Six years ago, resident Mary Lou Hurley responded to a call for essays put out by a radio show called "This I Believe" on NPR 93.9 FM. The show's founder and editor, Dan Gediman, was collecting essays written by listeners on the subject of human relationships for an upcoming book.
The idea appealed to Hurley, who has lived in Bloomingdale for 23 years. She is married with two children and has a background as a health and medical writer in publishing and advertising.
"This is actually the type of writing I always wanted to do," Hurley said. "The magazine writing was done for consumers and professionals. I like that kind of writing, but this is one step further, where I get to be creative and personal."
Hurley said she decided to write about the "power of example."
"My best role models were in my own family — my parents, my grandparents — people I meet every day," Hurley said. "My mom died at a very young age. She was 44, so she wasn’t around when I became a mother. So the whole point of the essay was that I learned how to be a mother through my memories of her and the power of her example."
Hurley sent in her essay but didn't think it would make the cut because she said her story was not as compelling or heart-wrenching as others.
“When they started talking about the ones that they had accepted on NPR, I figured I wouldn’t be selected,” Hurley said. “There were very compelling stories about people who survived the Holocaust, people who had been refugees… all these people who had really horrendous things to overcome. My story is a nice essay about my mother."
Hurley didn’t realize how her simple yet powerful message would be received, and she actually “kind of forgot about it.”
A year ago, she got an email from the station saying they were doing another collection of essays in a book called This I Believe: On Motherhood, edited by Dan Gediman. Hers had been selected, and they wanted her permission to publish it. She was thrilled. The book was released on April 10 of this year.
Hurley said the book includes 60 essays on different aspects of motherhood from both a mom and child perspective. There are stories about being adopted, being a teenage mom, people who have difficult relationships with their mother and women who have lost children.
Hurley’s children were 11 and 9 when she wrote the essay. In it, she gives examples of how her memories help her be a mom to them.
“I would think back on how [my mom] did things with us as kids," she said. "One example I used in the essay is when you have a baby, there’s a whole debate on whether you should let them cry themselves to sleep in their crib, or pick them up. So when it came to that with my son, I said to myself, 'Gee, I can’t remember my mother not comforting me. I certainly can’t remember being a baby, but she never said to me, ‘Oh get over it.’ She would always comfort me."
"If I was puzzled about something, I would think, 'How did my mother do it?,' and I would do it that way. She was a good role model. So I said, 'When my son cries, I’ll always comfort him.'”
Hurley wrote about the importance of spending time with each child — something her mom did with her.
"My mother would do things with us individually," Hurley said. "I cherish the time I had with her alone because I was the only girl."
Hurley learned valuable lessons about life and death from conversations with her mom as she neared the end of her battle with breast cancer.
“She said to me one day, when she was very, very ill, ‘You know, I’ve thought about dying a thousand times. I’m only gonna die once. Why am I putting myself through this over and over again when I only have to do it once? So I’m not gonna think about it anymore.’"
When Hurley learned her essay was accepted, she did a few revisions but was basically pleased with it.
“After six years, I actually still liked it,” Hurley said. “They asked me if I wanted to add anything, so I added a sentence or two at the end about using my mother’s approach with my kids a little bit further."
The book came out in time for Mother’s Day this year. Hurley told her friends and family, who were very excited.
“A couple of people said they were gonna buy it and wanted me to autograph it. People were excited and happy. I told the people who knew my mother, you’re gonna cry when you read this because if you know my mom, it’s really heart-wrenching," she said.
Hurley said the essays were drawn from over 100,000 submissions, categorized by different subjects, including fatherhood, neighborhoods and communities. The call for essays is ongoing and can be found in the back of the book and on the website. All proceeds from book sales go back into the project.