Published Nov. 9, 2016
Tracie Hoppis - Published March 10, 2016
There’s a popular story among parents raising children with special needs. It’s called Welcome to Holland. In Welcome to Holland, author Emily Perl Kingsley writes about the very typical “dreams” an expectant mother and father have for their child. They compare these “dreams” to taking a trip to Italy- a place all new parents plan to go. But when a parent learns their child may have special needs, Italy is no longer the plan; it’s no longer the destination. Kingsley describes a different journey- one she herself is on- raising her son with Down syndrome. The journey has taken her and other parents raising children with special needs to Holland. Like Italy, Holland is a beautiful place- but an unexpected destination!
I too learned about a “change in plans” when my son Andy was born. I have adjusted to life in Holland and have learned so much throughout the journey. But as I think about it, I realize there might be a more fitting description for where we spend our days. Holland seems serene, peaceful. When Andy was diagnosed with Autism, our lives were anything but serene and peaceful. Sleepless nights, wild tantrums and marathon meltdowns, food phobias, restrictive and repetitive behaviors, invisible “triggers”, and daily sensory overload. I think our lives more closely resembled Las Vegas!
I have never been to “Vegas”. But as I see it in the movies and on television, it feels familiar… like my life! It’s bold and bright and loud. It’s a 24/7 place that doesn’t quiet down for long. It’s full of unique people… like Andy and our family! And in Vegas, almost “anything goes”- like dressing up as batman or spiderman any day of the year! The “jack-pots” are life defining moments like a standing ovation at High School graduation- from the entire student body and every guest- the Yakima Sundome has never felt the same. For our family, the “unexpected” is the “expected” and normal is re-defined almost every day.
I’m sure the best part of Vegas are the payoffs! The “wins” in our life do not come easily and are not taken for granted. We often feel lucky that Andy has taken us to a place where our priorities are changing and life is concentrated down to what’s really important. Andy has taught us so much! Bravery… we are “hi-rolling” parents, taking risks each and every day; patience…we often wait for a much anticipated “jack-pot”; tolerance- of him and others; joy- pure and simple over the littlest (and maybe most important) things in life; transparency- he never pretends to be someone or something he’s not; celebrating… the sunrises and sunsets which Andy is sure to point out a beautiful one; and lastly, unconditional love… which we have an opportunity to practice each and every day!
So…maybe Vegas isn’t so bad. It takes some getting use to after the initial shock and awe. Remember there are others who can show you around and help you feel a little more comfortable is this wild place…. Help you celebrate the “wins” and hit your very own “jack-pots”!
Tracie Hoppis, parent of a young man on the Autism Spectrum, Andy, and Supervisor Parent to Parent Program at Children’s Village in Yakima.