Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Especially grateful this Mother’s Day May 12, 2017

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Me with my mom in her assisted living room in 2014. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo by Randy Helbling.

 

THERE WAS A THURSDAY about two months ago when fear gripped my heart. Our mother, my middle brother texted, was being rushed via ambulance to the hospital and might not survive.

I exited his message, scrolled to my favorites in my contacts and pressed the green phone icon that would link me to my husband. “You need to come home now,” I ordered as I fought to suppress my emotions. He needed to finish a job and then would be on his way.

As I threw clothing into a suitcase—uncertain whether we would be staying overnight—I worried that we might not reach the hospital in time. We had a two-hour drive to Redwood Falls.

 

I printed this message inside a handmade Mother’s Day card in elementary school.

 

We arrived to find Mom settling into a room after her transfer from the ER. That afternoon I said my goodbyes to a mother in such obvious physical discomfort and distress that she wanted to die. And I was OK with that. I couldn’t bear to watch her struggling to breathe.

 

The only photo I have of my mom holding me. My dad is holding my brother Doug.

 

Many hours later, I hugged Mom for what I thought would be the last time and left her room in tears. In the hallway, I attempted to compose myself before reconnecting with family in the downstairs waiting room. As we left, the next family members rotated in.

Once I’d expelled that initial grief, I didn’t cry. I managed, an hour later, to stand before an audience in a Mankato art gallery and read my prize-winning poem about detasseling corn. I find more and more in difficult situations that I am able to establish an emotional roadblock. Perhaps that’s inner strength. Or denial. Or self-preservation.

I fully expected that we would be heading back west in a few days with black mourning clothes packed. But once again, as she has multiple times in her nearly 85 years, my mom surprised us all by recovering from a major health crisis. Her condition improved overnight and days later she was released back home to a care center.

I am grateful this Mother’s Day to still have my mother on this earth. I am grateful, too, to be the mother of three and the grandmother of one.

 

My mom saved everything, including this Mother’s Day card I made for her in elementary school. I cut a flower from a seed catalog to create the front of this card.

 

If your mother is still living, express your love to her via a visit, a phone call and/or a card. If your mother has passed, I hope, rather than grieve, you will remember her with love.

And someone, please remind my son that Sunday is Mother’s Day.

 

TELL ME: How do you honor the women in your life who are mothers on Mother’s Day?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The joys of grandparenting continued May 4, 2017

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Isabelle, my granddaughter.

 

WHEN I BECAME A GRANDMA just over a year ago, my definition of love broadened.

I discovered a new love so profound, so deep, so undeniably wonderful that it nearly defies explanation. Those of you who are grandparents understand.

 

At bedtime, Izzy did not want me to stop reading books. Her mom (pictured here) warned me she would do this. This baby girl loves books. When she awakened, Izzy pointed toward her closet and her stash of books.

 

I am re-experiencing the simple joys of life through my granddaughter. A squirrel scampering across the yard never looked so intriguing. A children’s picture book never appeared more interesting. A first step never seemed more applause worthy. A small body curved against mine never felt more comforting.

It’s not like any of this is new to me. I birthed and raised two daughters and a son and cared for many children in between. Endless memorable and loving moments imprinted upon my heart. But there’s a difference. I was a mother, not yet a grandmother.

 

Isabelle claims her grandpa’s heart and hand.

 

Grandparenting stretches love in a wider way, across and connecting generations. I find incredible joy in watching my eldest daughter with her baby girl. I find incredible joy in seeing how deeply my granddaughter loves her mama (and daddy). I delight in observing my husband as a grandfather, his grease stained fingers clutched by those of his one-year-old granddaughter.

 

On the last two visits to our home, Izzy has been drawn to the stairway. For her safety, we blocked access with a gate. But then Randy decided it was time to teach Izzy how to navigate the stairs. Once the gate was removed, she lost interest and abandoned the stairway.

 

I’m at the age when I am cognizant of time, wondering how the years of raising children—feeling sometimes overwhelmed by the demands of motherhood—slipped by, zip, just like that. Now I have an opportunity to reclaim that period of my life. If my granddaughter wants to page through the same book repeatedly, I will oblige her. If she stretches out her arm, pointing toward whatever she wants with fingers clenching and unclenching, I will “listen.” I will parcel Cheerios onto her high chair tray. I will carry her to the window to watch the neighbor’s dog. I will do what grandparents do best—I will love her with a love that is deep and tender, consuming and wonderful.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Two birthdays February 9, 2017

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Amber and Caleb. Minnesota Prairie Roots cell phone photo December 2016.

Amber and Caleb. Minnesota Prairie Roots cell phone photo December 2016.

TODAY AND TOMORROW, two of my three children turn another year older.

Now that they are adults (the daughter an hour away, the son in Boston), birthday celebrations have changed. I will celebrate belatedly with Amber by babysitting my 10-month-old granddaughter while she and her husband dine out. We’ll have a chocolate tofu pie upon their return, my contribution to the mini party.

As for Caleb, I hope to connect with him via Skype or a phone call. He’s young and single, less inclined to understand the need his mother has to talk to him on his birthday. At his early twenties age, friends take priority. No surprise there. I was once young.

Amber in 1986, sometime during her first year of life. The photo is not dated. A friend told me she looked just like the baby on the Gerber baby food jars.

Amber at six months.

Not that I was a young mother. I wasn’t, having given birth to my first daughter at age 29 ½ and to my son eight years later with another daughter in between.

Motherhood shifts behavior and thoughts to a primeval need to nurture, protect and love our children. And as the years pass, that never changes.

For his eighth birthday, Caleb's sisters created a PEEF cake for their brother.

For his eighth birthday, Caleb’s sisters created a PEEF cake for their brother.

My children’s birthdays bring now a certain melancholy in that I miss them and birthday dinners out followed by the ritual of singing “Happy Birthday!” and then eating the homemade dessert of their choice, not always cake.

But this is the logical progression of parenthood—this move of our children toward independence, beginning at birth.

Today and tomorrow, I will honor my youngest and my oldest by thinking of them, their lives and the blessings they have given me as their mother. I love them deeper than the ocean, higher than the skies. I will always love them and encourage them. They are of me and that connection binds us always on their birthdays.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Aging in Minnesota May 26, 2016

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This billboard along the northbound lane of Interstate 35 just north of Faribault prompted this post about aging. FaceAgingMN is "a statewide campaign to raise awareness about the issues of aging that accompany the reality of a rapidly aging society." The group's goal is "to create a conversation about aging.

This billboard along the northbound lanes of Interstate 35 just north of Faribault prompted my post about aging. FaceAgingMN is “a statewide campaign to raise awareness about the issues of aging that accompany the reality of a rapidly aging society.” The group’s goal is “to create a conversation about aging.”

One day, if you’re lucky, you’ll get to be old.

That single statement from the FaceAgingMN website emphasizes the positive side of aging. If we weren’t getting older every day, well, we wouldn’t be here. I remember how, when I turned 40 years old, I lamented that I was so old. My friend Jenny reminded me of the alternative. That put everything in perspective. Now, 20 years later, I wish I was only forty.

I often wonder these days, with more of my life behind me than ahead—although none of us knows the length of our days—how time passed this quickly. How can it be that I am an empty nester, now a new grandma? Where did the years go?

When I look at myself in the mirror, I see the crow’s feet lines around my eyes, the sagging chin line, the creases etched deep into my skin. I see the graying hair, the added pounds, feel the aches in my back and hip.

And, most recently, when my husband and I met with our financial advisor, we thought about retirement. How much money will we need to survive? Will we have enough? What do we envision for our retirement? How did we get this old? By living, obviously.

We are at the top end of the sandwich generation with a son about to graduate from college and parents in their eighties. Financial concerns thread through all three generations.

A dear aunt sent me a letter the other day. The golden years, she wrote, are not so golden. She then listed her husband’s health woes. I wish I could make things better for her and my uncle. I wish, too, that I could bring back my friend’s husband who died of a heart attack five weeks ago at age 59. I wish my mom would be the same mom I remember before she face planted in the floor of her assisted living apartment breaking her neck and suffering a concussion some two-plus years ago.

But I can’t change these things. I can’t change aging. But I can choose to handle aging with some sense of grace and gratitude that I get to be old.

Tell me, how are you handling aging?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflections on graduation & time passages June 11, 2015

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ON THE AFTERNOON MY HUSBAND and I dined at Teluwut in Lake Mills, Iowa, family and friends were filtering into Jayde Thompson’s graduation reception across the street at the Senior Citizen Center.

 

Lake Mills Iowa grad reception signs

 

The juxtaposition of that reception venue was not lost on me. Young and old. Beginnings and endings.

Not that senior citizen is an end. But it’s nearer ending than beginning. And although those of us who qualify for senior citizen status may sometimes feel young at heart, we no longer fit the physical definition of young.

All too many days now I wonder how the years vanished. I was once a Jayde Thompson, albeit not a cheerleader, embarking on life, eyes focused on the future. Today it’s not as much about the future as about yesterday. Or perhaps it’s that I think more now about my children’s futures.

May and June mark periods of transition for many families. Passage of time. Ceremony and applause and tears. Moving forward and standing still. Time gone. Youth beginning that all too quick movement of days, weeks, months and years that propel into the future, to wondering where yesterday went.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

October reflections from the St. Croix River valley October 15, 2014

Driving toward Taylors Falls, Minnesota, from the east.

Driving toward Taylors Falls, Minnesota, from the east provides an especially scenic view of this river community.

TWENTY-ONE YEARS AGO in October, my husband and I planned an overnight stay at a bed-and-breakfast in Taylors Falls. We anticipated gorgeous fall colors and rare time alone without the responsibilities of parenting three children.

But then my mother-in-law died unexpectedly a week before the booked get-away and we never rescheduled the trip.

Heading toward St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin, and Taylors Falls, Minnesota, along U.S. Highway 8.

Heading toward St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin, and Taylors Falls, Minnesota, along U.S. Highway 8.

This past week, we finally made it to the twin St. Croix River valley communities of Taylors Falls on the Minnesota side and St. Croix Falls in Wisconsin, staying at a chain hotel rather than a B & B. We found the glorious autumn colors we had hoped for and the freedom that comes with being empty nesters.

Shops in downtown St. Croix Falls.

Shops in downtown St. Croix Falls.

Hop in the van and go. Stop when and where we want. Drive along a winding river road. Hike without worry of kids trailing off the trail or plummeting over the edge of a rocky ledge. Eat late. Sleep in.

My husband on a dock at St. Croix Falls Lions Park along the St. Croix River.

My husband on a dock at St. Croix Falls Lions Park along the St. Croix River.

There’s something to be said for this season of life, this nearing age sixty that causes me to pause, to delight in the view, to reflect and appreciate and yearn for the past while simultaneously appreciating the days I live and those which lie before me.

"River Spirit," a bronze sculpture by local Julie Ann Stage, embodies the poetry and natural beauty of the St. Croix River Valley. The artwork was installed in 2007 and stands at a scenic overlook in downtown St. Croix Falls.

“River Spirit,” a bronze sculpture by local Julie Ann Stage, embodies the poetry and natural beauty of the St. Croix River Valley. The artwork was installed in 2007 and stands at a scenic overlook in downtown St. Croix Falls.

Perhaps I think too deeply, too poetically sometimes.

Reflections, like watercolor on water.

Reflections, like watercolor on water. A scene photographed at St. Croix Falls Lions Park.

But like the trees buffeting the banks of the St. Croix, I see my days reflected in the river of life.

Beauty along the St. Croix River.

Beauty along the St. Croix River as seen from Lions Park.

Blazing colors mingling with green.

Leaves upon rock, reflect the unchangeable and the changeable.

Leaves upon rock, reflect the unchangeable and the changeable.

Changed and unchanging.

Days of simply enjoying life.

Days of simply enjoying life.

Yesterday, today, tomorrow.

Life is like a river, sometimes calm, sometimes raging.

Life is like a river, sometimes calm, sometimes raging. A view of the St. Croix River shoreline from Lions Park.

Life.

FYI: Click here for more information about the Taylors Falls and St. Croix Falls area.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Time passages September 26, 2014

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I recently started collecting alarm clocks and now have four, three Westclox and one General Electric.

I recently started collecting alarm clocks and now have four, three Westclox and one General Electric.

NEVER HAVE I BEEN MORE COGNIZANT of the passage of time than during this past year.

I can’t pinpoint a precise reason for this deep sense of time fleeting. Rather, a combination of life events has spawned this feeling.

A year ago, my eldest married. Although she graduated and left home 10 years ago and her sister two years later, only two years have passed since my youngest started college. He’s in his third year now, his second in Boston. He spent the summer there, too, working. I haven’t seen him in three months, won’t see him for another three.

I miss him and the girls—their closeness, the hugs, the conversation, the everything (almost) that comes with parenting children you love beyond words. Too many days I wish only to turn back the moments.

I wish again to be that young mom, with issues no bigger than the occasional two-year-old’s tantrum or the snarky teen or a kid I can’t rouse from bed or the picky eater. But when you’re handling such challenges, they seem ominous and big and looming. Ridiculous.

If only we knew.

Granted, I am, as the old adage says, “older and wiser.” But such wisdom comes via life experiences that color hair gray. Or maybe not solely. Time does that, too.

I am now the daughter with a mother in a nursing home, my father in his grave for nearly a dozen years. A friend noted the other day that he never saw his parents grow old to the age of needing his care. And I wondered if that was good or bad and then I didn’t want to think about it anymore.

I am now so close to age sixty that I feel my fingers reflexively curving around the numbers.

Which brings me to today, my birthday.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling