Friday, September 16, 2011

Sept 17th, 2011: Two Worlds

When I was 15, my parents divorced and subsequently my mom took my brother and I to the US to give her next marriage a shot.  Moving at 15, after a divorce (which was difficult, I was the only offspring to come out of that union so I experienced this differently from my older brother) is not an easy thing.  Moving to another country, well, fuhgetaboutit!  I resisted becoming part of the world I was physically in, and choose to write to my friends back home instead.  I spent hours and hours writing,  We are talking 80's.  Al Gore had yet to invent the internet; let alone Facebook, blogs, etc.  You still had to put little "Airmail" stickers on your letters because if you didn't they would end up on a BOAT and take up to a MONTH to get there!)  My wonderful friends rose to the challenge.  Not a day went by where I did not receive at least 1 letter, some days as many as 5!  Just between my BFF and my boyfriend I received 3 letters a week!  We spent the first year in New Jersey because my mom's new husband had some harebrained plan for a house he had just built.  Rather than selling it immediately he felt the need to hang on to it and sell it 9 months down the road.  The plan after that was to move to California.  The needs of a 15 year old, and how difficult it would be to get used to one place and then have to move across the country to another place, were obviously not considered in any of these plans.  The marriage (combine an independent, stubborn Dutch woman and a fairly traditional Arab man...and the LAST thing you can count on is a happy union) was a bust from the beginning, so rather than having energy to be there for me, my mom was in relationship-survival mode from the beginning.  So I took matters in my own hands (I am nothing if not resourceful!!!) and choose to NOT get attached to my environment in New Jersey.  I wanted to save my energy for California.  So while I lived in NJ, my heart was in Holland.  When I went home for the summer after those first 10 months in the US, I was completely 'in the loop' as to what my friends were doing and I picked life back up without missing a beat.
Now that I have kids, I realize there are a lot of similarities to having kids with special needs and living in separate worlds.  Having Annelies, we were thrown in the world of Down syndrome.  So many preconceived notions I had about that one, oh boy!  Because I was of *snicker* 'advanced age' when I gave birth to my kids, of course I had given Ds more than a few thoughts.  And I had all these lovely preconceived notions about "those" kids and their parents, and the one thing I knew for sure was that I DID NOT WANT TO BE IN THAT WORLD!!!  (For the most part, I felt pity towards families with Ds).  So the first few weeks of Annelies's life, I decided to do whatever I could for Annelies to have as 'normal' a life as possible.  Sure, she had Ds, but dammit, she was going to be the BEST, SMARTEST, CUTEST kid with Ds out there.  In those early days I felt vindicated whenever someone told me:  "Oh, she doesn't look like she has Ds."  Any pictures I published or sent of her were ones where she looked as 'typical' as possible.  I avoided contact with other families (not that hard at that time, it was a pre-Sisterhood era.) 
In July of Annelies's first year, the annual Ds convention was held in Sacramento.  I wanted to attend because I was beginning to realize that Annelies's interests HAD to come before mine in this matter.  As her parents, it was (and continues to be) our duty to find out what we could do, and tap into the resources out there to help Annelies with her development and live the fullest, healthiest life she can.  The older Annelies got, the more obvious her Ds became in delays and just in the way she moved and looked.  But to my surprise, the older she became, the LESS the Ds seemed to matter!!  I was (and still am) amazed at the things she DOES know and do, and she continually blows out of the water the preconceived notions I had about Ds.  Towards the end of that first year, I found myself looking at Annelies and noticing the things she was learning, the personality that became more and more defined, and seeing the Ds less.  So I am now amazed at how easy it is to merge the 'world of Ds' with all its fabulous people (yeah, another preconceived notion that was blown out of the water about parents who have kids with Ds...what an amazing group of people!) and experiences with the world we live in that includes typical daycare and friends for both of our kids.  Kind of like both worlds have merged.  Which brings me back to my move to the US.  Initially, I felt like a foreigner here (people asked where my lovely accent was from) which made it difficult for me to 'nest', but when I went back 'home' for a visit, people would ask me when I was leaving again, which made it hard to enjoy my stay over there, settle in and feel at home, even if it was just temporary.  After 25 years of being in the US, I feel at home here, and I feel great when I am in Holland, visiting my family.  Same way as I feel at home in the "Ds world," and it makes me feel good that Annelies is thriving in *her* world, however she chooses to define that world.  All I want is the wisdom to guide her in the best possible way.

1 comment:

  1. Debbie, our life journeys may have been very different, but it sounds like in some ways we had similar journeys toward acceptance (and not just acceptance but embracing) of the DS diagnosis.