Most special needs parents are familiar with the essay "Welcome to Holland", which compares having a disabled child with planning a trip to Italy but landing in Holland instead. The premise is that Holland is a perfectly fine place too; not where you were planning on going, but you get used to it and even end up seeing the beauty in it.
Then there is the rebuttal essay called "Holland Schmolland" which takes exception to that comparison. Holland is much too nice of a place to be compared with the experience of raising a child with autism. The author makes up her own alternate country, in which the traits and symptoms of autism are considered to be the defining customs of this strange land.
I happened to have lived in the Netherlands for five years in the 90's, and always wondered how it was that Holland got thrown in to this great debate. Why Holland? It was just sitting there, all flat and neutral, minding its own. How does Holland feel about its role as the chief metaphor in these essays?
Well, even though it's been a while since I lived there, Holland and I have kept in touch and I was able to get him to agree to an interview. I know, quite a "get", as we say in the biz. He was able to fit me in between deporting stoned frat boys and making fun of Belgium.
Lynn: Do you mind not smoking?
Lynn: So how have you been, Holland? What's the weather like today?
Holland: Ha. Good one. Fifty degrees and raining like it is every day.
Lynn: Can you believe it's been almost 12 years since I left?
Holland: Yeah, we're still trying to get over it. We keep a light on over an empty cubby in the Red Light District just for you...sort of like your Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Lynn: Nice. Well, today I wanted to talk to you about these essays that compare having a special needs child with living in Holland. What do you think of them?
Holland: I guess it's not surprising that I disagree with the premise of "Welcome to Holland", which is that Holland is somehow not as desirable a destination as Italy. Please. You want to go Italy, go to Italy. Good luck making it out of the airport with your daughter's hymen intact.
Lynn: Easy! My daughter is 7 years old.
Holland: Oh, sorry. I thought that she was over the Italian age of consent. You know, 12.
Lynn: What do you think about the Holland being used as a metaphor for raising a child with autism?
Holland: "Holland Schmolland" talks about raising a child with autism being like a more violence-ravaged country where it's customary for mothers to have their "boodoos" squeezed. Which ironically brings us back to....ITALY. Are you with me, people?
Actually, it would be even better if you guys would leave us all alone and stick with your own continent. If you're looking for someone that's odd, battle-scarred, and has a bum GI tract, look no further than south of your border.
Lynn: Is there any comparison that you think is valid between you and raising a child with autism?
Holland: Well, like I said, the weather here can be really lousy. Most days are gray, dreary, and depressing. But every so often, a day comes along that is just breathtakingly beautiful. The clouds part, the sun comes streaming through, and you appreciate it all the more for all the rainy days that you've endured. The terraces come alive, everyone pulls a chair out from inside, peels off their layers, and we all raise our face to the sun and soak in every last second of it before the clouds come along to blot it out again.
Lynn: That's really beautiful.
Holland: Yeah, I thought you'd like that. I got plenty more cheese where that came from.
Lynn: You just couldn't leave it alone, could you?
This essay first appeared in Big Daddy's Tales From the Lighter Side of Raising a Kid With Autism and is posted here with the author's permission.