Brenda Arens Reed was “bummed” when she found out her son, who was 5 months old at the time, had astigmatism in both eyes and needed to start wearing glasses.
For the Elkhorn mother, glasses would be “another thing to put on him every day, another thing to clean and something else to pay for.”
But she soon realized how small a problem it was after she learned of a friend who also took their child to a pediatric ophthalmologist. This child, however, had cancer of the retina. That family had to fly to New York to see a specialist, and the young girl had surgery to remove the eye.
Arens Reed said she felt guilty for feeling bad, and her friend’s situation reminded her of how quickly things can change for the worse. It also reminded her of the importance of mothers helping each other out.
Arens Reed told this story during a speech at the American Mothers national conference in Washington, D.C., last month about how her son got glasses—and how she gained perspective.
American Mothers named Arens Reed the 2018 Wisconsin Mother of the Year (the winner of the national award was from Michigan).
But as a new mother herself, Arens Reed said she was “inspired” and “humbled” by the other mothers she saw and heard from at the conference on April 23 and 24. While there, Arens Reed met U.S. Sens. Ron Johnson and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin.
American Mothers, Inc. is a non-governmental organization established in 1935. Its founders included Eleanor Roosevelt, Mamie Eisenhower and JC Penney, according to its website.
Arens Reed acknowledged Wisconsin’s chapter of American Mothers is referred to as “inactive.” She said she was one of three nominees this year for the award, and her aunt, who is involved with American Mothers, encouraged others to nominate her.
Her sister, who does research on preterm labor, was South Dakota’s winner, she said.
What she took from the conference, however, was not about awards. She said the biggest takeaway was the caliber of mothers she saw.
One woman had fostered 150 children in her life, Arens Reed said. Another had 14 children of her own.
“These women were incredible,” she said. “(They) made me feel like I need to do something with my life.”
Now Arens Reed is smiling when she puts Clay’s glasses on him. Clay, who is about 16 months old with big blue eyes, smiles back at his mom at first, but then scowls a bit as he takes the glasses off his head in the family’s Elkhorn kitchen.
Clay is “very busy,” and “always on the move,” Arens Reed said.
He’s close to walking, but spends his time scooting around. She takes advice from her own mother and others, but she said every kid is different, so parents should do what is best for theirs.
Arens Reed, who is a small animal veterinarian in Muskego, recently moved to Elkhorn after having lived in Whitewater and Janesville. She grew up in Nebraska butmoved to the area for a job and met her husband, who is originally from Elkhorn.
Jennifer A.A. Gubbels, who has known Arens Reed for a while, is one of the people who wrote about Arens Reed on the American Mothers website. She said Arens Reed’s care for animals has translated to her life as a mother.
“Although Brenda’s family is in just the beginning stages of growing, she already has the fundamentals of motherhood down pat,” Gubbels wrote. “And I am certain I will continue to be inspired as I watch her find joy among the many sacrifices that motherhood can bring.”
Arens Reed said a great mother has an open mind, patience, a sense of humor and “obviously” a lot of love.
Those foundational traits can help when things get difficult.
“Count your blessings,” she said. “Life is gonna throw you some curveballs.”