OPINION: Welcome to Holland (2.0)

Photo by Aaron Burden

Feb. 9, 2021 Submitted by Hingham Resident Diane DeNapoli

Like many I moved to Hingham based on what I believed to be the excellence of the Hingham Public Schools.  Before moving from Boston to Hingham I did a great deal of research on comparable school districts like Medfield, Duxbury, Weston, and Needham.  I had a spreadsheet with information like teacher/ student ratio, per pupil spending and tax rate, MCAS Scores, SAT Scores, AP Scores, and graduation rates.  I drove by schools and looked at the buildings to see if my “mom eyes” would see anything that did not look or feel safe for my children.

What I could not predict, or put into an Excel spreadsheet, is that I would have two children with multiple disabilities.  I had not counted or planned for this and I was thrust into a world that in many ways overwhelmed me as a Mother.  Overnight my expectations of having happy kids who would excel in a great school system seemed like a much harder mountain to summit.

Like many parents with children with disabilities you go through on ongoing process of experiencing different emotions around your child’s plight.  First, came the sadness, pain, and fear of the diagnosis.  Then you get educated on your child’s disability and start advocating for what you know is best for your child.  Drained and disappointed by plans that do not seem to hold up to your expectations and a system that seems to think your child can wait for help you understandably become weary, angry, and skeptical.

Most parents of neurotypical children could not understand how challenging it could be to have a child with disabilities until we were all propelled into parenting in a pandemic.  Suddenly, and for many for the first time parents really understood what it was like to have a child not be in synch with the academic offerings of our public school system. The pain as a parent seeing your child become withdrawn and regress all while having their experience minimalized is honestly nothing short of torture.

What makes Covid-19 all the more frustrating is the disconnect between guidelines that have been communicated from DESE, WHO, the BOH and the CDC to name just a few entities.  Planning during Covid-19 is like trying to follow New England weather and regrettably I cannot say that any of our leaders have been able to stay ahead of this very fast moving and relentless storm.

When my son was in Early Intervention about 12 years ago the poem “Welcome to Holland” hung in the waiting room.  The poem talks about loss, anger, and the trip you did not plan on taking as a parent.  If you were to look at this poem in the context of Covid-19 all my fellow parents, School Committee Members, teachers, and School Administration got on the flight to Italy in the fall of 2019 to find ourselves with a very long layover in Holland in March 2020.  Now we find ourselves, as the poem describes in “a different place, so you must go and buy a new guidebook, And you must learn and whole new language”.  It also accurately suggests “The pain of that will never, ever, go away, because the loss of that dream is a very significant loss”.  I think about the loss of beloved traditions like prom, graduation, school trips, homecoming, school plays and band concerts.

As a long time Holland resident, I have not yet found the “windmills” and “Rembrandts” about parenting during Covid-19. I can offer my fellow parents some insight on how you might best survive your extensive layover in Holland.  First, I breathe and give my family a lot of credit for all we have endured the last 10 months.  Next, I remember I am the captain of the ship and ultimately my children’s education, safety, and destiny are in my hands.  When I saw how late DESE rolled out their guidelines for reopening schools for the Fall of 2020 I made the hard choice of pulling my oldest son out of the Hingham Public Schools.  I know how long things take to get done in Holland time.  This was a lesson I have learned time and time again waiting for changes in Special Education in Hingham.  Last, and perhaps the hardest for me to harness is my anger toward a system that can not meet or even respect my child’s needs.  Trust me I have cried, cursed and have been filled with fury by some in Hingham who have failed to do what is right on behalf of my two children. After a deep breathe I remind myself of many of the wonderful teachers, paras, and countless “helpers” along the way that my children and I have worked with while in the Hingham Public Schools.  I know that my children are counting on me, as the captain, to lead with courage, dignity, and valor.

Part of this layover in Holland means getting on your boots and this takes persistence, planning and making sure those in charge are continuously held responsible for their decisions.   It also means digging in for the long haul as a parent and thinking about fostering our children’s passions, emphasizing their strengths, and leading by example.  Lastly, to my fellow parents who will leave Holland for Italy please know that united, as one continent, we must forge a better school system for ALL our children, teachers, and parents.

Welcome to Holland- by Emily Perl

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 going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guidebooks and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum, the Michelangelo David, the gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy   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 some horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.

So you must go out and buy a new guidebook. 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, 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.”

The pain of that will never, ever, go away, because the loss of that dream is a 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.

Submitted by Diane DeNapoli

2 thoughts on “OPINION: Welcome to Holland (2.0)”

  1. Diane – this poem has given me great comfort over the past 22 years. Your words are so accurate – thank you for taking the time to so eloquently express what so many of us are experiencing. Well done! Kathleen Snow


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.