We've been here almost 2 years and settling in well.

When we first arrived it was overwhelming, and we weren't sure what to expect. But luckily we found some really good tour guides who knew where we should go and what we should do. Much more informative than some guide books! We would have been so lost in Holland without people who have walked the same path!

Holland is a much slower place and it allows us time to smell the tulips, take long slow strolls along the canal. Sometimes the slower pace can be frustrating, when all we want to do is rush around and get things done FAST. But we are learning to adjust to Holland time. But in the end we get to where we are going. 

The kids have settled in well, they LOVE Holland and think it's the greatest place on earth! For them it is home.

Sometimes I dream about Italy, sometimes I think about how easy Italy seems. But Holland is where we are putting our roots.

I hope you will come for a visit, and take some time to learn about Holland that you can take back to your life in Italy. And if you ever find yourself unexpectedly here to stay, I can show you all the sites!

Amanda, Nickolas and family!

Greetings from Switzerland!

I know, I know, you didn't even know we were in Switzerland now. Last time I wrote was when we were headed to Italy and got re-routed to Holland. Well, let me tell you, Holland is still wonderful, and we spend a lot of time there. Even though we never intended to go there, I'm so glad we did because we learn so much in Holland, and the people are WONDERFUL. 

But then we started thinking ... hey, we can always visit Italy! And we do, all the time! We don't let that one re-routed plane destroy our dreams of visiting Italy. We don't always feel like we fit in there, like we do in Holland, but we make the best of it anyway.

Since we wanted to have one foot in Holland and one foot in Italy, we decided to live smack dab in the middle--in Switzerland! They say the Swiss are neutral/peaceful, and it's just fitting that it's situated between the emotionally charged Holland and Italy. I don't want to be a full time citizen of either country, because I don't want to be defined by either. And they have great cheese here!

Love from the Alps,
Colleen, Nate's mom

Stupid shoes anyway.

So here we are. We're entering our 3rd year as Holland locals. Despite my efforts to yell it away, cry it away, hate it away, wish it away and shove food in my face it..away...we are here. We can never leave, because Holland is where we live now. It's the air we breathe, it's our laughter, our pain, our triumphs, struggles and it's now what officially makes I thought I would have to change everything about me. I thought I would have to wear less make-up, drink less, swear less, be a better person, stop laughing at fart jokes, go to church. I thought that the people who came to Holland weren't allowed to dye their hair, have tattoos, or like loud music themselves. I thought Holland was going to be boring and I thought it would turn me into a boring, hateful, bitter woman. 

...So who knew Holland was the party capital of the WORLD?! 

I've never been so active, I've never met so many people, I've never laughed as hard, I've never been so passionate about anything. Holland actually brings out the best in me. 

Somehow, ending up in this hell-hole that I did NOT want to be a part of, is where I feel I was always meant to be. 

Except the shoes really are atrocious. 


Hallo from Holland!
As I'm sure most of you know, we planed a trip to Italy a little over 2 and a half years ago...and it took an unexpected turn. We were so excited for Italy! We'd studied the language, mapped out all the things we wanted do, prepared for everything we would see. We felt a sort of giddy anticipation as we boarded the plane. We couldn't believe we were finally going to Italy! Many of our friends were already in Italy and having a fabulous time - and now it was our turn. We couldn't stop smiling. Too anxious to sleep we talked the whole flight about how lucky we were - how exciting it was - how amazing this trip was going to be. This was the best thing that had ever happened to us. Imagine our shock when the plane Holland. At first we were confused. This was certainly some sort of mistake. Maybe the stewardess was mixed up. Maybe our flight had detoured and we'd be in the air to Italy any minute. As it became clearer that this was no mistake...we had no choice but to get off the plane. As we walked I felt my hand tighten it's grip on David's. My heart and my mind was racing. What were we going to do? We didn't know where to go. We didn't know anyone here. All around us people were speaking a language we didn't understand. I felt my eyes swell with tears and a knot lodged in my throat. I couldn't believe this was happening...I suddenly felt like I was blind - searching for just one glimpse of the familiar - trying to regain the assurance I had once felt. We sat down on a bench and I rummaged through my luggage looking for something that could help us...but all I found were maps we couldn't use, money we couldn't spend, reservations for places we weren't going to see, itineraries of things we might never get to do. Cruel reminders of the wonderful plans we had made...before everything changed. I had never felt so lost. So disappointed. So worried. So angry. My emotions must have been written all over my face because when I looked up, a red-haired woman with a sympathetic smile was standing in front of me. "Welcome to Holland" she said. Thank you God - someone who speaks English! I took a deep breath. "We're a little lost." I explained. "We weren't planning on being here, and now that we are...we're not sure what to do." I told her how we knew NOTHING of Holland. How we had planned for a wonderful trip to Italy - full of excitement and beauty - and were now stranded in a place we'd barely heard of. With a knowing smile she took my hand. "It's going to be okay," she said, "you're not alone."

To this day I know God sent an angel to help us that night. With her help we found a hotel we felt comfortable in, learned a few key words to get us by, and got a little more familiar with our surroundings. Over the next few weeks we explored Holland. She introduced us to couples and families who were also somewhat "new" to Holland, as well as some who had been living here for years! Their welcoming hearts lightened our spirits. We saw ourselves in them. They became instant friends and their experiences helped us plan our own. Somewhere along the we stopped thinking about Italy - and really took in Holland. I'm not going to lie - it was different than Italy. We didn't feel as confident in Holland as we would have been in Italy. It wasn't easy to navigate the roads and the language was complicated. And while we were experiencing some amazing things - they were different things than our friends in Italy - and it was hard to stay connected sometimes. Others we knew were traveling to Italy and arriving there without a hitch. It was bittersweet. While we still wanted to visit Italy - we were becoming increasingly attached to Holland. The people we'd met. The incredible things we'd seen. The lessons this journey had taught us. The way it had changed us. While our arrival in Holland had been unplanned...and the change of all our plans had been upsetting - the time we spent there was priceless and perfect in a uniquely beautiful way. A way we could never had planned even if we'd tried. A way we will never forget.

So you may wonder...did we ever get to Italy? Si. ;) As it turns out Italy is not as far from Holland as you might think! We love visiting our friends in Italy and our knowledge of the language, landscapes and culture has served us well. In fact, we spend a lot of time in Italy. We have a lot of fun there doing a lot of the things we dreamed of doing. Our dreams weren't really gone after all. :) But there's something about Holland. They way it surprised us. The beauty we found there. The people we met there. These people who hold our hearts in their hands (and boy have they taken good care of them) :). So here we are. Flip over this postcard. See that tiny windmill surrounded vibrant tulips? Isn't it perfectly lovely? That symbolizes our love for Holland. When we arrived, we were that tiny windmill...sails blowing in the wind and yet unable to move...lonely...feeling out of place. Then we looked around and we realized weren't alone. We were surrounded by beautiful flowers; incredible hearts embracing us...adding color to our world...and welcoming Holland.

So dear friends and family! We hope to see you all again soon but we are here again in Holland! You may not have known we were leaving - but the truth is...our trips to Holland are always a little spontaneous. ;) So take care and wish us a safe journey to wherever life takes us next! Until we meet again - we send all our love,

from Holland,

Joanna, David and Jet

I know, you're wondering why we came to Holland.  Some days I wonder what I'm doing here, too, but's amazing.  Far from a remote island in the Carribbean, but here, in Holland, I am seeing some pretty fabulous things.  The sight seeing is unbelievable...things I was told I would never see.  I will admit, I was sad that we didn't make it to Italy, but Holland has taught me so much.  It has changed me.  And if you ever have to choose between staying home or going to Holland, step on board and take the journey.  I promise, you won't regret it. -Michelle Staubs Dugan

Greetings from Holland!

So of course initially I was crushed to learn that we had been sent here instead of Italy.
I mean we had all these plans, and things we wanted to see and do, and now here we
are…in a new place that I felt unprepared for. But what I’ve realized is that I don’t have
to change my plans at all. In fact my plans have only gotten bigger since we got here.
We will still see amazing things…Even more amazing, really because they are things we
weren’t expecting or planning to see. They are things some people will never have the
privilege of seeing in their lifetime…and I get to see it on a daily basis, because this is
home now.

Coming to a new place is scary sometimes, because everything is unknown…But not
having a plan is sometimes a good thing, because it leaves room for the possibility that
ANYTHING can happen. I remember when we first got here. I felt so isolated, because
all of my friends were still en route for Italy. But once I started to look around, I found
a whole community of people just like me, and I realized I was not alone. These people
have become my friends…my family. Had I not found myself here in Holland, we would
never have crossed paths. There are so many reasons I am thankful for Holland. My
time here has changed my perspective completely, and showed me that my life doesn’t
need a script or plan to be perfect. Sometimes an unexpected shift helps everything
fall perfectly into place. Now that I’m here, I realize this is where I was always meant
to be…Italy will always be there, and I can go anytime I want, but I am happy to call
Holland home.

With love,

I was told I wasn't going to Italy as I was flying. I didn't enjoy my flight after that, I dreaded my landing. I was scared, and I was angry that I didn't get to go where I wanted to go. I was envious of those that were happily getting off the plane and jet-setting through Italy having the time of their lives. Once I landed though, I looked around and realized I was really in a beautiful place. It was not glamorous by any means, but I quickly fell in love with where I was. I learned the language and found all the secret roads to get around easier. I met amazing local people who guided me on my way and I met amazing people getting off the plane when I did. Our families have toured Holland together, and done many of the same things. When I get lost, I look for these dear friends to guide me back to where I belong. I found a strength in myself and my family in Holland that Italy never would have given us. I found beauty, grace, and knowledge. I found an inner peace I didn't know existed and when I was afraid of the unknown in Holland, I found a stronger relationship with God. Italy still sounds like fun, but I have found resilience in Holland, and that is something I will always be grateful for. I have moments of longing for Italy, but I love that I am vacationing in a very special place that not every person is chosen for. I am grateful for Holland and I wouldn't change the plane's path. Don't be afraid of Holland....embrace it!

With Love from Holland,
The Jensen Family


  1. Oh my. Such wisdom and insight! And that last one got me.

  2. Amazing souls in wooden shoes! I love them all!

  3. Wonderful idea. Wonderful people. Wonderful to be a party of. :) (and I love your new blog layout!!)

  4. Tears!! Love this! Thank you for this sweet post! It was beautiful!

  5. Wendy ;). Resident of HOLLAND.July 11, 2011 at 9:01 PM

    Loooooove it!!!!

  6. I love how this turned out. It's so great to see all the powerful voices behind these beautiful thoughts - there are some lucky kiddos out there with parents like you guys!

  7. Absolutely wonderful, heartfelt, and amazing. Very strong feelings through these postcards. Wouldn't want to be on this journey with any other families!

  8. LOVE LOVE LOVE!!! I LOVE my wonderful trip to Holland... the good the bad the ugly... it's perfect in every way!

  9. I LOVE it! Thank you for posting/compiling it. I, too, am so thankful to be in Holland.

  10. I love it!! I hope you don't mind as I added a link on our blog. As you will notice from our blog title below we are very much in Holland, but are prospering and even multiplying there (well kindof)