Thursday, September 30, 2010

Trav-bombing, brought to you by the Lionheart family

The Lionhearts are spending a week at Umhlanga Sands on the coast. By the wee hours of Sunday morning we’ll be on the road, playing ‘Punch Buggy’ and ‘I Spy With My Little Eye’ and cackling at all the Jo’burgers driving in the opposite direction, back to the dreary city for one last school term that starts on Monday. Wha-wha-whaaaaaaa...

The Umhlanga Sands Lifestyle Resort has “breathtaking panoramic views over the sparkling Indian Ocean, and is a step away from white, sandy beaches”. Seriously, I am a copywriter, so I’m not swooning over this idyllic prose. I'm realistic (and just so excited to get out of Jozi). But what did tickle my interest was reading about the “children’s entertainment programmes, fully supervised by a spirited entertainment team”.

Not that I could ever dream of palming off my autistic, special needs toddler with ‘challenging behaviour’ who can’t walk or talk on some bright-eyed, pony-tailed 18-year-old who dreams of becoming a teacher but is managing the Umhlanga Sands entertainment programme in the meantime.

Special needs ≠ (is not equal to) children’s holiday clubs.

(Seriously, you should have seen how tight the spandexed bums got at Virgin Active when I asked if the minders at Club V children’s care centre could handle my Lionheart while I climbed Mount Stairmaster for 30 mins.)

Still, the idea of dropping Travis off with the Umhlanga Sands entertainment folks and not saying ANYTHING is just... hilarious.

Wonder how long it’ll take them to notice that ‘something is not quite right with this kid’. Will it be when Travis bum-slides into a laundry room to watch the washing machines spin, and spin, and spin, and spin? Or when he only says “GA!” repeatedly? Or will the hand-flapping and the googlie eyes eventually give him away?

I’ve coined this ‘trial by fire for babysitters’ game TRAV-BOMBING.

Yeah, yeah, yeah... don’t get your knickers in a twist. I know that this is downright irresponsible, and we’ll never do such a thing. I also know that most folks are not comfortable joking about the disabled (fiery bolts from the heavens and all that).

We take a light-hearted approach to raising our Lionheart; it’s not all doom, gloom and snore-fest discussions about diagnosis and therapies and tussles with the medical aid.

Truth be told, I’m rather fond of Trav’s eccentricities. I am as proud of his spinning obsession as you are with your kid’s ballet trophies. Sure, being a special needs parent is all so... trying/exhausting/depressing (take your pick), but you’ll never survive the long run without a robust sense of humour ‘girding your loins’.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sunny Sunday morning exercise

STANDING! Nothing encourages a small Lionheart to work those leg muscles like a sunny windowsill on a beautiful Sunday morning. No doubt we'll be spending an hour out by the pool today.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Does your shop or restaurant have pram access? How about wheelchair access?

Before I knew that Travis would be wheeled around in his pram much (MUCH) longer than the ‘walking at 12 months’ milestone suggested in the Dr Spock books, I was a disgruntled post-pregnant shopper.

During my maternity leave I’d push his la-dee-dah Peg Perego buggy around malls; the giant front wheels snagged on clothes racks, left dusty tyre tracks over items that had fallen off hangers to the floor, and I’d elbow all manner of crap off store shelves as I manoeuvred this unwieldy contraption.

Skinny shop assistants rolled their eyes. That’s if they made eye contact at all. In fact, some of those little cows looked downright smug when I couldn’t even wheel into their boutique’s door it was so barricaded with a strategically placed display to keep out The Uncool.

My righteous anger was terrible to behold – on the inside that is. I’m not one to make a scene. Still, I vowed I’d never support a store that didn’t consider ‘moms and tots’ an income group worth catering to. And woe to a public toilet that isn’t wide enough to accommodate the pram and I!

Three years later, Travis the Lionheart is still being escorted about the mall in his Peg Perego. At a conservative estimate, he’ll probably only walk at age 4 or 5. Maybe even at age 6.

Which is a problem for ‘vengeance is mine’ mom. Family and friends know that I’ve been nursing a small fetish for the Poetry, Urban, Hilton Weiner and Vertigo clothing stores at Clearwater Mall.

Michelle, if you are reading this... I blame you. How dare you impose your good taste on my wardrobe?

The Poetry store is a dream... I could land a Boeing down those aisles. I could host a cocktail party in their enormous fitting rooms (which feature such luscious wallpaper and curtains that I once just sat in the corner and took a luxurious time-out from the frantic Saturday shopping crowd, with Trav parked next to me in his buggy).

Urban, Hilton Weiner, and Vertigo: FAIL.

I’ve backspaced over quite a few caustic rants in an effort to restrain myself. Must. Delete. Wrathful. Typing. I’ll leave it at this: If I can’t get a pram into your shop, how the frack are wheelchairs getting into your shop?

Never, when imagining my future, did I see myself getting worked up about wheelchair access.

On a more cheerful note: My best friend Liette, her three kiddiewinkles and I went to the Chilli’ng Thyme coffee shop just off Christiaan de Wet yesterday. It has an imaginative playground, a petting zoo, and enough space between the tables for you to get prams and wheelchairs in. It’s not too crowded. Plus, they make their own burger patties, flecked with Pepperdew, and serve ice-cream with strawberry sauce and sprinkles. Worth supporting.

Liette, Hannah, Noah and Abby

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Date nights and behavioural drugs

Before I joined the esteemed fellowship of matriarchs (popped a sprog, that is – yes, became a mom) Date Night equalled push-up bras, chocolate martinis and raunchy text messages. Dinner-and-drinks conversations went something like this...

“So, you’re a Leo/Virgo cusp. How very unusual.”
Subtext: An anal-retentive egotist, cheque please.

“You still live with your mother? That’s so sweet.”
Subtext: Ask me to do your laundry, mommy’s boy, and you’ll be collecting your dirty underpants off the N1 highway.

“Your favourite movie is The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and you have a Placebo CD in your car.”
Subtext: OMG! I think I’m in love.

It’s a little different now. On Sunday evening we folded down the seat of my race car yah-yah (the red Honda Jazz), packed up our Lionheart and some toys, and coasted down to the Velskoen drive-in to watch The Karate Kid and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Parenthood increases your tolerance to Disney.

Kicking it old school at the drive-in. R70 bucks a car...

Morne and I shared a bucket of KFC hot wings and sipped at bottles of Frankie’s cloudy lemonade.
We talked about our SARS disabilities refund, our upcoming genetic counselling appointment, and what we’re going to do in the garden this summer.
We watched Venus set over the big screen and the moon traverse the night sky.
Travis slept like, well, a baby in the back of the car.

It was just about the most romantic Date Night ever. No sarcasm at all.

We’re a smidgen babysitter-shy, what with Trav’s uneven temperament and all. Our family is great, with aunties and cousins always reporting back that he was a little cherub while we gobbled down a hasty candlelit dinner (candle wax is great for digestion – kidding) and inhaled a glass of wine on a rare night out. Still, his outbursts and screaming make us reluctant to leave him with anyone for a few hours.

The Lionheart’s neurologist has recommended a medication called Risperdal. It’s a drug that is ‘offering relief to autistic children with challenging behaviour’. That’s the delicate way of putting it. My husband and I have been agonising and stalling this decision for two years now.

No doubt I’m opening a can of worms – funny expression that – just writing about it. I’ll bet parents of ADHD children have gone through the same process when the Ritalin monster came a’knocking.

I don’t know. When I saw 35 special needs kids on stage during the school production on Saturday, and Travis was the only one kicking and screaming, welcoming Risperdal into our home seems like the logical thing to do. For his sake. For our sake. For anyone within earshot’s sake!

And then I think about putting my toddler on a drug that’ll effectively control his brain’s chemistry, and it freaks me out. Behavioural drugs at age three? What will that mean for the rest of his life, and our lives?

Probably more guilt-free date nights for us, and feeling less overwhelmed by life in general for the Trav. But at what cost?

Spinning, Power Botties, orthopaedic shoes and foot splints, DNA tests and behavioural drugs... Just another month in the Lionheart household.

PS: Travis is on school holidays from today, hooray!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Where the Wild Things Are

Sorry, Broadway talent scouts... it turns out that Travis the Lionheart is more of a ‘sheepish lion’ on stage.

Where the Wild Things Are was a tremendous success! This year’s Wiggles & Squiggles production had all the right ingredients that make an audience explode into a twinkling display of flashing cameras and applause. Okay, that’s a little over the top, but that’s show business, baby.

The auditorium of Cliffview Primary School was packed with moms, dads, siblings, grannies and grandpas, including the Lionheart’s Nana and Granddad. My cousin Nikki came along to lend a hand – although Thengi whisked Travis out of my arms when we got to the dressing room and firmly shooed us out. No paparazzi then, I guess!

Here are a few highlights:

  • One or two stars of the show were late, resulting in last-minute substitutions that went very smoothly.  
  • The cast included Nemo, Spongebob Squarepants, Shrek and Frankenstein. 
  • Travis actually stood (that’s right, on his two feet) on stage and swiped at the thousands of bubbles spewing from the bubble machine as the Nursery class performed its part. He was laughing! It was more than I had ever hoped for (my Lionheart is not great with crowds).  
  • An enthusiastic hippopotamus, played by Fifi, would not leave the stage.
  • The monsters marching in a circle around the hero of the tale, Max! March! March! March! March! 
  • Travis, in his blue fish costume with big blue tail and fins, made an early ‘exit: stage right’ after crying all the way through the singalong at the end of the show.
When the tiny actor in your life is a special needs kid, there’s simply no script. No lines to learn. It’s all free style and improvisation. Backstage your heart might be breaking, but you put on your costume, and you get out there under those over-bright stage lights, and take part in this grand production called Life.

(Shew, my last couple of posts have been real tearjerkers, eh?)

To see my Lionheart on stage, in a costume, with his name printed in a programme that’s now tucked into his memory box... I never imagined this would be an episode in our Life.

That’s what made Where the Wild Things Are so special.

And yes, there were tears. Happy tears.

Photographs are on the way.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Stage fright... we are having it

This Saturday Travis the Lionheart makes his stage debut in his first annual school play. It's all very hush-hush and Teacher Sue isn't giving much away, although she gave a merry laugh when I asked if Trav is perhaps playing a rock or a tree or a sheep.

I know it's an adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are. (Mental note: rent this DVD tomorrow night; we haven't had a chance to watch it yet.) I know that Travis is playing a 'sea creature' and that he posed cheerfully in his costume for the photographer, but won't tolerate his headpiece. No surprises there. I know that Thengi will be holding him on stage and there is a bubble machine to distract the little ones in case the whole sha-bang gets a bit much for them. Genius idea. Remember, we're dealing with almost 40 special needs kids here, many of whom become easily overwhelmed.

What I don't know is how I'll feel when I see my Lionheart on that stage. I should feel pride. I should be anxious. There will be tears, and Twinsavers will make a killing.

Although Travis only started attending nursery school this year, the annual Wiggles & Squiggles production represents a series of milestones in our journey down this crooked yellow brick road. (One blog post I'll share the moment when an MRI revealed that eight-month-old Travis was in fact a Lionheart disguised in ruggle clothing.)

This will be our third Wiggles & Squiggles play.

The first Wiggles production was the Christmas play in 2008, and also our first time visiting the school. Back then Wiggles & Squiggles was just 10 special needs children being cared for in Teacher Sue's own home. Yup, this is how long we had Travis on the waiting list. "Please take the path that runs down the side of the house," Sue warned all the parents in her email, "so that the big crowd of people doesn't unsettle the children."

It had only been a few months since Travis was diagnosed, but I don't think that Morne and I had actually UNDERSTOOD how dramatically different our lives would always be until that first Wiggles school play.

The music started, as the narrator begun her tale, and a small boy in his wheelchair was rolled onto the stage (Teacher Sue's patio), dressed resplendent in his red velvet cape and gold crown. Enter stage left, another kid with splints on both legs was painstakingly walked up to centre stage while grannies and oupas gently encouraged these tiny, handicapped actors from their fold-out lawn chairs.

The Kubler-Ross model of the stages of grief are 1) denial, 2) anger, 3) bargaining, 4) depression and 5) acceptance. That first Wiggles school play, my insides had that frog-in-a-blender consistency. All my bottled-in denial and anger drained from me as I watched this breathtakingly beautiful production: a triumph over great adversity. It was one of the single most 'human' moments of my life.

Last year's Wiggles & Squiggles play was a much bigger affair. It took place at the Honeydew Baptist Church in front of a sold-out crowd with around 23 little actors.

We'd briefly taken Travis off the waiting list in a moment of idiocy; part of the 'bargaining' stage of grief when we'd actually thought maybe, just maybe, Travis would go to a ruggle (regular kid) school. Our neurologist gave us such a lambasting over it and told us, without blinking: "Understand this. Travis will never go to a normal school." Yup, we needed to hear it. Thankfully Teacher Sue let us keep our spot on the waiting list, and that's how we found ourselves at the second Wiggles & Squiggles annual school play.

The costumes! The lavishly painted scenery. The stage direction! The songs with Makaton hand signs. The sheer enormity of managing all those children on stage with their wheelchairs and walking aids. Barry Ronge would give it at least a 'nutcracking nine'.

And watching from my chair right in the back row of the church, I was wrestling with stage four: depression. I scanned all the faces in the audience, searching for signs that I wasn't the only one moved to tears by the bitter sweet beauty of what was happening on stage. I wasn't.   

One year later, this family of Lionhearts is brimming with excitment and a splash of the old stage fright as we prepare for Trav's big moment in Where the Wild Things Are.

Looking back, I see so clearly now how long it has taken us to reach this happy place. This milestone called 'acceptance'.

Break a leg, Travis my boy.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Video: the Lionheart in his natural habitat

video

In my best David Attenborough nature documentary voiceover:




0:01 Observe, the young Lionheart (carnivorous mischievous) in his natural habitat.

0:03 Watch as he delivers the death grip to his spangled prey, overpowering his catch with his superior strength, before...

0:10 Going into a feeding frenzy, and momentarily losing his grip.

0:18 See how the Lionheart voices his displeasure by making loud ‘motorboat’ noises – this is how Travis usually shows that he’s not happy (as he cannot speak).

0:25 Observe the documentary maker’s bulbous finger as she scrambles to retrieve the Lionheart’s ball.

0:34 Which the Lionheart spanks into submission. Naughty ball!

0:44 And then licks!

0:46 And then BITES! Yup, the Lionheart is teething all right; see all the drool?

0:55 Notice how the Lionheart makes circles with his left foot when he’s happy. It’s one of his many stims (repetitive movements that autistic children find soothing), including hand flapping and compulsive eye-rubbing.

1:02 Travis finishes off the helpless ball with a volley of excited karate kicks. Once! Twice! And it’s all over.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Tooth fairy, you’ll need to bring a magazine

This family of Lionhearts has been fighting tooth and nail the last few days. The fevers, muti wars and coughing... well, it’s getting a little long in the tooth now. Yes, sir! I’d give my eye teeth for it to be over!

This silly idiomatic intro is courtesy of this week’s great scientific discovery: Travis is teething!

Wait for it... Can you hear that? It’s the sound of a choir of angels singing as comprehension bursts through the clouds and shines down on our household.

Travis is a slow teether. While most ruggles (regular kids) have sprouted their first set of chompers by around six months of age, Travis only got his first tooth a few days before his first birthday. It takes eons for his teeth to come through – for each set, you’re looking at around a fracking month of painful gums, drool-soaked T-shirts, irritability, sore ears, fevers and flu-like symptoms. Regular kids have it for only a couple of days before the tooth cuts, and then it’s klaar. Luckily he doesn’t suffer from the dreaded ‘acid poo’ which so many of my mom friends deal with.

So...

Hence the hectic fever and the trip to the emergency room.
Hence the ‘bronchitis’ which I’m now encasing in single quotation marks.
Hence the grumpiness!

I’m having a Dr House moment here.

I spotted the sharp white points of Travis the Lionheart’s second molars peaking through his top gums this afternoon. Had to Google to refresh my memory on the whole sequence of teething.

This is one of those Living Lionheart things: Travis couldn't TELL US that his gums are in agony. His autism and lack of fine motor skills prevent him from simply pointing a finger at his gums. The idea never crossed his mind. A special needs parent needs to be extremely observant and in tune with your child's needs. Or in my case, needs to be given a hard shake and a thwack on the head. Teething! Of course! Why didn't I think of that?

(We threw the baby books in the dustbin shortly after Trav was diagnosed at eight months of age; Miriam Stoppard and Dr Spock have zero helpful advice to offer special needs families.)

If it takes this long for our Lionheart to produce his baby teeth, can you imagine how long it’ll take for them to fall out? Tooth Fairy, if you’re listening – I’ll leave a magazine and a bumper plate of cookies on the windowsill when the time comes.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Does a spoonful of sugar make the medicine go down?

Travis the Lionheart is no fool. He’s not going to take his medicine without a fight.

Sure, you can try dress it all up like a giant fruit basket: Travis has pineapple-flavoured seizure meds (Lamactin), antibiotics with a hint of fake grape (Augmentin), pain and fever syrup with a dash of banana (Lotem) and cherry-tasting cough syrup (who knows what that one’s called). Sneaky, but not sneaky enough...

With a ruggle (a regular kid) you have some options:

• Reward – “If you swallow this one spoon of muti, I’ll give you a Caramello Bear.”
• Negotiate – “Take your medicine and you can watch Shrek after your bath”
• Reverse psychology – “I bet Ben 10 takes all his medicine. I bet he loves medicine!”

Not when you’re Living Lionheart.

You have to understand that a special needs kid like Travis operates on a more primal level. Medicine tastes bad = spit out immediately. It’s understandable. Here’s the thing though – if Travis won’t take his medicine, especially his antibiotics, the Bronchitis Boogie Man will send him back to the emergency room.

We’re desperate for the Lionheart to recover. His trapped in a horrible cycle where he coughs so hard it hurts, which makes him cry in pain, which makes him cough even harder, which makes him start screaming in pain, which makes him cough even more. It’s a special kind of horror to listen to this and know there’s nothing, as parents, we can do except cuddle him...

AND MAKE DAMN SURE HE TAKES HIS ANTIBIOTICS AND GETS BETTER!

Morne and I have tried spoons and syringes, and watering it down and even holding Trav’s nose while he bites and kicks and scratches. There’s sticky, gloopy medicine everywhere! I loathe myself for putting him through this; as if his disabilities don’t leave Travis feeling powerless as it is. By the time the meltdown subsides there is medicine in Trav’s hair, down his T-shirt and inside his ears.

Husband, during the ‘morning muti meltdown’ as Travis screams so loud the house is shaking:

“Why do I always have to give him the medicine? Why must I always be the bad cop?”

Me (filled with righteousness): “Fine! I’ll give Travis his medicine after supper tonight. You’ll see.”

Later that night, during the ‘evening muti meltdown’:

“For goodness’ sake, Morne, hold his sharp fingernails out of my way! Travis, stop spitting it out! Pass me a wet wipe. Quickly, damn it.”

Husband, who has waited for this moment all day: “I told you so.”

The family power struggles and mountains of cherry-and-banana-coloured wet wipes, and the Lionheart’s coughing and sobbing. I feel like I’m standing in the middle of the Vietnamese jungle as napalm flares up the trees all around me.

This happens twice a day for 10 days. Finish the course.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Now trending... Lionheart yoga

Sure, Travis can't walk yet, but he's spent three years perfecting
this challenging yoga position which he demonstrated again today... It's called the
'Pensive Lionheart' and is great for flexibility

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Autism: keeping the medical profession on its toes

This entire post is set to the composition Flight of the Bumblebee by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Click here to listen, for extra drama...


Me: “Sister, has anyone here been trained to deal with autistic patients?”


Travis: “Roar! Roar, roooooooaaaaaaarrrr......”


Irritated husband: “I’ve told you! We don’t need his vital signs checked! Just get us a doctor!”


Me: “Stop yelling at the nurses.”


Travis, completely freaked out by the hospital machinery the nurse is trying to hook him up to: “Roar! Roar! ROAR!!!”


The head nurse bustles into the consultation room at Flora Clinic where we’re trying desperately to see a doctor. Travis has had a raging fever all night, and when you’re the parent of a child with a brain malformation and epilepsy, this sort of thing makes you a little, ah, nervous.


Now, the receptionist has cunningly tried to distract me with a mountain of forms to fill in, even though we were at this very emergency room almost two years ago, to the day. That was when all three of us came down with violent gastro the night before Trav’s first birthday, and we had to cancel the whole shindig via mass SMS at 5am the day of the party.


“That’s too long ago,” she explains.


“Just how often do people come to the emergency room?” I ask, and my smile is pulled tighter than Za Za Gabor’s, making my ears hurt. Or it could be that my ears hurt because Travis is shrieking so piercingly that the other occupants of the waiting room have taken a time-out from their own ailments to give me that gee-lady-control-your-freaking-kid look.


Doctor Frankel swept into the room, and it was like that moment on TV shows ala Touched by an Angel when an celestial being you thought was just another human glows supernaturally and says: “I have a message for you from God”.


Except Dr Frankel’s message was: “Only 38.7 degrees? That’s just a low-grade fever, nothing to worry about.”


Boy did we feel sheepish. Both my husband and I genuinely thought that a body temp over 38 degrees was dangerous. This was confirmed by the pharmacist the evening before when I asked him at what point in the ‘marathon fever’ I needed to get Travis to a hospital. Apparently my pharmacist should stick to counting tablets.


It’s always hard when we have to take the Lionheart to a new doctor. Like that one time he got measles while we were in Kenton-on-Sea, or when his regular GP Dr Munshi is not on duty.


To explain the complexity of his condition, while he is screaming in pain and trying to commit hara kiri by throwing himself out of my arms, is... well, mission impossible.


No, you can’t listen to his chest with your stethoscope. No, you can’t check inside his ears that that whatever-you-call-it scope. Stick his tongue out and say, “Aaah?” Are you kidding me? Do you want to lose a finger, doctor? And no, he does not want a sucker.


Autism. Keeping the medical profession on its toes.


PS: Travis is much better today, thanks. He has bronchitus and is not eating much, but he’s on the mend.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Welcome to Holland... just outside Jozi, South Africa

There was a new face in the morning circle at Wiggles & Squiggles this morning.


The dashing young Levi joins Travis in the nursery class from 1 September, and I’d tried to prepare my Lionheart by adding Levi’s name to the sing-along we do on the way to school every day...

“School, school, school! We love schoooool! Teacher Sue and Tengi, Liam and Laelah, Shaihim and Norah! Annika and Travis! And our new friend Levi!

Yes, this warbling sounds a bit like a drunken llama on a trampoline...

Levi’s parents were there, big smiles and bums squished into those tiny plastic chairs – probably not knowing what on earth to expect.

I've been there, folks.

My first couple of weeks at the school, everyone kept nodding sagely at me, like the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland, and saying: “Welcome to Holland.”

Me (internal dialogue): "WTF? Welcome to where? Holland? I thought this was Boskruin!"

Me (external dialogue): "Aaaah, yes. Holland."

It was at least a month before I found the placard in the Wiggles & Squiggles parents’ waiting room... It’s a beautifully written piece by children’s author and activist Emily Perl Kingsley, whose son Jason has Down’s Syndrome.

It’s the special needs mom’s mantra.


WELCOME TO HOLLAND

By Emily Perl Kingsley


“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.”