Welcome to Holland, a pretty famous essay about having a child with a disability, likens the experience to ending up in Holland when one has booked a trip to Italy. While it contains some important truths, it doesn’t really capture the disability story I’ve been living, one of parenting a child who develops serious mental health issues during adolescence . So, I wrote my own version. I call it, “Welcome to Siberia.”
Having a baby is like moving to a fabulous foreign country–say, Italy. Sure, it takes a while to get used to living in a whole new land, but…it’s Italy. There’s sun, and good food, and beautiful things to see, and everyone loves bambinos.
Years pass, and life goes along as life does, largely without notice, but one day you and the rest of your family get on a train that doesn’t stop where you expected to get off.
You tell yourself that it’s no big deal and that you’ll just exit at the next stop, but the train moves past it, too. You’re not sure of what to do. You’re not even sure if you should worry. I mean, you’re all safe, and you’re in Italy of all places.
But stop after stop ticks by, and the train is picking up speed, and you start to feel a bit panicked. You look around for a conductor, some kind of helper, but no one seems to know what’s going on.
The train keeps going, and because you’re so stunned by the unexpected weirdness of what’s happening, it takes a while for you to register that the train is on its way out of the country, out of your country, your beloved Italy. It’s just so unbelievable. I mean, how did you all get trapped on a train to…where is this train going anyway?
You travel through terrain you think you’ve maybe read about somewhere, but it’s nowhere you’ve ever wanted to visit, and at some point (you don’t know where, because you still don’t know where the hell you are), you let go of your denial-fueled belief that someone is going to fix this obvious mistake and help you get back to Italy right away. You become angry, and sad, and in quiet moments when the kids aren’t looking you admit to yourself that you are very, very scared.
Just when you finally accept that you may never return to Italy, the train stops. The doors open, and you step into…Siberia.
The first thing you notice is that it is really fucking cold in Siberia.
The kids start whining and you know that none of you are equipped for this place. You don’t even have warm coats. Your co-parent (because parenting has become the defining element of your relationship to each other) shoots you a look that says, “How in the hell are we all going to survive this?”
No one welcomes you to Siberia, but after awhile you see that there are some other people here. You’re desperate for information (Why are we here? How do we make it in this place? How do we get back home?), but you’re also afraid to approach them, afraid to get too close, afraid it might mean that this exile is not just some horrible dream.
You’re lonely and you want to talk to someone, but you’re also not sure you really want to hear what any of these people might have to tell you. You know it’s not rational, but on some level you think that if you accept them and this place, it will seal your fate, make it impossible for you to leave. And you really, really want to leave. You make small talk, but your heart’s not in it.
Your heart is back in Italy.
You send letters and emails home, trying to explain to friends and family still there what happened to you. Some you don’t hear back from, and some send messages full of advice that only works in Italy.
Clearly, they have never been to Siberia.
Some want to understand and help, they truly do, but you can’t find the words to convey how sharply a Siberian wind can cut, how empty the sky can feel. Some tell you it must not be so different from being in Holland (even though they’ve never been there, either), and you kinda want to snap at them,
“Do you know what I’d give to see a goddamn tulip right now?”
But you know they mean well and they’re trying to help and it’s not their fault you’ve been sent to this godforsaken place where you’re pretty sure tulips will never, ever grow.
It’s hard to keep trying to explain, and you’re more than a little afraid that everyone back home is wondering what you did to make this happen to your family (because that’s what you are wondering, too), so you begin sending messages with general pleasantries instead:
“The sky was blue today.”
“It was nice to have some warm soup.”
“The wind has died down a bit.”
Your Italian friends miss you, but they seem relieved when it seems that you’ve begun to adjust. You still love them and they love you, but you know the relationships probably can’t be quite the same, what with them there and you here, in Siberia.
Eventually, just as when you moved to Italy, life goes back to going along as life does, and you become accustomed to your “new normal.” Still, you really miss Italy sometimes. You wish you’d appreciated more of it while you were there. You wonder if it would have been easier to have lived all those earlier years in Holland and never known Italy. You wonder if Holland is where you’re going to end up, and you’re just on this arduous detour through Siberia because that’s the path for parents who got to live in Italy first.
But mostly–because you now understand that you will never return to Italy and that anyone can be exiled at any time, with no warning–you allow yourself to let these questions go, and you surrender to Siberia.
Gradually, your expectations change. Your dreams change. You become grateful for different sorts of things–like, that you still have dreams and expectations. That although the landscape’s beauty is of the desolate kind, there is beauty, and you do see it.
It’s only then you realize that even in Siberia, there are seasons. There are days, weeks, even months of relative warmth, and damn if there aren’t even a few tulips after all–flowers more lovely to you than any that ever bloomed in Italy, not in small part because they are rare, and because they’ve blossomed where you once thought nothing delicate could grow.
Ball Crawl Photo Credit: Rita Ott Ramstad
Moving Train Photo Credit: Cellanova via Compfight cc
Winter Tundra Photo Credit: Photo Credit: dration via Compfight cc
Boots Photo Credit: sibwarden via Compfight cc
Mail Photo Credit: Ian Broyles via Compfight cc
Siberian Beauty Photo Credit: sidnegail via Compfight cc
Siberian Tulip Photo Credit: http://www.plantarium.ru/page/image/id/56178.html