Sunday, June 29, 2014

An Interview with Ben Perreth of Making Lemonade with Ben Fame

Ben Perreth is an incredibly amazing young man. At age seven he survived a brain hemmorage, as chronicled by his mother Katherine Perreth in the must-read book, Making Lemonade with Ben: The Audacity to Cope.  That singular event launched him and his family on a journey that reads more like fiction, but is every bit reality. I can't say enough about the book. It is a page turner from beginning to end, a roller coaster of emotions, but a story told with incredible humor and perspective. 

In a previous post I interviewed Katherine by email. You'll want to take a look at that conversation. Of course, Katherine is articulate and expressive. But I think you'll be blown away by Ben's own voice. He is an individual with much to say about his life and life in general.  It's no wonder he was elected to travel to Washington D.C. to accept a national award on behalf of the Children's Museum of Madison where he works. I suspect we'll be hearing a lot more from this young man in the future.

A Conversation with Ben Perreth

MCW:  Ben, how old are you now?

Ben:  In months, 310, but in years, 25. Since I started working at the children’s museum I noticed that when I ask how old their babies or toddlers are, parents answer in months. So when they question me, “How old are you?” I answer the same way.

MCW: Tell me about what it was like during the time your mom was writing the book. Were you aware of what she was doing? Did you have any input into it or any influence over what she wrote?
Katherine and Ben Perreth at a local award ceremony
Ben:  I was always thinking that this book would be too much for her, and I was trying to stay out of her way and my dad kept on reminding me until I got it. It was during the last summer when my mom was writing the book, I think when I saw her she was exactly like a statue, always in one place, in the back yard under the lilacs writing very fervently.

Yes, I did have influence. My mom would always come and ask me, “Hey, Ben, I was thinking of taking this out,” or “I think you won’t like this,” and I said to her, “Mom, slow down, go to yoga, remember my words: this book is the only book you’re going to write and you have my stamp of approval for putting in all of it, the ups and downs, depressions, psych ward twice, and going to Disney to enjoy it before the radiation.”

I wrote three sections, from myself. And I have the last word, in the whole book, which I think is very uplifting, especially when people read it.

After I read the final draft of the book I said to my mom, “It’s flawless sprinkled with awesomeness!” And ain’t that the truth!

MCW:  When you look back on the years from when you were seven and into your teens, what memories stick out most in your mind?

Ben: I thought about that and it’s still to this day that the sharpest memories that really stick out are the ones that I am peaceful. Like, five minutes before I drift off to dreamless sleep, knowing that I don’t have to be so resilient at the moment. Hearing my mom’s voice, singing, “I love you, Benjamin.”

Running with my favorite cousins and my brother and sister, running around the red-leaved burning bush and into the garden while my mom took a picture. I felt so alive and the weight of all the bad stuff, the medical, and hospitals and stresses of my life were gone in those moments. 

When I got the news from my drama director, telling me that I got the part of Grandpa Joe, knowing that I made the cast as one of the main parts in the play.

When I went into a new cave, a sense of wonder, astonishment and a deeper sense of longing to find the end of the cave. In Arizona, in my junior year of high school when I was having depression, we went into the biggest cave I’ve ever been in, and I had my body leaning against it, and the guide said, “Ben don’t lean on it more than what you are, because we don’t know how far it goes down.”

I said, “Maybe a mile?”

And she said, “Well, it’s deeper than that.”

I felt, and I made an illustration, that this cave was my life. That there is no end until I finally pass away. It was taking the weight off my chest again, the not knowing what’s in store for my life. It was very moving.

Whenever I’m in an airplane, I’m above the clouds and letting my spirit fly. I’m looking down at night seeing the lights, and seeing the images and shapes in my mind. I saw a baseball player hitting a ball with his bat and the white rabbit in Frosty the Snowman.

When Sam, Sarah, Mom and Dad and I climbed up the very steep hills of the Black Hills, and I saw tens of thousands of grasshoppers. And my mom started singing, “The hills are alive, with the sound of music,” and I started to move like my mom, bringing my arms out, up and floaty, and I felt the increase of my contentment and joy of being wild.

When me and Pilot Neal, it was just us in the Morey Airport taking off, and I was telling him my story. We flew and I navigated the coordinates of Tyrol Basin and finally found my Grandpa Syrup’s house in the country. We saw three turkeys fanned out, grazing on his hill. Flying back, I saw my mom’s house that she’s been living in for many years of her life. The neon bright, sun-golden flowers in my grandmother’s rock wall at mom’s house, and feeling the love emitting from them, drilling into my soul.

MCW: What are you doing now with your life and work?

Ben:  I’m being very vigilant and proactive, putting first things first, keeping the end of the goal in my mind from day to day, thinking win-win, because most of my life has been down. I feel most of those principles guiding my heart in the right direction.

For work, there are two places. The Yahara House, where I hone in my skills weekly, cooking for whoever is going to eat lunch that day or the next day. We occasionally make a pie or have a discussion of what’s going to happen the next week. There’s a weekly menu. With the help of a staff worker at Yahara House, Janet, who I’m so grateful towards telling me, “Get yourself up again, Ben, and shine!”
Ben and Katherine Perreth
I work at the Madison Children’s Museum. I like to rephrase my work into, “I get paid to have fun at the children’s museum!” From the time I started working there, I have said that. Being the Discovery Guide for kids and people of all ages brings more than money into my life.

Hobbies are very crucial to my life. Being an actor from an early age, I have been in an Acting Techniques class, for four years now. Mind you, I have to pay for each session, and I’ve been in for 19 sessions.

I also go to a free thought group, AHA! That stands for agnostic, humanist and atheist. We have philosophy discussions. And afterwards we go to the Rathskellar.

For my solitude, I like to walk in nature.

All those three things, my life, work and hobbies cannot function without the other two. Like a stool.

Thank you, Ben, for such awesome thoughts and insights!  

Making Lemonade with Ben: The Audacity to Cope won the Readers' Favorite 2013 International Book Award in the "non-fiction, inspirational" category.  You can find it on Amazon, at Barnes & Noble, or request it through your public library.

And be sure to check out my interview with author (and Ben's Mom) Katherine Perreth

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