Thank you to everyone who participated in the 2012 Mom of the Year Contest. The stories that have been shared with us were inspiring and heartfelt. After reading all the entries - and shedding many tears - we have made a very difficult choice for this year's winner. Before we do that we would like to thank every Mom who spends every day giving their love and support to their children. We hope this Mother's Day (Sunday, May 13, 2012) you will take some time to thank a Mom for everything they have done for the children in their lives.
The 2012 Mom of the Year is...
Elizabeth "Beth" Paige Garrett
Nominated by: Emilie Godwin
Despite the multiple and overwhelming challenges that Beth has faced over the course of her life and, most poignantly, in recent years, she devotes all of her energy and life force into being the best possible mother she can to her son and my Godson, Garrett Brown - 7 years old. Beth herself was adopted at birth. Beth has often told me that being adopted allowed her to genuinely understand what true parenting love is - both from the woman who selflessly gave her to a better life, and from the amazing parents who raised her. When she was 19 years old, she lost her father to a sudden heart attack. At 22, she took a hiatus from college to come home and single-handedly care for her mother as she died from Ovarian Cancer. Rather than succumb to the pain that came with her losses, Beth drew strength in the profound connection she was able to solidify with her mother as they shared the perhaps most intimate part of life - leaving it. At 30, Beth gained the opportunity to herself become a mother. Unfortunately, the father of her child did not embrace the role as she did, and Beth began her journey into parenthood as a single mother. Alone and pregnant, she moved across the country from Florida to Virginia to be near the remaining family she had. She struggled financially, working long hours at low paying jobs, but during Garrett's early years she began to show the amazing mother she would become. Every decision she made was with her son's emotional and physical welfare in mind. With no grandparents to babysit, no father to pay the bills, she focused only on her son. When he was 2, she met a wonderful man who she would marry and would join her in raising Garrett. They forged an amazing family and settled into what they believed would be the typical American family life. Beth returned to school to seek a Master's Degree in School Counseling, saying, "I want Garrett to see the importance of Education, and my actions and modeling will speak a thousand times louder than any words I could say to him."
Unfortunately, 2 years ago at the age of 35, Beth was diagnosed with Stage 3 Breast Cancer. Often it is said that when true challenges present themselves, that is when the merit of a person will show. Through rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, Beth continued to put all of her force into the care of her son. She would leave chemo and go straight to take Garrett to the park, determinedly showing him that she was his rock, that Cancer did not define their family, and that enjoying a sunny day as mother and son was still a priority. As she continued the grueling treatment, often the youngest person in the chemo room or her support group by decades, she took charge of Garrett's fear and emotional pain. She found a therapist for him before he showed any signs of struggle. She spoke to his school, educating teachers, counselors, and administration on what it means to have a parent with Cancer. When Garrett's Kindergarten year confirmed an early suspicion that he might have ADHD, she took him to a full 6 hour evaluation at MCV, took courses herself on how to best parent a child with these challenges, and scheduled appointments for behavioral strategies to help him in between her own doctors visits. But, most importantly, she cultivated his emotional health with their relationship. They talked - about his fears, about the fact that it was ok to be scared, about what would happen if she died. When he sobbed watching her vomit and wretch in pain from her treatment, she laid on the floor next to him and cried with him, telling him that she loved him and it was ok to be sad. She gave him confidence and strength through her emotional support, even when she was so weak that she had to be hospitalized herself due to chemo-related anemia. She showed Garrettt the inside of the ambulance, explained her medicine port, and - once she was back home - let him make a statue of Star Wars figurines who were going through chemo. And she held his hand while he drew a bulls eye on a tree, declared, "That spot is Cancer", and shot arrows at the tree until well past the sunset.
She also held high expectations for his behavior at both school and home. She insisted, "Neither cancer nor ADHD is his get-out-of-jail-free card. He WILL draw strength from this, and we will expect him to do so!" And, she showed him strength through her own actions. After a one semester break, she returned to school, determined to complete the degree program she had started. On a slower schedule, and with new limitations, she persevered as a student, recently being asked by the department head to give the commencement speech at her upcoming graduation. She continued to show her son what it means to not only survive, but thrive - by enrolling in activities such as volunteering to be a mentor at a camp for children who had lost a parent. She expected the best out of both herself and her son, all the while acknowledging their struggle and sadness.
Today, Beth is 6 months out of treatment. Despite early learning struggles, Garrett's favorite "toys" right now are the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books he carries with him everywhere - because his mother would not allow him to be labled or pegged as a child who didn't love to learn. Despite being in treatment when Garrett was diagnosed with ADHD, he has an IEP - initiated entirely by Beth. And, he has proudly been on "Blue" or "Green" - the highest behavior colors in his class - for the last 3 months. And, it is this final story that I believe shows just how strong Beth has been for her son:
A woman who was associated with Beth's support group discovered that she had but a few months left to live when her brain tumor returned with savage intensity. As a final wish, the woman - we'll call her "Jane" - asked her friends to help her raise money to fight her killer - not for her own life, but for the lives of others. Beth explained the woman's prognosis and her wishes to Garrett with the same strength, candor, and emotional sensitivity that she has carried and carries throughout her own struggle. Garrett said, "Mom, I have $60 from allowance and birthday money. I want to give it all to Jane." Choking back tears, Beth asked him if he would like to deliver the present in person. As they drove to present her dying friend with the money, Garrett as always carried the ribbon his teacher had given him months before in his pocket - a blue ribbon stating, "You are Brave!" Her young son opined as they drove - "Mom, Do you think Jane is scared?" Beth responded honestly - "Yes, baby. I imagine she is very scared." Next, he confirmed the message that Beth had delivered to him time and again, "But Mom, being brave is being scared but going on anyway, right?" She replied as always - "That's right, G-man. That is what being brave is. Just like us!" Upon arriving to give Jane the money, Garrett pulled his cherished ribbon from his pocket. He walked up to Jane - a woman with no hair, whom he had never met, who was clearly dying. Without a trace of the fear that many children show in the presence of illness and death, Garrett said, "Jane, I think you must be very brave. This is for you." Along with the jar of bills and coins, Beth watched as Garrett handed over his most precious possession - his ribbon of Bravery. Jane of course protested - "No, Garrett! This is for you because YOU are a brave boy!" But Garrett held firm: "No. You are very brave because you must be scared, but you are going on anyway. I think you should have this ribbon." True to the strength that she has shown throughout, Beth fought the urge to let Jane give back his ribbon, instead taking his hand to leave and saying, "Garrett, you are simply amazing."