Guest Blogs

Blue Highways

So your child has attention deficit. Welcome to a different country…now throw your road map away! A mom discusses the unexpected journey she’s taken with her teenage son.

At a school where I was teaching about my book, The Bullying Antidote, the principal told me their special ed parents’ club called themselves the “Holland Group.” I asked her what the name meant. She handed me a many-times-copied story that she had found on the Internet.

“Welcome to Holland” is a 1987 essay by Emily Perl Kingsley that describes what it feels like when you learn that your kid has a disability of any sort. “When you’re going to have a baby,” the essay says, “it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy.” She describes in detail the iconic things one looks forward to in Italy – “The Colosseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice,” and how one learns the language. But when you get off the plane, you find you are in Holland instead.

It’s not that Holland isn’t a wonderful place – it is. There are windmills and tulips and wonderful people. But it just isn’t what you planned. And when everyone else is talking about Italy, well, you are sorry you missed it, but you wish they were interested in hearing about your trip to Holland as well!

Watching my son Enzo evolve in high school has been like getting off the plane in Holland. We chose a school with an engineering academy (which he loved), and a Paideia program (which I loved)…and started making plans (akin to driving a Lamborghini around in the Colosseum).

In 9th grade, the highway to success seemed clear. But when his organizational difficulties kept steering him off onto side roads, we had to find a new map. As it turned out, the new paths took him to some wonderful places, as Blue Highways (a term coined by author William Least Heat Moon to describe the back roads through America) tend to do.

For me, the strangest parts about being in Holland, or on the Blue Highways, are:

1. Seeing so many of his friends on the road to Rome they originally chose.

2. Managing the (ridiculous and unnecessary) resentment at their achievements.

3. Identifying with a “disorder” or “disability” in the name of self-acceptance when it’s just life, really.

Becoming an advocate and spokesperson for the “Blue Highway lifestyle” was an unexpected turn for me. But that’s the thing about getting tickets to Holland. Our new reality calls us as parents to step up to a new level, welcome the dazed new arrivals, and share our road maps.