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DEAR ABBY: Several years ago, a mother of a disabled child sent you a moving essay, "Welcome to Holland." It became one of my most treasured pieces, but unfortunately I have lost my copy. Could you please reprint it for me and your readers? -- A GRANDMA IN NASHVILLE

DEAR GRANDMA: With pleasure. I am frequently asked to reprint the essay written by Emily Perl Kingsley, a wonderful mother whose child had Down syndrome. October is National Down Syndrome Awareness Month, and this essay is dedicated to the parents and grandparents of all children who cope with disabilities.

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 the 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 guidebooks and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. Michelangelo's "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 flight attendant comes 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 guidebooks. 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, 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 go away, because the loss of that dream is a 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.

Readers, this is Abby again: For information about Down syndrome, and to be put in touch with local Down syndrome organizations, write to the National Down Syndrome Congress, 7000 Peachtree-Dunwoody Road NE, Building 5, Suite 100, Atlanta, GA 30328-1655. Its hotline -- (800) 232-NDSC (6372) -- also offers a wealth of information on any subject related to Down syndrome. A telephone call can provide you with that difficult-to-find information or assist you in establishing contact with other parents of children with Down syndrome. The Web site is: www.ndsccenter.org.

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