Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Double the family birthdays in February February 9, 2022

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(Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo)

THE EARLY DAYS of February hold a special place in our family. On subsequent days years apart, I birthed my eldest daughter and then, the day before her eighth birthday, my son. What are the odds? My second daughter was born in mid-November.

Amber, age six months.

Time has a way of slipping by. It seems only yesterday that Amber arrived via emergency C-section following a labor so ridiculously long that I don’t even want to remember it. Eventually, my doctor determined she was frank breech. I’ll always remember the joy I felt in seeing my first-born. All 9 lbs., 7 oz. of her. A darling girl turned woman who has always possessed a loving, caring and giving spirit. And a dose of humor inherited from her father.

Often, Randy and I told young Amber that we loved her more than pizza. She observed, in blooming tulips, that “the flowers are opening their mouths.” And once, on a lengthy trip to Mandan/Bismarck for a Helbling family reunion, she refused to nap because she said she might miss something. She declared, then, too, that everyone lived in hotels (given the lack of farm and town sightings). I was pregnant with her brother. It proved a long trip with frequent bathroom stops.

For his eighth birthday, Caleb’s sisters created a PEEF cake for their brother. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

When Caleb was born, the bond between brother and sisters proved almost instantaneous. Both girls eagerly cuddled their 10 lb, 12-ounce baby brother, giving me much-needed time to prepare meals, for example. They later taught him numbers and letters and once created a PEEF birthday cake for him. They remain bonded not only by genetics and memories, but by a genuine familial love and care for one another. Sure, they sometimes got under each others’ skin while growing up. That passed.

Caleb at 1 1/2 days old. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

My first memory of Caleb post C-section birth was watching as a nurse brought him to me, near enough to kiss his warm baby soft cheek. Oh, love beyond love. If only I could have taken my chunky son with the head of thick reddish hair into my arms. But the surgeon had yet to perform inguinal hernia surgery.

Post surgery I experienced an excruciating spinal headache that left me nauseated, in pain and unable to hold Caleb for any length of time. Nothing, and I mean nothing, worked and I left the hospital days later still feeling awful. I shall forever feel grateful to the OB nurses who loved on Caleb when I couldn’t.

Love. When I became a mother all those decades ago, then expanding my mother’s love twice more, I understood what it meant to love selflessly. I will always always always be there for my daughters and son. To encourage. To support. To celebrate.

Caleb and Amber. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2017)

This week I celebrate the birthdays of two amazing individuals. Amber, a full-time mom to my two darling grandchildren. I love watching her as a mother; she’s patient, loving, kind, encouraging… Caleb, back in college as a full-time PhD student, whose strength I admire. I miss him and think of him every day, as I do my second daughter living in eastern Wisconsin.

Yet, despite our geographical separation (Caleb lives in Indiana), nothing can distance us from the years we all lived under the same roof. Years of love and memories that bond us as family. Our love endures and so does that we’re-always-here-for-one-another attitude.

Happy birthday, Amber and Caleb, with love from Mom!

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


February family birthdays February 8, 2019

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One of my all-time favorite photos of my son at age 5. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


FEBRUARY 9 AND 10 HOLD importance for me. They are the dates two of my three children, now all adults, were born. The daughter arrived first, a second daughter 21 months later in November and then the son on February 9, the day before his oldest sister’s eighth birthday.

Yes, I was a busy mom. There never seemed to be time for myself or enough time in a day. Something always needed doing. Someone always needed help or attention. I’m not complaining, just telling it like it was.

I miss those days. I miss my kids. But I did my job, as best I could, raising them to be independent adults. The daughter is married, a busy mother of two, including a newborn. I love watching her with her daughter and son. She’s attentive, loving, caring and just a really good mom.


My eldest daughter at three months old. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


Sometimes when I look at my granddaughter, I glimpse Amber at the same age. There’s a certain way Izzy will act or a profile I’ll catch or a look I’ll see that makes me think for a moment that I’m watching my eldest daughter. What a gift to experience that timeless moment.

With my son, who lives way too far away from Minnesota in Boston, I remember most the moment he arrived home from school. Nearly daily Caleb asked for a hug. He didn’t need to ask. I would have given him one. But to hear his sweet request, oh, what joy that brought this mama. I miss his hugs. Whenever he’s back for a visit, I grab all the hugs I can to hold emotionally close in his absence.

There will be lots of hugs in the next few days as Caleb flies in for a short visit, totally unexpected. It will be the first time since 2012 that we’ve been together on his birthday. I’m excited.

Because of distance and/or busyness of life, I seldom celebrate my kids’ birthdays with them. It just is not possible. But that doesn’t change how I feel about their birthdays. Their births opened my heart to a love that is intuitive and deep and unconditional—a mother’s love.

Happy birthday, Amber and Caleb! I love you both always. And I look forward to celebrating with both of you this weekend. My mama’s heart is happy.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


In celebration of my daughter & son on their February birthdays February 9, 2018

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A cake made by my niece, also named Amber, for her daughter several years ago. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


FEBRUARY BRINGS NOT ONLY the dreaded time of year when I must prepare information for the tax preparer. But it, thankfully, also brings joy as two of my three now grown children celebrate birthdays. Today and tomorrow.


Amber at six months old. File photo.


Eight years apart in age, Amber and Caleb are at two distinctly different points in their lives. Amber is well-settled into married life and life as a mom to Izzy, nearly two. Caleb lives with several other guys in a greater Boston apartment and is just beginning his career in technology.

With nearly 1,400 miles separating my oldest and youngest and with their sister living in between in eastern Wisconsin, we manage to gather as a family about once a year—the last time for a family reunion in August. I don’t like that such distances separate us. But it is our reality and we rely on technology to stay connected.


Caleb at 1 1/2 days old. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


When I think back on the connection between my eldest daughter and her brother, I smile. From the day I came home from the hospital with my 10 lb., 12 oz. bruiser baby boy, Amber doted on him. She was at the perfect age to embrace a baby. Later Amber assumed the role of teacher, teaching Caleb his numbers, the alphabet and more. She read books to him, too, and simply loved on her brother.


Caleb and Amber. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2017.


That love still shines strong. When I observe the two of them together, I see the depth of love they hold for each other in the gentle teasing, the arm draped across the shoulder, the warm hugs. Amber has been there for her brother, always, whether working a puzzle with him at age four or flying across the country to Boston years later.

I see in Caleb an admiration for his sister, a genuine desire to spend time with her when he’s back in Minnesota. I note him bonding with his niece. When I see Caleb holding Isabelle and reading to her, my mama’s heart overflows with love. Love is coming full circle.

On these two February days, the ninth and the tenth, I celebrate Amber and Caleb. I have watched them grow into two loving, caring and strong individuals. I am honored to be their mom. While geographical distance separates us, love keeps us close. For that I am grateful.


Amber at three months. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Happy birthday, Amber!


One of my all-time favorite photos of my son at age five. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Happy birthday, Caleb!

I love you both more than pizza. And, yes, that is an inside-the-family saying.

© Copyright 2018 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


Birthday thoughts as a mom & grandma February 9, 2016

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My oldest daughter and my son, celebrating our family Christmas on New Year's weekend. The elephant toy is for the new baby

The most recent photo of my oldest daughter and my son, celebrating our family Christmas on New Year’s weekend. The elephant toy is for the unborn baby, from her uncle. An elephant is the mascot of Tufts University, which he attends.

WHY DO MY ADULT CHILDREN’S (that always seems such an oxymoron) birthdays oftentimes leave me feeling a bit melancholy?

Today my youngest, my son, celebrates his birthday. Tomorrow his oldest sister, eight years his senior, celebrates hers.

I long for the birthdays when I baked them a treat—quite often not a cake—and we dined out together as a family. Together is the key word here. I miss the togetherness. Today I’ll call my son, a college student near Boston. And I’ll feel a tinge of sadness knowing no one is likely making him a birthday treat. Yes, I could order a cake for him from Tufts University. For $35. That’s more than I want to spend on a cake for a young man who isn’t particularly fond of sweets anyway.

I’ll miss, too, giving him a birthday hug.

My husband and son-in-law assemble Baby Girl's crib.

My husband and son-in-law assemble Baby Girl’s crib.

My eldest, though, lives near enough for hugs and an in-person birthday celebration. On Saturday my husband and I drove to the north metro to celebrate our daughter’s milestone birthday with lunch out. Later we enjoyed a homemade chocolate chip cheesecake I baked for her. In between, my husband and son-in-law assembled a crib for my soon-to-be-born granddaughter.

It was a wonderful day, especially when I felt Baby Girl move across my daughter’s abdomen. Giddy describes my level of happiness in that moment.

These are the moments I must embrace and hold tight. New memories. New life. New joys.

Soon another birthday to celebrate. This time in the role of grandma.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Happy birthdays February 9, 2015

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Amber and Caleb.

Amber and Caleb. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, July 2014.

BACK-TO-BACK BIRTHDAYS. Eldest and youngest with middle in between. What are the odds that two of my three children would be born one day after the other with eight years in between? I did have some choice in the son’s birth date as his was a scheduled C-section. Still…

Today my only son celebrates his birthday. In Medford, about five miles from Boston. He’s enjoying his fourth snow day (no classes again at Tufts University) in the past two weeks as Winter Storm Marcus drops a foot or more of snow. That’s on top of the 48.7 inches which fell in Boston in a recent 14-day stretch.

Tomorrow my eldest daughter celebrates her birthday. In Minnesota, where we don’t have nearly as much snow.

One thousand plus miles distant and an hour away. I won’t celebrate with either. I can’t recall the last time I was with any of my three on their birthdays. Cards have been mailed and phone calls will be made. Perhaps not answered, but attempted.

They’re grown. Gone. But always in my heart. Always.

To have a son or a daughter, or both as I do, is to love like I’ve never loved. Love deeper than the ocean, farther than the moon, wider than the distance that separates. Time and miles never diminish that love.

Sometimes I long for those days when the kids were still home, gathered around the dining room table, posing with cake (or dessert of choice), candles blazing, smiling for the camera. Gifts ripped open, often before cards. All of us settled after a rare meal out at the birthday celebrant’s restaurant of choice.

Those birthdays are memories away now. But love isn’t. It’s always there. In a thought. In a moment. In a photo. In a date.

February 9.

February 10.

Happy birthdays—to my beloved son, Caleb, and my precious daughter, Amber.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Thoughts on parenting as my son turns 20 February 9, 2014

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FOR 15 YEARS, I’ve been parenting teens.

Today that ends as my youngest, my son, turns 20.

Tomorrow his sister, my eldest, turns 28.

Like most parents, I wonder where the years have gone, how, snap, just like that, I’ve become an empty nester with three adult children. My other daughter is 21 months younger than her older sister.

At times, if I’m honest, I wished time would move faster, that the tantrums of a two-year-old, the sometime moodiness of a teen, would vanish.

I look back now and understand that this is all part of growing and of the parenting process. None of us—parents nor child—are perfect. But we stick together. We love and live and forgive and embrace and move forward.


At age five, the son dressed as an elephant for Halloween. Today he attends Tufts University. The university mascot is Jumbo the elephant.

At age five, the son dressed as an elephant for Halloween. Today he attends Tufts University. The university mascot is Jumbo the elephant.

The son lives in Boston now, where he is studying for a computer science degree at Tufts University. I’m proud of the independent young man he’s become, focused on his future, working hard to get the most he can from his education.

He’s always been a self-starter when it comes to learning. He didn’t wait for teachers to teach him. As a grader schooler, my boy would check out books from the library to learn what he wasn’t learning in class. Later, when he got a laptop, he would also research online. Up until he entered college, he basically had taught himself everything he knows about computers and programming. At age 18, he formed his own company, Apocrypha, LLC.

My big baby boy, born 20 years ago today.

My big baby boy, born 20 years ago today.

Watching him grow has been interesting. He started life weighing 10 pounds, 12 ounces, by far the biggest baby in the hospital nursery. By 10 months, my boy was walking. He was into everything. Everything. Today he towers well over six feet and, I think, is still stretching. Or so it seems whenever he returns back to Minnesota, which isn’t often enough for me.

That’s the thing about parenting. When your baby is born, you have no idea that the sleepless nights, the two-year-old tantrums, the turbulent teens will not be the most difficult part of parenting. It is the letting go that proves especially challenging, the realization that this child you’ve loved and cherished and held close will leave you. I just didn’t expect my son to journey 1,300 miles away.

But it is at it’s supposed to be.

At times, I feel like I could have done better as a parent. Don’t we all.

The letting go began in the fall of 1999. By spring, the son had graduated from kindergarten.

The letting go began in the fall of 1999. By spring, the son had graduated from kindergarten.

Yet, there comes a realization and acceptance that you’ve done the best you can and you must let go. Not that you ever stop caring or loving or supporting or praying for or worrying about…

Today the days of parenting teens are behind me. And I’m good with that.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Reflecting on motherhood & my February babies February 7, 2013

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WHEN YOU ARE PARENTING little ones—changing diapers, wiping away boogers, dealing with temper tantrums—you wonder if you will ever have time for yourself again, even just a minute alone to go to the bathroom in peace.

My oldest daughter at 12 days old. Already then she was a Minnesota Twins fan, in this hand-me-down sleeper.

My oldest daughter at 12 days old. Already then she was a Minnesota Twins fan, in this hand-me-down sleeper.

Then, before you know it, your babes are off to kindergarten and the 24/7 parenting eases, even though you never truly stop parenting.

Several years later you are thrust into the turbulent teens which, in many ways, resemble the terrible twos you thought were left behind.

But soon enough, you are sitting on hard bleachers in a stuffy and crowded high school auditorium, a lump in your throat, tears rimming your eyes as your 18-year-old graduates. And in that moment you realize that your child, your baby, has grown up, just like that.

That realization particularly strikes me this February, the month in which my eldest and my youngest were born a day shy of eight years apart.

My 10 lb., 12 oz., son at two days old. He was the biggest baby in the nursery and the hospital did not have diapers to fit him.

My 10 lb., 12 oz., son at two days old. He was the biggest baby in the nursery and the hospital did not have diapers to fit him.

My son, my youngest, started college this past summer, 300 miles away in North Dakota.

His oldest sister fell in love this past year with a native Californian and I thought for awhile that she, too, might leave Minnesota like her brother and sister before her. But instead, the boyfriend moved here, to the Twin Cities.

Distance marks, for me, the most difficult part now of being a mother. Distance equals separation and not seeing my kids as often as I would like. Even though we talk on the phone, text and e-mail, that just is not the same as face-to-face communication or giving them a hug.

I joke to them that I should have locked them in the basement, not allowed them to go anywhere. But they know I jest because I have always encouraged them to pursue their dreams, to travel, to be adventurous. And they are, all three of them.

The eldest is spending her birthday in LA. The son will be celebrating in Fargo. And shortly after those birthdays, the other daughter will drive the 300 miles from northeastern Wisconsin back to Minnesota to board a plane for Argentina, 6,000 miles away. I try not to think about that distance, about her last visit there, when she was mugged.

Instead, I will focus on how blessed I am to be the mother of these three, to have nurtured and loved them, to delight now in the adults they have become, to cherish each moment I have with them.

My three, after the son's June 2012 graduation.

My three, after the son’s June 2012 graduation.

On the birth days of my children, I experienced a love unlike any other, for in their births I understood the enduring depths of a mother’s love.

Happy birthday to my two February babies! I love you now and forever.

To my other girl, I love you too. And remember, “home” is in the Midwest, not South America.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


An unexpected gift from Bernie December 2, 2011

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I’VE NEVER MET Bernie, never even spoken to her. She lives in Billings, Montana, with her husband Roy and their cats.

She’s the modern-day version of a pen pal who has become a friend.

It all started when Bernie discovered my Minnesota Prairie Roots blog and began commenting on my posts. Naturally, I had to check out her One Mixed Bag blog.

There I found a former Minnesotan who writes with honesty and humor in a voice that keeps drawing me back. This woman is laugh-out-loud funny. She makes me smile. She makes me giggle. She makes me think. And sometimes she even makes me cry. More on that later.

At some point, and again I don’t recall specifics, our friendship extended beyond blog comments to the occasional e-mail.

After reading an especially touching post penned by Bernie, I suggested she submit it to Minnesota Moments magazine.  This woman can write. The story will publish in our winter issue.

Then, when I created a “Snapshots of Love” contest, with results publishing in Minnesota Moments’ winter edition, I thought of Bernie and the handcrafted vintage style greeting cards she creates and sells through her online shop Budugalee. Even the name makes me laugh. I asked Bernie if she would contribute perhaps a half dozen greeting cards to our prize package.

Well, this artist wanted to give more—a card a month, plus. Bernie’s that kind of person. The type who’s giving and caring and kind and generous all rolled into one.

That brings us to this week and to the unexpected package that arrived Thursday morning from Bernie. I figured she was sending me some of her handcrafted cards. She did. One. It’s a beauty.

The card Bernie handcrafted for me, celebrating my mother's gift of birthday cakes. That's me in the photo, on my second birthday.

She remembered how, several times in blog posts, I wrote about the birthday cakes my mom created for me and my siblings when we were growing up. My parents didn’t have money for gifts; the cake was the gift, I wrote.

Those stories of birthdays without presents and the loving gift of a cake touched something in Bernie. She made it her mission to find a copy of the 1959 General Foods Corporation’s Baker’s Coconut Animal Cut-up Cake booklet that my siblings and I thumbed through each birthday to choose the cake our mother would create.

Thursday morning I unwrapped the slim package from Bernie, expecting a packet of her cards. Instead, she gifted me with memories of birthdays past in that cake booklet she found on eBay.

The birthday cake booklet from my childhood that Bernie found on eBay.

I couldn’t help myself. I started crying in what my friend would surely term “big, blubbering, snot-bubble kind of sobs.”

Bernie could not have possibly known this, but her gift came at a time when I needed uplifting and something to make me smile. When I told Bernie this in an e-mail, she shared that, despite her husband’s suggestion to mail the cake booklet shortly before Christmas, she insisted, “No, I really need to send it out this week.”

She’s had the booklet for several weeks.

Bernie was right. This was the week I needed to receive her gift. Somehow she knew…

That we should all have a friend like Bernie…

TELL ME. When has a friend touched your life with an unexpected, just-right gift given at precisely the right moment?

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Thoughts on my son’s birthday February 9, 2011

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At our house we typically don't have birthday cakes. Rather, the birthday celebrant chooses the dessert of his/her choice, and often that's cheesecake like this one my eldest made for my September birthday. Today I'm making a chocolate chip cheesecake for my son's 17th birthday.

MY SON TURNS 17 today, a day before my eldest turns 25. It wasn’t planned that way—to have their birthdays one day shy of eight years apart. But it happened and the two have never complained about the closeness of their birthdays.

For those of you who don’t know my family, there’s another daughter in between, my 23-year-old, who is 21 months younger than her older sister.

I know, I know, I’m tossing a lot of numbers out there for someone who prefers words to numbers and sucks at math.

But here are some more figures as long as I’m spewing them out. Even though my boy was born 10 days early, he weighed 10 pounds, 12 ounces, and stretched to 23 ½ inches. Yikes, you’re thinking. Not to worry. Like his sisters before him, he was born by Cesarean section due to the fact that the eldest was frank breech, requiring an emergency, vertical-incision C-section.

She weighed 9 pounds, 7 ounces. Her sister came in at 8 pounds, one ounce.

Yes, I have big babies.

My son was so big, in fact, that the hospital’s newborn diapers didn’t fit him. I also had to return a package of newbie diapers that a friend had given me before my over-sized baby boy was born.

You would never guess looking at my lanky 17-year-old today that he was once a roly-poly baby. He’s tall and lean now, tall and lean.

I’m wondering, if you’re a mom, do you reflect on your child’s birth every year on his/her birthday like I do? I remember that first kiss I planted on my son’s soft, warm head right after his birth. He was then whisked away while the surgeon tidied up after my C-section and followed with hernia surgery.

That first week after my boy’s  February 9, 1994, birth is mostly a painful blur as I suffered spinal headaches so severe I couldn’t sit up, let alone care for my newborn. Instead, the obstetrical floor nurses mothered him, coddled him, loved him. They even carried my baby boy into the break room, which would be a definite no-no today. I’ll always be grateful for their care.

I am thinking all of these thoughts today, a day when I’ll hold my teen a little closer, a little tighter—if he’ll allow it—and embrace him with a mother’s birthday hug.

Happy birthday, son. I love you now and forever. (I know you don’t read my blog, but I’m telling you anyway, just in case you read this someday.)

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling