Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

No need to wonder about the power of this movie December 14, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:01 AM
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IF EVER THERE’S a current movie everyone should see, it’s “Wonder.”

And for me to state that is noteworthy. “Wonder” is the first movie I’ve viewed in a theater since 2011. Yes, I really have not been inside a cinema since I last saw “The Help,” another memorable movie, six years ago. Most movies don’t interest me. Too much violence and genres that don’t appeal to me. I prefer movies with a message, with a purpose other than to simply entertain and with content that moves me.

“Wonder” fits those criteria.

Based on the New York Times bestselling book by R. J. Palacio, “Wonder” tells the story of 10-year-old Auggie Pullman, born with facial deformities and entering school for the first time after being homeschooled. As you would expect, Auggie faces incredible challenges, including bullying.

This film shows the real-life psychological harm of peer pressure and bullying to individuals and to families and then presents multiple ways people address it. And not always in good ways, just like in real life.

“Wonder” should be required viewing for every child, teen and adult. The book was assigned reading at my eighth grade great nephew’s Minnesota school, followed by a class field trip to see the movie. I applaud educators like those in Tristan’s school who realize the value in this film as a teaching tool and as an opportunity to open up conversations on differences, bullying, peer pressure, kindness, compassion and more.

As a survivor of junior high school bullying and even bullying as an adult, I understand this issue all too well. I refuse to tolerate bullying (and abuse) on any level. “Wonder” champions strength to rise and to overcome, making it one powerful movie.

 

FYI: If you haven’t read about the recent bullying of a young boy in a Tennessee school, then click here and read Keaton’s story. It breaks my heart. Decades ago, this was me. Crying. Suffering. Unable to stop the bullying. I was not bullied in the same ways as Keaton. But the bullying I experienced in junior high school hurt me. Deeply. Just like Keaton. This behavior needs to stop.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Thanksgiving reflections on life November 22, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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A few years ago I found this vintage 1976 calendar at a garage sale. Each year prior to Thanksgiving, I hang it in my dining room as a representative reminder of life’s blessings.

WHEN I CONSIDER THANKSGIVING, I visualize the tapestry of my life woven with gratitude and blessings and, yes, even sadness. Sometimes I’d like to yank the black threads and pull away the darkness, leaving only vivid hues of happiness.

But to do so would present an imitation of my life, a cheap knock-off work of art that portrays the idealistic rather than the realistic. I don’t care who you are, where you live, what you do, you are the accumulation of life’s experiences—positive and negative.

Challenges, whether financial, health-related, personal or otherwise, shape us, make us stronger, teach us empathy and compassion and how to handle grief and anger and disappointment and frustration and pain. At the time we battle difficulties, we usually fail to see the good, the reason to give thanks. Often that comes later, as time passes, acceptance comes, situations change and reflection happens.

For example, I was bullied as a pre-teen by junior high classmates so ruthless and mean that I hated school. I cried every day, wished the teasing would end. It should have. But in those days, no one stepped in to stop the abuse. And one teacher in particular was himself a psychological abuser. Because of those two unbearable years, I hold zero tolerance for abuse whether perpetrated by a child, teen or adult. I use my words now as a way to educate, to help others, to advocate, to make a positive difference.

When I consider personal health challenges like severe osteoarthritis and resulting hip replacement, a broken shoulder, and near deafness in my right ear, I see how my empathy for others has grown, how my patience lengthened, how my thankfulness for my husband deepened. Threads of gold shimmer in the tapestry of my life, outshining the underlying less-noticed darkness of difficulties.

My life remains a work of art in progress. There are days when life circumstances seem overwhelming, when the mother in me wants to make everything better. But then I hear an uplifting song, get an encouraging email or text, hold my granddaughter, hug my husband, write something especially meaningful, talk to my son too far away in Boston, gather with friends, reach out to someone hurting. Then threads of silver and gold sparkle gratitude and thanksgiving for this life I live. Not perfect. But beautiful in blessings.

Today, may you find many reasons to give thanks for your life. Happy Thanksgiving!

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Bullying in Minnesota: In the news again & a look back January 22, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 3:21 PM
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WHO AMONG YOU has been bullied?

If I could see you all, I expect many a hand would rise.

Both my arms would be waving wildly, high above my head. Me. Me. Me.

That bullying occurred more than 40 years ago. Yet, it feels like yesterday when my junior high classmates picked on me and other kids from a nearby farming community. We, apparently, did not meet their standards given our rural addresses outside the county seat.

Countless days I arrived home from school in tears. Crying over mean words. Crying and wishing with all my might that things would change or that I would never need to return to that school.

A teacher who also bullied students added to my angst as did other teachers, who simply looked the other way.

These horrible memories flash to the forefront because of a bullying incident in Minnesota that is, today, big news. News because the father of the girl being bullied created a YouTube video that shows just how mean bullies (and their parents) can be—mean as in using the “N” word against the father’s African American daughter. Click here to read background on this bullying case and to watch the father’s video.

You would think in the year 2015, with all of the discussion on bullying, all of the awareness, all of the laws, that bullying would not exist. Wishful thinking. All the talk and rules in the world will not close mouths that speak words of hatred and racism and just plain meanness. Yet we need to keep trying.

What to do. There’s no single solution. I wished back in the late 1960s that my parents would have done something—anything. But that can backfire, too, make the bullying worse.

When our son was bullied as in being spit on, pinched, pushed and kicked by a classmate, my husband and I met with his teacher. Her response: Befriend the bully. Are you kidding? Place the responsibility for solving the problem on our elementary-aged son and not hold the bully accountable? Not going to happen. Eventually we pulled our son from the school.

Recently, I was shouted at during a meeting. I sat there stunned, struggling to hold back tears. Soon thereafter I left, unable to suppress my emotions. But this time the reaction was different. Concerned individuals approached me, assuring me that I didn’t deserve the verbal attack for asking a legitimate question.

After the meeting, the man who launched those angry words at me apologized. He phoned again early the next morning to apologize. I accepted both apologies.

If only every case of bullying ended that way, with a sincere apology, acceptance of responsibility and determination to change.

That would be hoping for Utopia.

A snippet from a sign at the International Peace Garden, Nerstrand Elementary School, Minnesota.

A snippet from a sign at the International Peace Garden, Nerstrand Elementary School, Minnesota. The sign and garden do not specifically address bullying. Rather the Peace Garden advocates peace and getting along, despite our differences. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Yet, I can take my experiences and find some good therein. Because I was bullied, I am a more compassionate, caring and empathetic person, championing for others. I may have been that way without the bullying. The qualifying word would be “more.”

I can use my words in a positive way to affect change, to show others I care, really care. As we all know, words are powerful.

Now it’s your turn to speak. Please share your thoughts on bullying.

FYI: To learn more about bullying prevention, click here to reach the Pacer Center’s Kids Against Bullying website. And then click here to reach the site for teens.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

I refuse to be bullied January 14, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:20 PM
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I’VE DEBATED, for several days, whether to write this post.

And I’ve decided, yes, I will just speak what’s on my mind because I refuse to be bullied, belittled or called names.

My mother taught me to nice, to be kind. If I disagree with someone, I should be respectful in voicing my opinion. I’ve tried to follow those guiding principles throughout my life, although at times I fail.

I was bullied as a child and pre-teen. As an adult, I don’t have to accept such behavior.

That brings me to two comments posted on my January 11 post, “Meet 10 Minnesota bloggers, a contest winner & more.” Click here to read that story.

Of all the posts I’ve written, I never imagined this piece would come under attack.

Here is the single sentence that prompted two readers to voice their opinions in a manner that I consider disrespectful:

I wanted to highlight bloggers without an agenda and who would fit our more conservative outstate readership.

I’ve since deleted that sentence because I understand how, if you’re a “liberal” purposely seeking out the word “conservative” and you take something out of context or shape it to your thinking, this could be totally misconstrued.

My use of the words “agenda” and “conservative” had nothing to do with political leanings of either the highlighted bloggers, the magazine or its readership.

Any writer understands that when you write for a publication, you need to know that publication and its content. That was the point I was attempting to make and, I admit, I could have written it more clearly, explained it better.

Yet, the rabid reaction from these two commenters caught me off guard.

Here are their separate responses, first from commenter #4:

Nice to know that “conservative” isn’t an agenda. Dogwhistle much? Or just believe in pandering to stereotypes of rural Minnesota?

And here are the words of commenter #5:

Wow. I mean, read that sentence slowly. Maybe aloud. Could you see what you did there? I know my 7th grade grammar teacher would have you up at the blackboard for that.

(Readers, please do not click on these commenters’ links; google them if you must.)

In my opinion, they could have made their points in a manner that was less mean-spirited and not so condescending.

I was tempted for a minute to censor their words or fire back with an equally vicious response. It was a fleeting thought. I gave them their voice, responded as kindly as I could and tried to let it go.

I don’t expect that everyone will always agree with me or like what I write. And, yes, I understand that sometimes something I compose may be taken the wrong way.

Then I thought back to all those years when I was bullied and came home from school crying.

This pair could not have known how their words triggered those childhood memories of bullying and name-calling and of a math teacher who called students to the blackboard only to belittle them. To this day, I do not like math.

And, to this day I do not like to be bullied, belittled or called names.

As an adult, I don’t have to accept such behavior, especially on this blog.

So you see, dear readers, something good has come from the negativity expressed earlier this week in my comments section. I have the opportunity to open up a discussion on the topic of bullying.

LET ME HEAR from you.

Were you bullied as a child or teen? If so, how did you and/or the adults in your life handle this and how were you impacted, short-term and long-term?

Have you been bullied as an adult? How have you handled such behavior?

What can be done to stop bullying?

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NOW, JUST TO BALANCE this all out and show you how words can be used in a positive manner, I refer you to Bob Collins of Minnesota Public Radio. Click here and scroll to # 5 in the 5×8 section of his News Cut column to read his comments about Minnesota Prairie Roots and the Minnesota blogger story.

Then, click here to check out Iron Range writer, radio producer and college instructor Aaron J. Brown’s equally kind words regarding my work and the blogger feature.

I have great respect for these two writers. Enough said.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

It’s OK if you don’t have pickle bumps September 23, 2010

I’LL ADMIT TO MORE than a bit of skepticism about a children’s picture book titled Pickle Bumps for Baby Dill. “What kind of book is that?” I wondered before calling the author, Bob Fulton.

Well, exactly as the title suggests, this is a story about Baby Dill, a pickle born without bumps. But that’s not all. You see, after speaking with Fulton and upon reading his book, I learned the real purpose. And it’s much more than a story about cute, talking pickles.

Fulton delivers a strong message via the Dill family and Baby Dill’s friends. The message: “It’s OK to be different.”

That’s a message especially fitting for this time of year, the beginning of school.

I would speculate that many students have, in recent weeks, felt like they don’t quite fit in with their classmates. Maybe they aren’t wearing the latest fashions. Maybe they’re in a new school, struggling to make friends. Maybe they’re shy, quiet. Maybe their hair or their skin is the “wrong” color. Maybe they’re struggling with learning.

Maybe, like Baby Dill, they wonder why they are different from everyone else.

Fulton addresses that concern, which leads the Dill family on a shopping trip for pickle bumps. In the end, Baby Dill decides, with the support of his friends, that he would rather remain bump less.

While Fulton’s story has a positive ending, I know that isn’t always reality. In real life, kids bully, tease, make fun of, pick on, humiliate—whatever words you want to choose—those who are different. For all too many kids, there are no understanding friends to stand by and support them.

A book like Fulton’s offers encouragement. “We like you just the way you are,” Baby Dill’s friends tell him. That’s a message that needs to reverberate through-out our schools, our homes, our communities.

Pickle Bumps for Baby Dill would be a good addition to any elementary school classroom or library. While aimed at preschoolers and lower elementary students, the story also appeals to 10 – 12-year-olds, Fulton says. Having experienced bullying myself while in junior high school, I applaud any efforts to help students, parents and teachers address the issue.

The college educator—he taught chemistry for 39 years at St. John’s University and The College of Saint Benedict—has even added a list of 12 questions at the end of his book to prompt discussion.

He shares, too, that his book evolved from telling stories to his grandchildren and a specific request from his youngest grandson to “Tell us a story about a pickle.”

Fulton did and then put his tale into writing in Pickle Bumps for Baby Dill, published by Pickle Bump Press. Melissa Meyer, originally from Saint Joseph, Minn., illustrated the book.

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AS A SIDE NOTE, please be aware that October is National Bullying Prevention Month. Check out the PACER Center Web site for information that can help you address bullying. Perhaps by working together, through understanding and listening and empathy, we can help reduce the bullying that is all too prevalent in our society, especially in our schools.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling