Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by 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

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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.

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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Bernie

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