In the Down syndrome community, there is a famous missive called, “Welcome to Holland.”
It was written in the 80’s by Emily Perl Kinglsey (who was a writer at Sesame Street – you can thank her for a lot of the inclusion that went on there).
A lot of people hate the missive once they are over the shock or grief of having a child with Down syndrome, because in Welcome to Holland, she’s basically saying that we’ll always be sad about having a child who isn’t like what we signed up (to have a baby for), but we’ll find the good in it.
I thought of Welcome to Holland as our plane was approaching the actual country of Holland.
Windmills in the water.
My resourceful-nerd heart beat a little faster when I saw those windmills in the water.
The view from the plane was stunning.
Water, canals, green, carefully cultivated land.
We landed and right off the bat, I was blown away by how tall and handsome all the men seemed to be.
THIS IS WHERE THEY ARE!!
Yes, it seems like everyone in the Netherlands is tall, good looking and wears sensible shoes.
Even the airport bathrooms were beautiful – long, strong doors that closed for full privacy, wonderful automation and sparkling clean.
You may be surprised by my choice of Bunnik… I know I was!
I had been looking at places at Amsterdam to hang out while my mom was at the Virtues Conference that was to be held in a forest about an hour and a half away from Amsterdam. Amsterdam just seemed too… too much. A Dutch friend of mine in Hilo recommended Utrecht (where he’s from!) and so that’s what I did.
I actually thought that Bunnik was a street in Utrecht, not a village outside of it. Ha!
Hey Bunnik. You sure are cute.
This wasn’t one of those places that’s set up like a hotel: this was the actual home of a Dutch family.
Our host was this laid-back guy who had Buddhist stuff all over the house and invitations to meditate with books by Herman Hesse.
It was really beautiful.
Lil’ Bunnik was too.
It’s impossible not to catch on pretty fast that bikes are important to the Dutch.
This place is a veritable bike heaven!
Can’t get better than this!
Bikes everywhere, every kind. You name it, if it’s a bike and it’s awesome, it’s here.
The whole infrastructure seems to be built around bikes too. It’s all totally flat, with bike lanes, pedestrian lanes and a tiny lane for cars.
I love that cars get the worst deal here. I mean, this place is built for PEOPLE.
We wandered into a park and played.
I started talking to another mom at the playground.
A super nice (really tall! gorgeous!) young mom and asked her if it was always this way, or if they had some kind of revolution and made their country so accessible and bike-friendly?
She said it had always been that way for her.
I wonder what it be like to grow up in a country that values people first?
How would that feel, to have our health and well-being, our access, our enjoyment, our pleasure, our education, our comfort to be valued above corporate profit and cars?
I looked around that little village of Bunnik, so full of happy, healthy, vibrant elders on their bikes, these happy, healthy, vibrant young families and happy, healthy disabled people running around in their wheelchairs and scooters, and I just marveled at what they’ve accomplished here, and felt sad about where we are in America.
I see what it could be like.
And it’s NICE.
We went to the local cemetery that first day too – I just happened to pass by and I asked a guy outside what it was (everyone in the Netherlands seems to speak excellent English). He said, “cemetery – you are welcome to go in and see.”
So we did, and we offered a prayer to my brother Dana, and to our ancestors, who while not Dutch, were all from around here, and it felt right and good to pray.
Back to Welcome to Holland
When Emily Perl Kingsley wrote “Welcome to Holland,” she was trying to say that having a child with Down syndrome could be a good thing, like Holland could be a good thing even though you really had wanted to go to Italy.
I think Italy sounds cool, but I am frankly enamored with a country that values people to the extent that Holland does.
I love the Dutch practicality, resourcefulness. I love their aesthetics, the flowers everywhere, the deliciously healthy food that’s so readily available.
I think when we say “Welcome to Holland” in the Down syndrome community, it should mean, “welcome to an appreciation of access and inclusion – you’ll never look at the world in the same way once you have a child with Down syndrome, or a disability.”
I think when we experience disability, we are experiencing a unique way of living in this world.
Travel is also a way of experiencing unique ways of living in this world.
Travel expands the way we imagine possibilities, learn how other people structure their worlds, and see how the potential, the possibility.
And with that in mind, I think Holland is the perfect country for both: for understanding and appreciating an entirely different way of living, with a practical, humane way of living.