April 12, 2012

A Pond in Somewhere Holland

Learning to work with special needs children and their parents, one of the first things you come across is the short story, Welcome to Holland.    While I have the utmost respect for Emily Perl Kingsley and the many other parents of children with disabilities, I find myself appropriating her analogy to the task of parenting in general and single parenting two children in particular.  I found myself abroad just this past weekend.

Liam's long awaited soccer season has arrived.  I'm excited that, being newly three, he can now join organized sports in the community.  Last year he ran around the soccer field while the 4 and 5 year olds kicked goals and learned the rules.  In fact, while I couldn't get Henry on the field, I couldn't get Liam off it.  In the weeks leading up to his first day on his own team, I spoke with Liam at length.  He seemed excited. 

When we arrived I took a few pregame photos (which his brother promptly, but accidentally, deleted) and he ran onto the field.  Liam participated happily for seven minutes.  Then, out of nowhere, he came to me in tears.  He wasn't hurt and he wasn't scared but he wasn't playing.  For the rest of the hour, he clung to me on the sidelines.  Both boys did as a matter of fact.  I couldn't sit or stand for one or both of them knocking me over because they couldn't get far enough away from the action on the field. They begged but  I refused to leave and take them to the playground (visible in the distance).  The other parents stared at us while cheering for their children who were running, kicking and scoring goals with Coach Carlos.

I was upset.  Really upset.  Another organized sport session down the drain.  These things cost money.  These things are important if my boys ever want to fit in with suburban, two parent society kids.  These things are expected of them.  How will they ever learn to be boys without a male parent if they are not at least willing to meet me, their only parent, halfway?  I was so angry I couldn't see straight which is probably why we ended up at the playground instead of the parking lot.

As I sat on a bench and watched my boys slide, climb and swing in the sunshine my anger dissipated.  It was a beautiful day.  It was Saturday.  What was really wrong?  Of course my 3 and 5 year olds wanted to be at the playground.  I sat a while longer and realized how harsh I must have sounded at the field.  Guilt washed over me.  Here I was, someone who has worked with children for decades, earned two degrees and waited 20 years to become a mother and yet I hurt these little boys with my words and actions that morning.  Why is playing soccer on a team more important than rolling down a hill or exploring a pond?

Ah, finally we get to the pond.  Next to the playground there was a large, natural pond filled with frogs, fish, ducks and blackbirds.  The boys were fascinated.  I took out my camera and started snapping away because I wanted to capture their pure joy.  I vowed that I would say "yes" to anything they wanted to do for the rest of the day.  Their day.  And I prayed that I had learned my lesson and would remember to enjoy my visit to Holland.


  1. Thank you for sharing this day, Lara. I can see myself in your reaction at the game, and I love that you were able to connect with your boys on a different level despite your frustration.

    I've never read the story Welcome to Holland before - it really does apply to single mom parenting too, doesn't it? I hope I can remember it in the future when I'm feeling angry or frustrated or down.

  2. My son took soccer one summer and when it all ended I asked him if he wanted to do it again. His response? "Well I really like the water breaks. But I'm no so sure about the kicking thing..."

  3. Thank you so much for sharing the Welcome to Holland story. It is such a great analogy to use in so many cases.

    More importantly, thanks for sharing about your day. I tend to get so caught up in "the plan" that I become so frustrated when Elena has her own agenda. Thank you for reminding me to just sit back & enjoy what's happening, to enjoy Holland.

  4. Beautiful photos. And as far as the soccer game... been there. The thing to remember is that every parent there is watching THEIR child so they don't even notice that your child isn't interested or is being difficult or has his hands down the front of his pants. :) When Sam did soccer we spent many of the weeks sitting on the sidelines together watching other kids play, but we kept going every week. I have a friend that did that with her son at baseball, and now he's one of the best baseball players in the county and he loves baseball. Don't be so hard on yourself. You are teaching your boys about commitment and persistence every time you show up, and your boys are the picture of health and happiness. LOVE the pictures. Beautiful.

  5. I have never read Welcome to Holland before, but I immediately sought it out online. Thank you for sharing the reference. I love the way you connected it to your own situation. I just forwarded on the link to the poem to my school's principal and SERTs (special ed resource teachers) in case they haven't read it before.

  6. Thanks for sharing. I'm glad you ended up enjoying Holland :-).

  7. I sure love your writing and your blog!

    I was given "Welcome to Holland" to read by the early intervention specialist right after Carys was diagnosed with hearing loss. At the time I was not impressed with the analogy. I thought "Holland and Italy are two great places, being born with a disability is NOT, damnit!" The analogy is growing on me,... well, kindof! I certainly agree with your sentiment though, that preconceived notions or expectations can cause unnecessary angst, and if we can live in the moment, life usually seems pretty bright!

  8. Ahhhh, my friend. Holland. I've been there several times. This reminds me of my post about decorating our Christmas tree. We are so very hard on ourselves as parents with what you just 'know' what will make your kids happy or what 'should' make them happy and then WHAM they don't comply.

    Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful day. I had read that Holland piece before and I loved it then and I love it now. So very true and not just when it comes to raising children...it's the truth of our lives in general. I am not the most flexible of people (shocking! :) ) and this piece has given me some most needed grace.

  9. Just found your blog through the Circle of Moms Top 25 Single Moms (I'm on there too, but I voted for you as well!) and I love this post. I'm also a choice mum of 2 boys in the UK, so its great to read about someone in a similar position. Just Googled the Welcome to Holland essay and I really love it - it really does feel appropriate for being a single mum, so thank you for introducing it. Glad you had a lovely day in the end, such beautiful pictures!