DEAR ABBY: Your column several months ago about Down syndrome children had a profound effect on me. I especially appreciated the piece "Welcome to Holland." As a mother who has raised three special-needs children - now adults - I resented that awesome responsibility to the point where I could no longer enjoy life. I wanted to be able to do the things with my husband that any other "empty nest," middle-aged couple did. Instead, I was cast in the role of a mother with adolescentlike children. It wasn't fair.

Their demands are small, but their love is enormous. These are the windmills, the tulips and the Rembrandts of Holland. I won't find them in Italy. Thank you, Abby, for sharing that wonderful piece with your readers. - JEANNE STARR IN MISSISSIPPIDEAR JEANNE: I appreciate your kind words about the piece, and because October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month, I've been asked to run it annually. The author is Emily Pearl Kingsley.

For information on Down syndrome and support groups, please contact the National Down Syndrome Congress at this toll-free phone: (800) 232-6372.


"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 guidebooks 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 guidebooks. 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, 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.'

"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."

DEAR ABBY: I have a married daughter who has two children. I also have a son. He is not married. How should the amount I spend for Christmas gifts be figured?

For example, if I spend $100 per person for Christmas, my daughter's family will get a total of $400. Should I give my unmarried son $100 - or the same I give my daughter's family, which is $400?

I want to be fair, but I don't think my son should be cheated because he's not married. What do you think? - FEELING GUILTY IN WARREN, MICH.

DEAR FEELING GUILTY: Your son is not being cheated. If you plan on giving $100 to each person, your daughter's family is comprised of four people - hence $400 is appropriate.

Since your son has no wife and family, your gift of $100 to him is fair. You have no reason to feel guilty.

1990 Universal Press Syndicate