Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by 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


Minnesota Faces: A three-year-old from the prairie June 19, 2015

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Portrait #28: Hank

Portrait 28, Hank

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo of Hank from 2013.


I wish I lived closer to sweet Hank. But my great nephew and his parents (and soon to be sibling) live nearly 125 miles away in Walnut Grove, childhood home of author Laura Ingalls Wilder. I see Hank only a few times a year at family gatherings. But such is life these days with extended families separated by many miles, sometimes even by oceans.

Hank, though, is lucky enough to have his paternal grandma and a beloved auntie caring for him while Mom and Dad work. He is loved by many near and far.

This Saturday, Hank turns three. I expect he will have quite the birthday party.

If you’re fortunate enough to live near relatives, I hope you appreciate that close geographical connection. And if you don’t live near family, I hope you’ve found your own circle of friends to embrace and love and support and care for you. We all need each other to get us through the rough patches and to celebrate those occasions when life is as simple and good as it was when we were three.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Remembering 9/11 from a mom’s perspective September 11, 2013

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I reconstructed a tower using the same blocks my son and his friend used on September 11, 2001, to duplicate what they saw on television. These are also the same airplanes they flew into the tower.

I reconstructed a tower using the same blocks my son and his friend used on September 11, 2001, to duplicate what they saw on television. These are also the same airplanes they flew into the tower. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

THEY REPEATED THE ACTION: Build the towers. Fly the planes. Smash the towers. Build. Fly. Smash.

A dozen years ago today my then seven-year-old son, Caleb, not feeling well and home from school, played with his friend Sam.

I have never forgotten that scene unfolding on my living room floor. Two boys imitating what they saw on television. Me, shocked, unable to turn off the TV and shield them from the horrors of an attack on America.

What do you remember, from a personal perspective, of that day 12 years ago when so many innocent people lost their lives in the terrorist attacks on our country? What were you thinking? How did you feel?

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Transitioning through parenthood and letting go June 3, 2011

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In December we helped move my second daughter into an apartment as she started her first post-college job.

ONCE UPON A TIME, like 15 to 20, maybe even seven, years ago, I dreaded my kids graduating from high school, leaving for college and then eventually landing jobs. It would mean they no longer needed me and I could barely stand the thought of their absence.

But since then, since the two oldest followed the path of degrees, jobs and their own apartments, I’ve changed my attitude.

I rather like the lessening of parental responsibility that comes with their independence. It’s freeing. Not that I don’t worry about them; I still do. But it’s different now when they can basically fend for themselves.

My second oldest daughter graduated from the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, last spring.

With that frame of mind, I recently visited my second oldest daughter in eastern Wisconsin, where she started work in December as a Spanish medical interpreter. Her first post-college job. Her first apartment of her own. She’d officially grown up.

I would have preferred that she settle closer to her hometown of Faribault instead of 300 miles away. But I’ve reminded myself many times that at least she’s in the U.S., within easy driving distance, and not in Argentina.

Nothing against Argentina. My daughter studied abroad in Buenos Aires and later returned for an internship. But I didn’t want her settling there, 6,000 miles away. I feared she might. Live there. Permanently.

That said, I have only myself to blame for the wanderlust spirits my 23-year-old and 25-year-old daughters possess. Because I grew up on a southwestern Minnesota dairy and crop farm, I seldom traveled as a child—once to Duluth and once to The Black Hills. I wanted my children to travel. I didn’t want them to be like me—someone who prefers, as my dad would have said, “to see the smoke from the chimney.”

And so I let them go, first as young children, to bible camp. Then, in high school, my eldest took her first out-of-state spring break mission trip to Texas. More mission and church and school trips followed as step by step by step they stretched their travel wings.

Then, during my eldest daughter’s freshman year of college, she signed up for a mission trip that took her to Paraguay. Heck, I had to dig out the globe to locate that country which borders Argentina, Brazil and Bolivia. I panicked, regretting for more than a few days my decision to raise children who enjoyed traveling.

Later, when my daughter journeyed to Costa Rica for a brief study sojourn, I barely gave her trip a second thought.

I could handle those short trips.

But then one summer the eldest worked in West Virginia and she was definitely gone for more than 10 days.

That, thankfully, prepared me for her sister’s decision to study abroad and do mission work in Argentina for six months and then return a second time for an internship.

Through the years, I’ve watched that desire to travel, to see the world, become an integral part of my daughters’ lives. The oldest one, who lives and works in the metro, is always plotting her next adventure.

The daughter who lives in Wisconsin will need to chisel away at her college loans and save some money before she can travel again. Right now she earns barely enough to pay the bills. But the time will come when she can resume traveling.

My oldest daughter and my son.

ALL OF THIS BRINGS ME back full circle to the first paragraph in this post, the one about lamenting my children growing up and leaving home. In a year my 17-year-old graduates from high school. He doesn’t know yet where he’ll attend college—whether close or far away. Life could take him anywhere.

Like his sisters, I won’t hold him back, won’t stop him from pursuing his dreams, from traveling to far away places. I’ve already let him go—to Spain on a Spanish class trip. That wasn’t easy, not easy at all, to allow my boy to journey so far at the age of 16.

But his sisters have blazed the way, have shown me that I can handle this part of parenting and handle it with grace. I’ve raised them all to be strong, independent and fearless individuals.

I’m beginning to enjoy this stage of life, with fewer parental responsibilities and new types of relationships forming with my adult children. I’m confident I’ve done my best as a parent, although best certainly isn’t perfect.

Now it’s time, almost, to move on, to continue supporting and encouraging my 17-year-old son as he transitions into adulthood and to always support my daughters, holding all three of them forever close, yet letting them go.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Mother’s Day thoughts May 8, 2011

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My oldest daughter and my son pose after the wedding yesterday.

IF YOU ARE A MOM, are you having a good, maybe even great, Mother’s Day?

Mine has been low-key given my family returned a few hours ago from traveling out-of-town to attend our nephew’s wedding on Saturday.

When we dropped our eldest off at her south Minneapolis apartment this afternoon, she asked if the guys had anything planned for me. I accepted her greeting card, promise of a hanging flower basket and told her I didn’t think so.

They are busy.

The husband is napping in the recliner. I should add here that I suggested he take a nap. He deserves to rest after all the long hours he’s been putting in at work lately.

The teenaged son is doing homework and, I think, studying for an Advanced Placement physics test tomorrow. He remembered today was Mother’s Day only after Mother’s Day wishes were exchanged among family members at the hotel this morning.

The second daughter called as our family was driving into Minneapolis. Her timing was perfect, diverting my attention from all the crazy drivers. However, she did cause me to miss some photo ops.

My other daughter.

That all said, my Mother’s Day has been uneventful and not particularly memorable.

But that’s OK. I’ve been with two of my three children and spoken with the third.

In a few hours, I’ll call my mom and wish her a “Happy Mother’s Day.”

If she’s like me, she will appreciate more than any card or gift, the call telling her “I love you.”

Aren’t those the words that really matter the most to mothers on Mother’s Day, and any day?

© 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


Sunday morning message January 23, 2011

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How would you finish this sentence?

This morning, during the children’s message at my church, the pastor emphasized the point of turning to God for help and strength. He showed the kids a hand-embroidered work of art, exactly like the one hanging on my living room wall.

I bought the piece this past summer at a rummage sale at the local Catholic school gym. I paid only 50 cents for this message that inspires and that was carefully, lovingly, stitched by someone who, like me, values these words.

Here’s how the sentence ends:

Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling