Seated in lawn chairs in front of our oldest son’s new school, the sun shining beautifully but hot upon our backs, my husband and I listened to the introductions of the teachers and staff who were to instruct our son in his new chapter. He had attended the local public elementary school from Kindergarten through Fifth Grade and as he was to move on to the public Middle school, we felt that a change was needed. He had been diagnosed with non verbal learning differences, ADHD and Asbergers early on in his life and had an IEP (individualized education plan) since he started Kindergarten. Challenged though he was with traditional learning and rote memorization and writing, he read Audubon Field Guides for fun and could identify pretty much any plant or animal species, dinosaur, or geographical location that came his way, not that the dinosaurs crossed his path often. Eating, sleeping and breathing outdoors was in his blood and the task of sitting still at a desk in a classroom all day long was beyond challenging. After a prolonged search and application process we found a new school that would both work on strengthening his weak areas and run with his strengths. It was a good distance from our neighborhood home but we took the plunge, signed the papers upon his acceptance and now sat in the folding chairs at the welcoming ceremony. The head of the school got up to speak and instead of espousing the virtues of the school, he read a poem to the parents who were nervously and secretly hoping that this would be the place where both their child’s place in this world and their education could be an easier road than it had been.
That was over 15 years ago, and to this day, the words of that poem and that day are forever cemented in my memory. I share with you that poem today:
WELCOME TO HOLLAND
Emily Perl Kingsley.
c1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley. All rights reserved
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 stewardess 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.
I had never heard words such as these, that expressed that although life with a child who was “different” was not the parenting place that you had dreamed about being in… it was a beautiful place never the less… where the struggles and challenges that you faced with that child often outweighed the beautiful places that you also experienced with that child… hiding them and making them more difficult to notice. Yes, they were different and lets face it some certainly more challenging, but some more beautiful. Situations, experiences and … aspects of life that turn out being different than what you had expected can be hard to grasp…and even more difficult to live with on a daily basis. Beauty is often overlooked when one faces situations that are more difficult or challenging. This poem brought back the beauty of those differences.
Places such as The Barn at Spring Brook Farm actively engage to bring back the beauty of these differences while strengthening the bearer of them. Their mission is to enrich the lives of children with disabilities through animal assisted activities on their 17 acre farm that is fully handicapped-accessible. It is a place where children with physical and developmental disabilities can participate safely and independently as possible in Individual Programs, Educational Field Trips, Socialization Events and their Summer Camp entitled Camp Geronimo. All of these programs utilizes small farm animals, thus not intimidating them with their size, to work with the children ages 6-12, in a child-directed, nurturing setting. These programs are unique in that they reverse the role of these children from being taken care of to becoming care takers themselves, which is a very empowering experience. It is a goal of the Barn that each child become a successful and contributing member of the the barn community.
The Barn stemmed from the dream of founder Mary Beth Drobish in 2004, when she felt called to combine her passion for animals with her love for children in a meaningful way. Meaningful it has become and more, with the Barn serving 431 children in 2017, with no child being excluded from its services due to financial difficulties through the offering of partial and full scholarships. Their programs are the only of its kind in the Greater Philadelphia Region in which it serves where each and every animal in the Barn is specifically suited to work with children with disabilities; from the miniature horses and Sicilian Donkeys, to the goats, sheep, rabbits, hens, barn cats and even a pot-bellied pig. These animals, along with the Barn facilities of stalls, tack rooms, bathrooms, upper and lower levels and outside facilities, a specially- designed- wheelchair-accessible hay wagon and handicapped-accessible tree house provide the setting in which their licensed physical therapist and one-to-one counselor to child ratio, provides this all empowering life changing work.
We are honored to spread the news of this work and this organization which is near and dear to our hearts for many reasons. One being the difference that it is making in the lives of many families and their children, including the family of my youngest brother and his young son Finn who has autism and plans on attending this camp for the first time this summer. My brother and sister in law have done their ultimate best to enjoy the beauty that Holland has to offer and we are proud to be benefitting the Barn at Spring Brook Farm and thus the families it serves, at our upcoming Spring Barn Sale, where more information will be available and a portion of each item you purchase will be donated to The Barn at Spring Brook Farm.
May we see you all there… rain or shine, (so wear your Wellies if rain is in the forecast) and plan on spending some time with us, learning about the Barn at Spring Brook Farm, partaking in one of the artisanal food tastings that will be going on, sign up for a class or just take in the Spring bedecked structure and unique items in the barn that will be for sale.
Spring Preview Party: A Picnic on the Farm
April 11th, 11:30am – 2pm
Friday, April 13th: 10am – 5pm
Saturday, April 14th: 9am – 5pm
Sunday, April 15th: 10am – 4pm
All our best…
Meg and the team at Life’s Patina