Just about 2 years ago, I fell extremely ill. It was a scary time for our family as the doctors were unable to identify the cause or provide a treatment. I was 33 years old, a stay at home mom with 3 young boys, and I suddenly found myself bed ridden and unable to care for my family. Even the simplest of tasks, like changing my baby’s diaper, became extremely difficult. On most days I was not well enough to even sit up to the dinner table. As my husband did his best to take over the household duties, a lot of responsibility was also placed on the young shoulders of my oldest son, Benjamin, who was just 7 years old and in 1st grade.
During this time, I tried my best to stay positive and look for the good around me. I would often reassure my children that “Mommy is going to be okay!” I used to be so active, it was such a change in the house for my children. One day, when I was particularly sick, Benjamin and I made a list of things that no matter how sick I became, I could still do these things with my boys. We filled the list with items like “I can hug my children” and “Read a story together” or just simply “Snuggle”. Benjamin taped the list to the fridge and it became a powerful reminder of the many good things we could still enjoy as a family.
After 9 months of testing, my doctors sent me to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. While there, I was diagnosed with a severe auto immune disorder and was told I would never be able to resume the life I had lived before. My body was too weak for me to walk very far, so I had to be pushed in a wheelchair. We traveled back home with the disappointing news to tell my young sons that Mom would not be getting better and that we had to find the best way to live with this new “normal”.
School soon started and Benjamin began the 2nd grade. Then one day he came home overflowing with excitement! “Mom! There’s a PTA Reflections contest and I want to win!” He was so determined and as he thought over what he could write about, he realized that he had a story he could share – about what he had learned during my illness and how we could still find the magic in the moments we spent together.
I don’t think I have ever seen him work so hard on anything in his life. He wrote so carefully, one or two sentences at a time. Slowly, paragraph by paragraph he began to share his feelings. As I read, sometimes my heart would ache. He shared feelings and worries he had never told me about before. It was only as I read his essay that I realized that while I thought I had been brave for him, he had also been brave for me.
When he was finished, honestly, I was hesitant to let him submit it. I did not like to talk about how hard things had become with my illness and he was so open and truthful about it. Perhaps that is when the real magic began to happen. Somehow, my son’s having the courage to speak about what we were going through gave me more courage. Then, amazingly, he started winning. First his essay won for his school, and then his city, and then the state! With each win, his confidence soared and he felt pride in his story. When Benjamin won in his category for the nation, we were overjoyed! It gave our entire family such a happy experience to share with others – and when they asked “What was his story about?” we would share his essay with them. Some visitors cried as they read it, others just smiled. Winning this contest not only gave Benjamin a voice, but it gave our whole family a voice to share our experience.
I never imagined the terrific, positive affect this contest would have on our family. I am writing this because I want you to know that this program truly makes an impact in others lives. I know it did for us. It came at a time when it was so important for not only my son, but our whole family to have something happy to talk about. It turned a difficult topic into something positive that he could share with others. Best of all, he learned that not only could he share his feelings about something difficult, but he could be rewarded for it!
I am happy to tell you that this summer, after 18 long months of illness, a local doctor here in Montana ran a test that had been missed by Mayo. It revealed that my urine was full of infection. Through a cat scan we discovered that my right kidney is positioned almost upside down in my body and creating a constant site of infection. I had been misdiagnosed at Mayo! I was put immediately on an antibiotic (we had tried others in the past but not specific for the kidneys) and within 4 days all of my symptoms were gone. Almost as suddenly as my trial began, it was over! It appears I can manage this condition by remaining continually on antibiotics, as that is a safer option over surgery, but that is a small price to pay to have my life back!
I look back at the last few sentences of Benjamin’s essay “Don’t give up. Keep on going. You can get through your difficulty no matter how hard that trial is. Your persistence will win.” I am amazed at the truth in his words.
Emily Hodson is originally from Shelley, Idaho where she grew up riding horses and performing the piano. Emily, 35, and husband Dan, a podiatric surgeon, live in Great Falls, Montana. Their home lies along the Missouri River where their 3 young boys, Benjamin (9), Nathan (5), and Lincoln (3) enjoy searching for crawfish, clams, and tadpoles. Emily has her Masters in Accounting and worked for several large CPA firms. After the birth of her first child, she decided to leave her career and become a stay-at-home mom. Emily and her family were introduced last year to the PTA’s Reflections program and Benjamin’s entry surprised them all by winning!