Interview with Katherine Perreth, author of Making Lemonade with Ben
By tlgleichner on June 21, 2014
With deftly wielded humor and heart-wrenching candor, Katherine Perreth vividly recounts the myriad physical, mental, emotional and spiritual repercussions stemming from her son’s massive brain hemorrhage. Seven-year-old Ben suffers numerous disabilities and, later, mental health challenges. Yet, love wins. Making Lemonade With Ben is a compelling Cinderella story tracing sixteen years of Ben’s life. It begins with the night a University of Wisconsin Hospital neurosurgeon saved Ben, and follows Ben through young adulthood. Although he encounters years of substantial obstacles, in 2011 his never-say-die cheery attitude and uber-outgoing ways ultimately carry him to Washington D.C. There he represents the Madison Children’s Museum, his employer, at a national award ceremony. Wearing his ankle-foot-orthosis with a smiley face on the back, Ben juggles one-handed everywhere he goes, accomplishing his life goal: “Make humanity smile.” Universal themes of perseverance and compassion encourage readers to contemplate contemporary issues: mental illness treatment, recovery and stigma, the role of intentional employers in the lives of those with disabilities, and the success that can occur when a community values all of her citizens.
1. Can you please tell us a little about Making Lemonade With Ben: The Audacity to Cope?
At age seven, my undiagnosed ADHD, loquacious son, Ben, experienced a sudden massive brain hemorrhage, stilling and silencing him.
Making Lemonade With Ben alternates between two timelines: 1996-2010, Ben’s traumatic yet often hilarious childhood, and the very sweet story from the fall of 2011. The Madison Children’s Museum hired 23-year-old Ben as a one-handed juggler, then selected him to represent the museum at a national award ceremony in Washington D.C. The First Lady typically and annually presents the National Medal for Museum and Library Service.
Although Making Lemonade With Ben chronicles Ben’s life, it’s also a study on my family, especially myself. The book details the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual impact Ben’s life wrought. I am so accurately portrayed that sometimes I feel as if I were Lady Godiva, minus the hair.
2. What was the hardest part of writing your book?
The most challenging part was immersing myself in the often-traumatic years of 1996-2010. I made sure that I rewarded myself regularly, kept up with my self-care practices, and whenever I wrote Ben through a particularly rough patch, ratcheted up the reward: pedicure, or in some dire cases, as when finishing Comaland, one-hour massages. Since I wrote Comaland twice, the first time without the aid of my husband’s invaluable notebook, I received two massages. Yes!
3.Do you have a favorite excerpt from the book? If so, could you please share it with us? From Chapter 3: What’s The Frequency?
Ben’s acceptance, at age twenty-two, in a mental health program called Yahara House (YH), provided dignity, structure, and pride. And relieved me of my title Case Manager Mom, a badge I’d worn with increasing despair for fourteen years.
Ben also volunteered very part-time at Madison Children’s Museum (MCM). Juggling one-handed, handling Earl the Eastern Milk Snake (especially thrilling, as he had given up his childhood dream of becoming a herpetologist), caring for chickens on the museum’s rooftop, and interacting with the general public and their children. Ben had found home, delivering one-liners to a steady stream of strangers, making them smile.
The near-simultaneous combination of becoming part of the YH community, and volunteering at MCM, had proved a rescuing one-two punch, knocking out Ben’s hopelessness, fear, uncertainty, low self-esteem, and a host of other negatives. Taking one arm each, they had hoisted him to his feet, and his mother along with him.
On Saturday, 9/10/11, I pondered our new lives while on one of my endorphin-seeking walks. Returning, I saw messages from the evening before flashing on the answering machine. One perkily communicated, “Hi, this is Eric, the Volunteer Coordinator from Madison Children’s Museum. I’d like to talk to you about Ben. Please call me, I’ll be around Saturday from noon until five.”
For 5,700 days, phone calls regarding Ben had often meant trouble of sorts. This one didn’t sound bad; Eric sounded upbeat. And Ben had recently interviewed for a paid position at the museum. He thought the interview went well. But why would staff call me? Breathe.
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