I once heard a fictional story of a woman who was planning a trip to Italy. Maybe you’ve heard this analogy, too? For years the woman had been planning the trip. She looked at photos of the scenery in the country, she dreamed about the food of the regions she would visit, she read books about the masterpieces of the great Italian sculptors, and she began to practice the language so she could communicate with the residents of this beautiful nation.
Years of planning had fueled her great excitement and her great anticipation of the trip ahead. Finally, the day came. Her bags were packed, her travel brochures and English-Italian phrase books were in her carry-on, and her eyes were wide open, ready to take in all the wonder that is Italy.
As the plane taxied down the runway, the pilot announced a change to the flight plan. “Ladies and gentlemen,
we’ve made a last minute decision to land in the Netherlands instead of Italy. I know you had all expected to visit Italy during this trip, but instead we hope you’ll find the Netherlands to be a suitable vacation spot. Thank you for understanding.”
“What? How can this be? The Netherlands? But I had my heart set on Italy”, the woman thought. The woman was desperate for answers! No one could explain to her why the plans had changed, she was powerless to redirect the plane to Italy, and she was full of fear for the unknowns that awaited her as she began the Dutch journey instead of the Italian one she had been hoping for. Her inclination was to get off of the plane and to find any other way to get to Italy. All of her plans and preparations for a profitable trip to Italy would not serve her in any way for her time in the Netherlands.
However, resigned to the inevitability of this new plan, and with one last shred of optimism, the woman decided to make the best of her time in Holland. She came to find that the countryside was quite beautiful, even if not what she had expected to see from her study of Italy. She found that the pastries were quite delicious, even though she noticed the lack of fresh pasta that she was anticipating. While she didn’t see any Italian art, she discovered the Dutch Masters, and was pleasantly surprised. And while the language was very different, and the learning curve was steep, she found that the Dutch people were very warm and willing to patiently practice the language with her as she grew accustomed to it.
Certainly, the trip to the Netherlands was not what she signed up for, and she would always carry a slight sadness at never getting to experience Italy as she had planned. However, she came to find that the Netherlands had much to enjoy and to be grateful for in its own way.
Isn’t it that way for us when we hear the diagnosis of a learning difficulty in our children? We did not sign up for this. We did not dream or hope for a journey that included struggling learners and special needs. We do not wish that for ourselves or for our children. The announcement that we are on a much different journey than we had hoped for can bring sadness. There is definitely a time of grieving. Disappointment is to be expected. However, if we can give in to the ‘new normal’ that a diagnosis brings, and if we can choose optimism over negativity, we will find that this life of loving and supporting a struggling learner has a beauty and a purpose of its own. While we may never understand the reason for this ‘change of plans,’ we can certainly come to appreciate and thrive within them.
It is appropriate to grieve (and it is okay for your child to grieve!), but even if this isn’t what you signed up for, give yourself the permission to enjoy the new journey! Adventure awaits!