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Being Harry Potter . . .

I was reading that JK Rowling fell off the billionaires’ list because she gave too much of her money away to charities. Good woman. It triggered a thought in me. Without meaning to trivialize the struggles, having a child with complex medical conditions or special needs is a bit like being Harry Potter in a world full of muggles. You get by the best that you can but your difference makes you feel a little bit isolated, a little bit disconnected, a little bit battered by life. You fight your own personal Voldemort on a daily basis, whether that is just trying to keep your kid healthy, trying to get them the best support you can or, often in hospital, just getting the doctors to put their egos aside and listen to you. Sometimes, it’s not letting everything get on top of you and push you into a dark hole. Sometimes, the battle is just trying to figure out whether your child is genuinely having a crisis or being a typical 9 year old and trying to pull a sickie. (Just got called to pick her up from school. Apparently, not a sickie.)

Then you go to somewhere like Shooting Star House or Christopher’s and, all of a sudden, you are in Hogwarts. Everyone understands. Everyone is different. These are people who fundamentally get what you deal with, even though their battles are different, even though their Voldemorts are different. Here, your child is normal. Here, everyone is magic. Here, you won’t get platitudes. Here, you won’t get “I don’t know how you cope” or “I couldn’t deal with what you deal with” or “I think you are amazing”. These comments are meant to make you feel good and you appreciate the kindness behind them but they still irritate. What else are you supposed to do? You are not superhuman, you are just a parent, like them. Here, a concern is not dismissed as something any child goes through.  At Shooting Star/Christopher’s/Hogwarts, we get to chat, play, relax, bond in an environment where we are not different in any way. You can’t underestimate the restorative power of that.

Parents of children like mine are so blessed, even though, unlike Harry, we don’t have a magic wand. It’s not an easy life, by any stretch. It takes a long time to grieve for the child you thought you were going to have. It takes a long time to come to terms with the hand that your child has been dealt. In my case, I’ve been through those processes over and over again. I anticipate having to go through them again. It’s like living as if you stand on quicksand, all day every day. Each time you go through those painful times, you can come to a place on the other side where you are eternally grateful, even though the knocks keep coming. It takes a conscious effort, a conscious decision not to get angry, bitter and twisted about it all. These children teach us so much and enrich our lives in a way that cannot be described. We live in an alternate universe, where there is much pain and suffering but, equally, there is much more joy and gratitude. It’s a life of extremes. The smallest achievement is huge. There are so many celebrations. The superficial is irrelevant. You learn to let go of the small irritants of life and focus on what is really important because we know it can be snatched away in the blink of an eye.

This is not to say that people without special needs kids don’t know what is important in life. It’s not to say that they don’t know how precious life is. They just know it in the way that we all know that one day we are going to die. It’s something we know but it’s far off and not thought about because it’s not imminent. It’s something on the distant horizon that does not need to be considered regularly. It’s the way that some people live their life in a way that endangers their health and greatly increases the chances of them dying prematurely but, until someone says to them, “If you don’t change X or give up X, you will be dead in six months”, they won’t do anything about it. Or it’s the way they read a meme that says “live each day as if it’s your last” and say “so true”, then carry on life as normal, even if they are not happy with said life.

How can I get frustrated that the window sill in my kitchen isn’t perfectly level or that the boiler doesn’t fit my cupboard perfectly, things that would have driven me crazy ten years ago, when my daughter could drop dead of a stroke at any minute?  I don’t like to think about it but it certainly gives you perspective. I’ve probably gone too far the other way. It’s hard to get stressed about things these days. ‘Things’ being the operative word. People and pets are worth the energy; things, not so much.

This is the life I lead, I didn’t choose it but I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s really hard. So yes, I’d compare having a child like mine to being Harry Potter. Harry Potter could perform magic and walked around in a world of people who couldn’t, people who didn’t even know of Voldemort’s existence. Moo is a walking miracle, she IS magic and I am so very grateful to be able to walk in her world and the world of kids like her. I kind of feel sad that not everyone can personally experience what it’s like to have a special needs child and  its beautiful bittersweet wonder.

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Ladies and gentlemen, we seem to be hitting some turbulence . . .

Man, I don’t seem to be able to post on here regularly. Other things in my life just seem to take over. Or I just haven’t been very disciplined. Take your pick.

How have we been doing in the last eight months? Well, things have been motoring along. Moo’s neurologist describes her medical future as “stormy”. She put that in writing. Basically, we are no longer looking for cures, we are “managing her symptoms”. She is still having TIAs and headaches but they are in clusters and there can be months in between with only low level activity, which makes life increasingly unpredictable and unplannable. Mr G and I have decided not to travel abroad with her for the time being. Walking into a hospital in England, demanding a drip and morphine, is hard enough, never mind with a language barrier and different ways of doing things. It sucks because it means I can’t visit my family in Italy but there we are.

Moo’s last scan showed no changes in her brain structure which is great. However, she is being referred for an Autism Spectrum Disorder assessment as she has some “red flag” behaviours. She was diagnosed with ADHD in June, finally. I’ve been saying that I thought she had it since she was three, before the Moyamoya, but no one took me seriously until the neuropsychologist said that she thought Moo should be assessed. Cue assessment at the age of 8 and diagnosis. Better late than never. Only issue now is finding someone to prescribe her Ritalin to see if it will work. Neuro team have given the ok but community paediatrician is not comfortable. Her paediatrician at the local hospital is happy to do it, love her, but she’s never prescribed it before so needs guidance. It’s going to take ages to get this sorted. Moo on Class A drugs will be an interesting concept. Only reason I am keen to try is that one of the potential side effects is raised blood pressure, which coincidentally could help her Moyamoya.

Reading about Asperger’s as recommended only did two things. Firstly, it confirmed a long held suspicion that I have had that my father has Asperger’s. My father’s life and behaviour is essentially a checklist of the typical behaviour of a man with undiagnosed Asperger’s. Secondly, I have a lot of the traits. I might even be classified as a sub-clinical Aspie. That is to say, I have the traits but not so severely as to be a hindrance to my functioning in life. It was quite the revelation to realise this but also a complete relief. It explained so much about my behaviour and my feelings when I was growing up. I have already been diagnosed with OCD, my father is severely dyslexic while very intelligent. Both of these conditions is co-morbid with ASD, as is ADHD.

In the last week, I’ve also had conversations with Moo’s SENco (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator) at school. Depending on how she does this year, there is a significant chance that we will have to move her to a special needs school. This has been very hard to come to terms with. You always hope that things will start to resolve themselves but it is becoming increasingly obvious that while the Moyamoya may not have altered her brain structure, it has completely addled her pathways. The gap between her and her peers is widening, socially and emotionally as well as educationally, and it may become too wide by the end of this year. It’s a watch and wait situation. In the meantime, I need to do some research as there isn’t a special needs school suitable for Moo in our area.

Then I’ve become a joint chair of the school’s PTA. It might seem a tad mad when I am already dealing with all of the above, driving a business that I really love forward and trying to find time to write children’s books, but no other bugger was going to stick their hand up and our school is so amazing, in part due to the PTA. No chair of a PTA, no PTA and I just couldn’t let that happen. I did manage to coerce two other people to do it with me and I think we will make an excellent team.

As a result, I was at the Year 3 welcome meeting this morning. A mother comes up to me and says “I’ve seen photos of your daughter at Shooting Star” and my heart just sinks. There’s only one reason a mother would be at Shooting Star House and she goes on to tell me about her beautiful little 18 month old boy who has SMA Type 1. I had to hug her. I know what that means. I love Shooting Star, I love my friends from Shooting Star but I hate it when I meet people out in the real world and they say they saw pictures at Shooting Star. It chips away at my heart that someone else is going through something so awful too. I know we wouldn’t change the children we have and we are truly blessed to have them but it’s an intense bittersweet love that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

Tomorrow I am taking Moo to GOSH for a video fluoroscopy where they are going to test her swallow. It’s been doing funky things of late. I’m praying it’s nothing and that I am being over cautious but you just never know. I’ve learnt not to have any expectations at all.

Later this afternoon, I’m taking Moo to get her beautiful long brown hair cut into a bob. I feel awful about it. She loves her long hair but she hates it being brushed or washed or tied up. She flips out and won’t stay still. She has to have her hair tied up, otherwise it wraps around her trache and goes down her stoma. It has become such a pressure on our relationship that I managed to convince her to cut it into a bob. If she didn’t have the trache, this wouldn’t be so much of an issue. But then again, she plays with one side so much, it has started to thin so it’s not just the trache. In the great scheme of things, hair isn’t that important but to a small eight year old who wants to have hair like Rapunzel, this is huge. It’s another instance where her medical condition is preventing her from having what she wants. It’s another small bruise to the heart.

So today, I am finding it hard to concentrate on work for all the above reasons. I have a meeting later about the PTA but, in the meantime, I think I’m just going to write about boys who live on the moon and escape from my life, just for a while.

 

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X Factor, Shooting Star Chase and the bestie

It’s been a crazy few weeks. I’ve tried to launch a business that I haven’t actually had time to focus on. We’ve been to Disneyland Paris, thanks to the lovely people at Magic Moments. No sooner had we returned home blissfully and thoroughly exhausted on the Wednesday night, then I receive a phone call on Thursday morning asking if we would be the featured family on the X Factor for Shooting Star Chase. Of course, we said “yes”. Not because of the chance to be on telly or the chance to meet the famous judges, although that was fabulous, but simply because when you owe your life to someone, it is a debt that can not be repaid. So essentially, Shooting Star Chase can ask me to do anything and, chances are, I will do it.

I owe my life to Shooting Star Chase. “Owing your life” is a phrase that can be so easily banded about but I actually mean it. The day they rescued us, I had been to the doctors again. When you have mental health issues, there is a lot of paperwork. So I had filled in yet another form, the last question was, and always is, “have you had thoughts about ending your life?”. I ticked “yes”, because I had started planning. Once a planner, always a planner, even when you are suicidal. I rarely do things on the spur of the moment. My doctor clearly saw it. She later admitted that she had so nearly sectioned me but thought separating me from Moo would push me over the edge.  She was right so I sort of owe her my life too.

Shooting Star Chase is a charity, funded by the kindly generosity of the general public. The NHS didn’t save me, the PCT didn’t save me, Social Services didn’t save me although I begged them all for help. Shooting Star Chase did and I didn’t even ask them. They saw someone drowning and threw us a life raft. So I will do anything for them because, out there, is someone like me, drowning, and Shooting Star Chase may be their only life raft. If I don’t raise awareness, if I don’t push everyone I know to donate, they won’t raise the £10 million a year they need to help the 700 families who, like me, completely and utterly rely on them to live a blessed life.

So this is the background to my bestie, Pumpkin, deciding to do something mind-blowing. In April, it will be 30 years since we met and became the best of friends. On the day that Moo was born, she dropped her entire life and rushed to my bedside to be there for me while Moo was driven to Great Ormond Street. She stayed there for two days, not going to work, not being with her beloved; just by my side, talking when I needed to and being silent when I needed to be. She was my rock. And now she is doing something, quite frankly, insane.

Pumpkin has had weight issues all her life. She has also had the morbid fear of the age 43. She was 9 years old when her father dropped dead of a heart attack in the middle of a hockey game at the age of 43. All her life, she has feared this age as she is aware that her fondness for cake and lack of routine exercise could set her up for a repeat performance. Her father was a fit and healthy member of the RAF. She’s not. It’s only a very slim chance but fear doesn’t do logic.

In typical Pumpkin style, she sat, wrapped in fear one day, and thought “Screw this. I can either live through my 43rd year being scared or I can turn it into a year where I do something amazing and turn it into something to remember with pride”. She looked around at what she could do and, for some mind bending reason, decided to do something for her Goddaughter, Moo. She teased me by sending me a text saying:

“I’m doing something that I never, in a million years, thought I would ever do for the only person who would inspire me to do it.”

Then she sent me a link to the Shooting Star Chase marathon team. I screamed. I thought she had lost her mind. When she asked me to help her get a place, I knew she was serious. I double-checked with her that she was absolutely sure. So I spoke to the person I needed to and, hey presto, she got a place. I called her:

“Hey, where are you?”
“I’m in the pub having a burger with my sister.”
“Put the burger down.”
“Why?” in a slightly terrified voice.
“Because you are running the London Marathon and need to eat healthily!” I shouted down the phone, rather excitedly.
“What?” said a very tiny voice.
“You have a place in the London Marathon in April 2016.”

Apparently, when she went and told her husband, he laughed for 30 minutes. Then he bought her a book called ‘Run, Fat Bitch, Run’ which is both highly entertaining and brilliant in aiding her motivation. To recap, this is a woman who didn’t run for the bus, never mind 26.2 miles. She occasionally went to aquafit but that was it. For the first couple of months, when it was a secret, she would sporadically send me texts that simply read “oh, fuck”. I’m not going to lie, I kept thinking the same. But she is feeling the fear and doing it anyway. And has lost 20lbs in the process.

To say that I am proud of this woman would be the biggest understatement of the year. She is completely inspirational, huge of heart and of determination. She is now running for 30 minutes at a time, has knocked 5 minutes off her mile and has already broken even on her fundraising. For every place Shooting Star Chase has in the marathon, they pay £1,000 and all they ask is that their runners raise £2,000. So this is a warning to all my loved and cherished ones, I will be sporadically irritating you with begging letters to ask you to sponsor Pumpkin. I want to help her smash her target. I want to help pay back for the day that Moo was born and she was there with me. I want to help pay back Shooting Star Chase for all that they do for families like mine.

And as an aside, I do not call her Pumpkin because she loves cake and is shorter and a bit rounder than me. I call her Pumpkin because it is one of my favourite fruit, it makes my favourite pie, all sweetness and spice, and it’s very, very good for you. If you could turn people into fruit, she’d be a Pumpkin.

 

 

 

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I am seriously nuts . . .

. . . on so many levels. Firstly, who goes ahead with a kitchen extension when they know that their child with a tracheostomy is going to have serious neuro surgery? Secondly, Moo is going to be seven. She’s had a tracheostomy since day one. I am on Facebook so much that friends refer to it as Brittiebook. Yet, I have never once thought to join a support group for parents of children with tracheostomies. And I do love a support group. As a rather extreme extrovert, the need to connect with other people is very, very strong. Annoyingly so, some might say. Thirdly, this level of stubbornness and bloody mindedness just can not be normal. Fourthly, at some point in the near future, I have got to deal with my issues with vulnerability. I mean, how can I write about my innermost thoughts and send it out into the ether on this blog but, yet, put me in front of a real life human being and I clam up like a, well, clam?

One thing at a time. First, the kitchen. So, when we moved into our house last year, both Mr G and I said from the beginning we were going to have to extend the kitchen. The house is beautiful but it still has its original floor plan which means that it’s not brilliant for entertaining a group of people. As a passionate cook, I have always dreamt of designing my own kitchen but never thought it was a possibility until this house. We discussed having it done in the new year and, as I am such a proactive planner, I started getting quotes as I knew that the lead time may be long. Then, fatefully, someone mentioned that I had enough time to get it done before Christmas. Well, that was it. The idea of Christmas in a new kitchen, having struggled to manage it in the old one, was too tempting and I went hell for leather to make sure it could happen. I still didn’t have to go ahead with it but I did, even though by this point we knew that Moo’s EC-IC last year hadn’t worked and that the Moyamoya had spread to the right hemisphere which meant another op before Christmas. My problem is that once on a roll, it’s really hard to stop me. I think I can achieve anything. That’s how I ended up having a baby in the first place, against all the odds. This attitude has helped me so much in the past and it means that things get done, even in the face of insurmountable odds. It does also mean that I can push myself to my limits and be blind to how much I’ve taken on. There is also the very real fact that had I not had the stress of organising a build, I would have spent all my time thinking about Moo’s impending operation and that, quite frankly, could have sent me into a severe depression. As it was, the anxiety didn’t hit until the Wednesday before. So day one of the build comes along and I have explained to the head guy, who is brilliant, that Moo has a trache and dust is a real issue for her, like a life threatening issue. I’m all relaxed . . .  until I walk out of the living room to find dust billowing down the corridor as they are smashing concrete with both the back and kitchen doors open. The head guy wasn’t there, to be fair to him, and he gets on the case pretty pronto. Panic stations! I freak, they apologise and I take Moo to her music therapy session at Shooting Star House, where the therapist takes one look at my face and asks what’s wrong. Cue Shooting Star morphing into the big brave knight that they are and coming to my rescue  . . . again. We have essentially decamped here until the dust settles, literally, which I hope will be the end of this week. There’s still at least another three to four weeks of the build to go. That in itself has been a bit of a blessing as Moo’s recovery has been somewhat slower than anticipated. I keep having to focus on the fact that at the end of this, we will have a beautiful kitchen and we can start next year with a clean slate. No builds, no major ops, all we’ll have to deal with is the MRI and angio to tell us whether the op has worked, which, quite frankly, is shit a brick terrifying in itself, simply because the last one, with its 95% success rate, did not do anything. We won’t even go into the fact that next year is an odd year and, as yet, I haven’t had a good odd year in ten years. (2005, lose Ziggy; 2007, nearly lose Moo in pregnancy, 9 weeks labour only to be told she was going to die, tracheostomy and seriously ill; 2009, MLB confirms that trache likely to be more long term thing; 2011 beloved mother in law dies from pancreatic cancer; 2013 Moo diagnosed with Moyamoya . . . ) So, yeah, I was a bit nuts to start a build now but there are positives to be had. I may, however, agree with Mr G now and hold off on the dog.

Now onto the support group. There is a very real, clear reason why I have not joined a support group or a charity supporting children with traches. OS-CS is so rare and Moo’s need for a trache is so unclear that it felt like I was on this journey by myself, really. Yes, she has a trache and that is common denominator but the reason why is a mystery and, invariably, that is what I would have been looking for; someone to tell me why she had one, when it would come out and how we would manage. As it was, my support found me. I have a lovely friend, now, in the US with OS-CS who has also passed it onto her daughter and they both have traches. She tracked me down because I once did an interview on behalf of St George’s when the gene was found. Her support has been invaluable and so cherished that she negated the need for anyone else. Of course, now, six years on, I realise that my experience with Moo, of her trache, her gastrostomy, getting her off of her gastro, her speech disorder, inability to drink sufficiently; all these things are useful experience that I can share with others. I’ve been a little bit self absorbed. I met a set of parents at Shooting Star with a little boy with a trache and no leak, who can’t speak, and saw in them the feelings I once had of needing to see a child beyond their little boy’s stage. I had a need to see that it was all doable, that life would be manageable and that my child would be able to have a life full of joy, wonder and adventure, even with a trache, that we could be normal. So they asked for me to be added to the group, as it is a closed, highly supervised group, and now I get the opportunity to be my friend, to be able to share my experiences and, hopefully, help others the way that I was helped. I get to pay it forward and that feels rather fantastic. Just like how I believe that we had to endure and go through all that we have been through so that we could make our contribution to the human race by being instrumental in finding the OS-CS gene. I feel rather grateful for my life again.

As a result of that group, I’ve “met” a couple of parents with children with OS-CS. This has just spurred me on to make sure that I write the page about OS-CS. I’ve got the info in genetics speak, just need to translate it and run it by my geneticist. That may take a little time but it is now on my urgent list.

As for the third and fourth issues, I think only a qualified therapist can help me there. We all have our foibles. No one is perfect. We are all, actually, quite perfect in our imperfections. Some of us just have a bit more work to do to be comfortable with that.

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Shooting Star and what it means to us

Shooting Star CHASE is the local children’s hospice that literally saved my life. When Moo came home from the hospital for the first time at nine weeks old with a tracheostomy, just before Christmas, she also came with a chest infection and no care package. Here I was with a 9 week old baby that I had tried to have for 5 years and she required 24 hour care. Her airway was utterly blocked and she was fed by naso-gastric (NG) tube. She had had a 6 minute cardiac the day she was born as they tried to intubate her for surgery. Her life depended on my being on the ball. If her trache fell out or got blocked, she would die, quickly. She required feeding every 4 hours, day and night, and would pull out her NG tube. The nurses wouldn’t train me to put one in while I was learning about the trache so we would have to go to hospital and wait around for someone to be free to do it, often in the middle of the night.

My family live abroad so couldn’t help, even though they desperately wanted to. My in laws, some of whom live close by, were too scared of the whole thing. I tried to do it all by myself, as Mr G returned to work after Christmas, because I didn’t have a choice. Every where I asked for help, I got turned away, except for by Shooting Star. I started to have anxiety attacks, became very depressed and went to the darkest places in my mind. Finally, while a couple of the nurses were at my home during a Hospice at Home visit, I was woken with a shock and had one of the worst anxiety attacks of my life and nearly fainted. They took one look at me, called the hospice and had Moo admitted for a two night emergency stay. We ended up living there for three months while they campaigned on our behalf to get us the care package we so desperately needed. They wouldn’t let us go home until we had it in place. I received psychotherapy and was diagnosed as severely traumatised. With medication, time to recover and the support of Mr G and Shooting Star, I returned to my normal self. Without them, I wouldn’t be here now. To this day, they are still the only practical and respite support that we have. No one else is trained to look after Moo, it’s just Mr G and me.

Every year, they hold a Christmas Carol service for the families that they support. Last year, I offered to do a reading. This is what I read:

Hi. My daughter, Moo, has been supported by Shooting Star since she was 9 weeks old and released from hospital. She’s just turned 6. When I volunteered to do a reading, I was very confused about what to choose. Christmas, as well as being a time for thanksgiving, is also a time of reflection for me. So I thought I would share some of our story with you and how life has not turned out quite how I planned. God had other plans for us and He really does know best.

I’ve wanted to be a mother since I was an egg. I have had a blessed life, wonderful friends and family, challenging and fulfilling jobs, foreign adventures but all I’ve ever really wanted was to be a Mummy. I was going to have four children. My husband wanted two. We still needed to discuss that. However, like a lot of people, our path to parenthood was long and traumatic. It took fertility treatment and two years and 11 months to get pregnant the first time. Our son, Ziggy, was stillborn at 5 months. Two years later, after failed fertility treatment, we got pregnant naturally. After yet another traumatic pregnancy, 9 weeks of labour (yes, I am that hard core) and a c-section, our amazing, beautiful daughter, Moo, was born. We were thrown into the world of life threatening conditions, hospitals, hospices and special needs from the moment she arrived. Life was so hard. This was not the parenthood we had envisioned. It took me 18 months to apply for a blue badge because I could not see that Moo was disabled despite having a tracheostomy and pronounced motor delay. She was just my Moo, my beautiful girl. Then I read something that brought me comfort and, bizarrely, peace, which I would like to share with you in a moment.

As for us, we are a very happy family of three with three cats. Life is different for us than most of our friends. Moo continues to face challenges but handles them with such grace and always has that beautiful, joyous smile on her face. She is so strong in spirit and mind, very funny and full of life. She is our inspiration and our joy. Our version of parenthood may be very different and can be very, very hard emotionally but we wouldn’t change a thing. We have gained far more than we have lost. I, personally, have learnt so much. I am far stronger, wiser and more compassionate than before this journey. I have met some truly phenomenal people who I admire so much who dedicate their time to families like ours but, most of all, I am so grateful for the children I have met. The angels on earth, like my Moo, and those who have gone to Heaven. I think of them all the time. All have touched my heart and proven over and over again, that just because you are different, it does not mean that you are less.

Now that reading:

WELCOME TO HOLLAND

By 
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.