And yet, I hate it.
I really do.
And people keep sending it to me. "Read this!", they say excitedly, as most "neurotypical people" do. "It's so beautiful! It's exactly like what you are living. You love being a parent- it's just not what you expected!"
And I smile, and nod, and avert my eyes. They are so well-intentioned. I certainly don't want to hurt them or to discourage them from trying to find meaningful ways to relate to me and to our family.
But deep down inside, I want to
Why, you ask?
Well, I can guarantee you this much: it's not because I hate Holland.
I also don't hate Italy. I've never been to either place, and I'm sure I'd love to visit them both.
And it's not because there isn't a certain element of accuracy to the idea that my reality doesn't match up with my expectations, thus sending me into a very unexpected place.
It's that, like it or not, every parent winds up in ITALY.
Yup, I said it. I'm about to blow this "parenting expectations" myth right out of the water.
You see, I would be willing to place a bet- a pretty substantial one at that- that, if you are a parent, your expectations of parenthood didn't quite match up to your reality.
Each and every one of us finds ourselves on this parenting journey a little lost, a little confused, a little disillusioned. We each come into this game thinking that we know what the rest of our lives are going to look like.
From pregnancy to newborn, childhood, graduation, marriage, house, dog, cat, kids, grandkids...we have this beautiful picture of the baby that we are bringing into the world and how it will fit into our lives.
Some of us may even have gone so far as to dream of what they would look like. What career they would have. What hobbies they would love.
We fill our minds with countless dreams and expectations and anticipations...and it is all very happy and peaceful and joyous...
And then, bam- enter reality.
It happens to us all in different ways.
Reality hit me hard when the doctors told me that my 19 week old fetus would probably not live to term and would try to take me down with it.
Reality hit my husband hard when he got home from the hospital, looked at his newborn son and said "So...what do we do now?"
Reality hit my best friend when she was first pregnant and told that she was carrying a boy, despite being desperate to have a little girl. Reality hit her again when, just as she had gotten used to the idea of having a son, a little girl was born instead.
Reality hits the family of a child with severe egg or nut allergies.
Reality hits the family of the child who is gay.
Reality hits the family of the child who doesn't want to take over the family business, and instead dreams of being a ballet dancer.
Reality hits the mother who expected her son to sing as beautifully as she does, only to learn that he is completely tone deaf.
Reality hits the uncle who thought that autism meant "like that kid in Touch"
Reality hits the father who's son just can't stand still, no matter how many times he is spanked.
Reality hits the grandparents whose child has just been in a car crash, and may not live to see the next day.
It happens at varying times and in varying degrees, but one thing is certain: Reality will hit you, like a ton of bricks.
Nothing about parenting will be anything like what you expected.
The reason for this is extremely simple: Your expectations are about you. They aren't about your child. So when this little person enters into your world, with their own personality, opinion, experiences, beliefs, skills, talents, weaknesses and strengths, it breaks your brain.
Who they are and who they are to become actually has very little to do with what you expect from them.
It has to do with who they are, and how you guide them towards self-discovery.
So, in a way, we all wind up in "Holland"- a foreign country with absolutely no idea how to navigate it....
And I could leave it there, except for one thing.
We don't wind up in Holland. Being in Holland would imply that we were not involved in the final destination. But we were. Special needs parents and non-special needs parents alike. We all chose our destination: Parenthood.
We CHOSE to go there.
You see, parenting is a choice. And it's one that is riddled with uncertainty, responsibility and- sometimes- heartache. But it is a journey we chose to embark upon.
None of knew what kind of kids we'd get. None of us can say for certain that our kids will do a, b, or c. Hell, none of us can know for certain that they won't drown in a pool.
Or lose their legs in a crash.
Or spend a year or more in the hospital, recovering from a brain injury.
None of us know anything about the final destination. We are all flying blind.
So, instead of Holland, I posit this: We all wound up in Italy.
The story goes like this:
What is special needs parenting? Well, it's pretty much like every other kind of parenting. Yes, we have very unique struggles, and yes there are definitely challenges, but there are struggles and challenges in everyone's lives and who am I to say that they are better or worse than yours?
It's kind of like planning to go to Italy. You read all the books, you pick out all the restaurants you want to eat at, you dream all the romantic strolls you'll take. But then you get there and your trip looks nothing like what you thought it would look like. Some of us get lost trying to find our hotels, and wind up discovering a beautiful bed and breakfast to stay at instead. Others lose our luggage, and spend the first two days at the airport, using the sink as a sponge bath. Others realize that being in a country where you do not speak the language is very scary and intimidating, and spend the whole time in their room, afraid to leave. Others still, get stormy weather the entire time- so instead of laying around on beaches and enjoying wine on patios, they discover the history around them in museums, and halls, and opera houses.
The truth is, this trip is nothing like what you planned it to be...even if everything goes exactly as planned! Because you can't predict how something will feel. You can't predict how something will smell. You can't predict what will captivate you, or terrify you. All you can do learn as much as you can, before you leave and when you land, and focus on being adaptable and flexible.
Whether or not you enjoy the trip is entirely up to you.So here we are, all in Italy. But we're all having very different vacations, because we're very different people, raising very different children.
Is life with my Autistic child quite the same as what I thought parenting would be? Nope- it sure isn't.
But neither is life with my neurotypical daughter. And neither is life with my husband. And neither is my life, in and of itself.
It's all one crazy, wild ride, every day defying my expectations. The only thing that has actually gone exactly as I expected was this: I wanted to be a parent. And now I am one.
Italy. Not Holland.
Because I don't know about you, but the slower, tulip-picking pace of Holland has very little to do with my hyper crazy days.
And I wouldn't have it any other way.
Ciao, friends. Enjoy your stay while you're here.