Not too long after I created The Johnny Stallings Arts Program, someone directed me to a poem entitled “Welcome to Holland.” The authorized version of the poem is reprinted below, with permission from author Emily Perl Kingsley. I am told that soon after receiving a diagnosis for their child, whether it’s prenatally or at birth or later, parents are told about this poem. Ms. Kingsley has granted permission for the poem to be reprinted thousands times and it has been widely circulated around the world for 35 years.
Because I used to be a dancer, I imagined “Welcome to Holland,”as a dance from the first time I read it. For years, I’ve wanted to set this poem to music and use dance to interpret the powerful emotions it describes. This summer, I decided it was time.
I tracked down Ms. Kingsley and asked for her permission to set this poem to music and was excited and more than a little surprised to learn that no one had ever asked to do this before. One of Alan’s oldest friends, Monroe Jones, (a Grammy@ winning music producer) joined the project as the composer. We lined up sound and lighting engineers and a videographer. Monroe hired a Voice Over artist, Becki Devries, who has a child with special needs. Becki said, “This project was especially powerful for this momma’s heart.” Monroe entitled his original score, “Joy in the Journey.”
Rehearsals began in early December, with five kids with special needs and two typical teenagers cast in the piece. Choreography was created by Hayley Henderson, Emma Jenkins and Melissa Reynolds. As the rehearsals progressed, I knew they had created something special.
“Joy in the Journey” was performed on January 9 and 10 at Merrimack Hall’s Evening of Dance 2014. Audiences responded as expected…with resounding standing ovations and tears. Additional videography was done on Sunday, January 11 and the final result is posted below. I am so proud of Peyton Davis, Haleigh Briggs, Samuel Evers, Jonathan Lee, Robyn Dunn, Sophie Courson and Vivian Wells for their amazing performances.
I would never presume to know what its like to walk in the shoes of a parent who unexpectedly finds themselves in Holland but I have heard from hundreds of parents that “Welcome to Holland” puts words to the universal feelings they share and brought them great comfort. As parents accept that their parenting journey has led them into new territory, they tell me the fear and anger they experience are quickly replaced as they realize that Holland is indeed a lovely place to be. They tell me that “Welcome to Holland” is a treasured part of their parenting story.
I don’t have a child with special needs but my journey in parenting my son certainly led me to a land I never planned to visit. There are things about being a parent that all parents share; struggle and triumph, joy and sorrow, disappointment and success. Our children fundamentally change who we are as individuals, as they present us with challenges we didn’t anticipate and as they bring us happiness and fulfillment we can never fully grasp until we get to know the unique people our children are. Whether your child has special needs or not, the words of this poem will resonate in your heart.
I hope that someday, this video will become as widely circulated as the poem itself and will offer hope and encouragement to parents as they begin their journey into Holland. I hope it will bring attention to the success of our program of arts education for people with special needs. I hope that our interpretation of this beloved poem will help parents to see the joy in journey through the beautiful movements of our dancers.
Please share this video with your friends and family, using the hashtag #welcometoholland. Thank you for viewing.
Welcome To Holland
by Emily Perl Kingsley
©1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of the author.
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 you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases 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 flight attendant 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 a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.
So you must go out and buy new guide books. 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….and 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.”
And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away… because the loss of that dream is a very 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.