Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Another birthday party missed… April 4, 2020

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My granddaughter, Isabelle (“Izzy” for short). Photographed when she was about 17 hours old in April 2016. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

MY CELLPHONE PINGED YESTERDAY with a notification. For my granddaughter’s fourth birthday party. Today. At an interactive indoor play area in the northern Twin Cities metro. The party was canceled a few weeks ago, but I’d forgotten to delete the notice from my phone.

So today, instead of celebrating with my darling Isabelle, her parents and little brother, and a whole bunch of Izzy’s friends, I am home. Separated from the ones I love because of the COVID-19 crisis. I have no reason to complain. Everyone in my immediate family is healthy and in the extended family, too, although we had a bit of a scare recently. My mom remains on hospice in a care center 120 miles distant.

We are all making the best of this pandemic which now shapes our lives. We do what we must to stay healthy and to keep others healthy. While out grocery shopping earlier and then on to a Big Box store to buy a garage door because, you know, the garage door just had to break right now, I saw some people with masks. Not a lot. But I noticed more social distancing signs and the larger retail store banning anyone under age 16 from entering. I also saw too many folks not heeding social distancing. I steered clear of them, including employees at one local grocery store which has no COVID-related signs, nothing.

 

Izzy’s first birthday cake. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2016.

 

Yes, I should have been hugging my granddaughter today instead of grocery shopping and buying a garage door. I should have been watching Izzy blow out candles while singing happy birthday to her and celebrating with gift-opening and cake. The year before last, I missed her party because of a blizzard. In retrospect, that is nothing compared to missing a birthday party due to coronavirus.

Isabelle, in a video chat earlier this week, seemed unfazed by the change in plans. She excitedly shared, “I’m celebrating with my family!” She told me about the planned pink birthday cake—her favorite color—frosted and decorated with unicorn sprinkles. I inwardly thanked her parents for stressing to their daughter what she will still have, not what she’s lost in the postponed (until October) party.

 

One of my favorite photos of Isabelle is this one I took of her in September 2019. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I decided to add to Izzy’s celebration by reaching out to friends and family with a request to send birthday cards to my granddaughter. Many responded and for that I am grateful.

This afternoon, while returning home with the $470 garage door strapped to the top of our van, I saw a family celebrating what appeared to be a birthday. A clutch of colorful balloons decorated the front stoop and people stood in the yard. Social distancing. The scene made me think of my sweet Isabelle and how much I miss her. Especially on her birthday. And I wonder just how long it will be until I can hug her again.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The excitement of turning three April 11, 2019

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THE EVENING BEFORE HER third birthday, she couldn’t sleep. Up and out of bed multiple times while the California grandparents babysat. Finally Izzy told them she was too excited to sleep.

This does not surprise me. Tell Isabelle something and she thinks it will happen now or soon. The week-long countdown to her birthday party upped the excitement level.

 

A birthday card handmade by one of Izzy’s friends.

 

Randy and I arrived at Izzy’s home shortly after lunch the next day with extra time to visit before heading out to a destination party at an indoor playland. I was not at all surprised to see our granddaughter in her favorite clothes, a white outfit flared with a tutu.

 

 

Ballet themed her party. Isabelle loves ballet. She’s observed professionals at the Landmark Center in St. Paul and at the Mall of America. And she dances ballet at home, at our house…leaping and twirling.

 

Izzy shows her birthday ballerina to Grandpa.

 

Now, thanks to Opa and Oma, she owns a pretty pink ballet dress, matching slippers and a beautiful ballerina doll. I added to the ballet costuming with a layered tutu skirt to wear over leggings or tights.

When the adoring grandparents aren’t around to watch, Izzy holds the attention of her adoring baby brother, Isaac. At three months, he’s watchful of big sister, entertained by her movement.

 

 

At her birthday party, friends and family circled Izzy in love with song and gifts and wishes. Too witness such love for Isabelle, her parents and brother swells my heart with happiness.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

When the granddaughter stays over February 4, 2019

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IN THE LIVING ROOM, a ballerina guides a train along tracks…

 

 

then dances across the carpet, tulle flaring as applause roar.

 

 

In the kitchen, an elephant stomps. BOOM, BOOM, BOOM. Then asks for a cookie.

 

 

Along the river bank, snowboots slap on wet pavement edging the river and the ice-boxed rushing waterfall. The need to walk, to run, to just be outdoors prevails following days of near record-breaking brutal cold.

 

 

Then, beneath the bridge along the recreational trail, vehicles thump overhead while three walk, one trailing.

 

 

Back inside the house, two snuggle under a fleece and blue jeans blanket and read of baby robins and bunnies and warm days of spring.

Then preschool arms reach, wrap around neck and speak the sweetest of words. “I love you, Grandma!”

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Christmas blessings in a Nativity scene December 25, 2018

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WHEN I FIRST PULLED this image from my files, I planned to simply use it to illustrate the true meaning of Christmas and wish you a blessed Christmas. Quick and easy.

But then I noticed something. Hands. So many hands posing in different ways. I knew this was more than just a photo of my granddaughter looking at a vintage Nativity. The same Nativity her mama, aunt and uncle viewed every December in Faribault.

Let’s start with Izzy. You can barely see Grandpa’s hand clutching her arm to keep her from falling off the bales in front of the manger. Grandpa was also stopping Izzy from climbing into the scene for a closer look at the Baby Jesus, which she wanted to do. I see love and protection in the closeness of grandfather and granddaughter.

Two of the three Wisemen also hold their hands in a protective pose, guarding the precious gifts they carried to Bethlehem.

And that middle Wiseman, well, to me his arms folded to heart symbolize love, how close we hold those we love most. I suppose one could argue he’s just keeping his cape in place. I choose to see his adoration and love for his Savior.

Then there’s Joseph, his hand gripping a staff. I expect he felt overwhelmed in many ways by the meaning of Jesus’ birth. Holding onto something physical can ground someone in times of mixed emotions.

Finally, Baby Jesus lies with his arms outstretched in a gesture of openness. Like he’s welcoming us to come and hug him, to feel his embrace. Izzy saw that. She wanted to climb right into the manger. But, of course, I couldn’t let her.

Instead, I stepped beside this 2 ½-year-old and suggested she say goodbye. “Goodbye, Baby Jesus,” my sweet little granddaughter said. And my heart melted as I held her close.

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For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:11)

Merry Christmas, dear readers! Merry Christmas!

FYI: To see more photos of the Nativity, click here to read my 2016 post.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

the power of laughter in healing June 20, 2018

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THE BEST MEDICINE for my days’ old injury of a broken left forearm came not in prescription pain medication, which I never picked up. Rather, it came in laughter, perhaps the best medicine of all.

First the backstory. On the day of my fall, Randy and I intended to head to our eldest daughter and son-in-law’s home an hour distant to babysit our granddaughter. Those same plans had been in place a week prior. But then I developed a bad upper respiratory infection and canceled. So I was especially excited about the rescheduled time with two-year-old Isabelle. Then I slipped on those rain-slicked wooden steps and broke my radius and…

Thankfully Izzy and her parents came to visit us the day after my fall. I wasn’t feeling all that great given only one hour of sleep Saturday night and a high pain level. But Izzy proved a good distraction. As we visited and Izzy played, she stumbled over a ball. Given the awkwardness of the tumble and her subsequent tears, I worried for a second. But she seemed ok, as in nothing broken.

 

One authentic broken arm, one not. Photo by Randy.

 

I asked Isabelle if she wanted her arm wrapped like Grandma. I expected a no. But Izzy said, yes, so Dr. Grandpa gathered supplies and wrapped her arm. Of course, we needed pictures, after Izzy pointed at my bandaged arm and then hers and counted, one, two.

We all laughed. Really laughed. Laughter is good. It releases endorphins, which my retired ER nurse friend Diane says promote healing. And I’m all about healing, especially the natural healing powers of a granddaughter’s sweet empathy.

 

Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

When a 2-year-old comes to Grandma & Grandpa’s house April 12, 2018

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Izzy quickly learned that Grandma and Grandpa would let her jump on the guest bed. (Sorry, parents.)

 

SHE STAYED FOR FOUR days and three sleeps. The two-year-old. My granddaughter.

And now, not even 24 hours after she returned home to her parents, I miss this little girl. I miss her smile, her laughter, her mischief, her beautiful eyes, the feel of her tiny hand in mine, the softness of her hair, the cuddling and reading books…

 

Grandpa, granddaughter, Poppy (from the movie “Trolls”) and baby doll watch for school buses passing our house in the afternoon.

 

What a joy to have Izzy stay with Grandma and Grandpa while her parents traveled. It is the longest stretch we’ve had with her. I’ll admit to feeling a tad uncertain that she would be OK for that length of time. But her parents prepared her well. Video chats and photos helped, too. And Randy and I kept our sweet granddaughter busy. Or should I say Izzy kept her grandparents busy. Even though I raised three children and cared for many more, I forgot how active these little ones.

 

 

It doesn’t take much to occupy a 2-year-old. Toys pulled from basement storage proved a hit, especially the Brio train set and a Fisher Price school bus. Grandpa and Izzy spent a lot of time building tracks and pulling and pushing trains. As for that bus, it made many miles around our house.

I also crafted a house for Izzy using a card table and throws. She loved crawling inside with her beloved Poppy, baby doll and her uncle’s two teddy bears.

 

Grandpa reads Eric Carle’s book, From Head to Toe, to Izzy. The book was one of three gifted to Izzy on her second birthday by a family friend, also a children’s librarian.

 

We read and read and then read more books. We went to storytime at the library, where Izzy took more interest in another little girl’s Minnie Mouse shirt and purse than in the story being read. She loves books. But she loves Minnie Mouse, too.

At River Bend Nature Center, a swimming turtle held Izzy’s attention until a group of children came inside the interpretive center and she wanted to join them. Thankfully, the early childhood family education teacher allowed Izzy to sit with the other kids and eat a snack I pulled from her backpack. Thankfully Izzy was OK with Cheerios. The other kids waved and smiled at her and said, “Hi, Izzy.” So sweet.

Many sweet moments flash from these past several days. I am grateful for this time with my granddaughter. Often during her visit, I caught flashes of the past, of Izzy’s own mama. Perhaps it was the way Izzy looked at me or the curls on the back of her head or the way she laughed. This is such a gift—this connection of generations, this love that binds us as family, this time with my darling granddaughter.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Of books & puzzles & loving my granddaughter April 3, 2018

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Grandpa and granddaughter work together on a puzzle in the morning light.

 

PAJAMA CLAD FEET SLAP against wood as Izzy runs to meet me in the sunshine of a Sunday morning. My smile widens as I scoop my granddaughter into an embrace, my arms and lips kissing her with love. Oh, what joy in the morning.

We are the only two up and I’m enjoying this solo time with Izzy. The evening before, it was three of us—Izzy, Grandpa and me—hanging out while her mom and dad enjoyed dinner and a concert.

Every time I see Isabelle, which is about once a month, she’s changed, grown and learned new words, new skills, new ways to make Grandma smile.

 

 

Books remain her great love. This visit, I read, among many other titles, Pat the Bunny, the same book I read to her mama decades ago. There’s something endearing about familiar words passed from generation to generation. There’s something remarkable, too, about the act of reading to someone you love. The closeness, the teaching moments, the interaction, the bonding over words and pictures imprints love. As I cuddle Izzy in the bend of my arm, her lean body pressed against me, I feel an overwhelming, nearly indescribable, love for this almost two-year-old.

 

 

When I watch my husband put puzzles together with his granddaughter, I experience the same. Likewise when I observe Izzy with her mom and dad, other grandparents and extended family. This little girl is loved by many from West Coast to East Coast and in between.

 

 

On this visit, Izzy demonstrates that she’s learning her letters and numbers. She’s got “o” down and the hoot of owls, a favorite for awhile. But now she loves Poppy, her new best friend from the movie “Trolls.” And she likes Elmo and Daniel the Tiger and Minnie Mouse and… She’s stringing words together, counting to five, learning her colors. She’s holding up two fingers to indicate that she will soon turn two.

I see the independent traits of a two-year-old emerging. I see, too, her endless energy. I swing Isabelle upward and back down just to hear her laugh. (There’s a reason I lift weights.) And I reread the same books just to make her happy. I am thankful I can be part of this growing, this learning, this loving. There’s nothing quite like being a grandma.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

How one little girl put some fun back in my Minnesota winter January 24, 2018

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My granddaughter watches while her grandpa rolls a snowball.

 

AS I’VE AGED, I complain more about Minnesota winters. But I didn’t always dislike this season of cold, snow and ice. I once loved being outdoors in the winter—rolling snowballs in to snowmen, engaging in snowball fights, racing up and down snow piles, sledding, digging caves into snow banks, making snow angels, running across rock-hard snow drifts, ice skating and constructing snow forts. Winter as a child was fun in between doing farm chores.

Even when I had my own three children, winter remained semi fun with some of the same winter activities. But as the kids grew, so did their disinterest in outdoor winter play. It’s been years since I’ve thought about the fun aspect of the months spanning November – April in Minnesota.

But then along came my granddaughter who is now nearing age two. On Saturday Randy and I offered to play with Izzy so her parents could have an afternoon out. My motive was also grandma selfish in wanting some time with this sweet little girl.

 

Ready to head outside into the snow.

 

With temps around 40 degrees, I decided (and Grandpa went along with the idea) it would be a great day to play with Izzy in the snow. After I bundled her into her snowpants, boots, coat, cap and mittens and then got myself ready, we finally headed to the backyard. I’d forgotten how long it takes to get a little one into snow gear.

 

 

Once in the backyard, Randy and I pulled Izzy around on a Lion King sled Randy recently retrieved from the garage rafters. It’s the same sled Isabelle’s mama used as a child.

 

 

While Grandpa rolled snowballs and stacked them into a snowman, I played with Izzy. She trundled in the snow as best she could, occasionally reaching for my hand to assure she stayed upright. When I started throwing snowballs at a tree trunk, she burst into waves of giggles. She may have been laughing at Grandma’s inability to hit the target about 50 percent of the time.

The time outdoors with my granddaughter on a balmy January afternoon in Minnesota put the fun back in winter for me. Oh, the power of a child. Over a grandmother.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Passing a love of books onto the next generation November 30, 2017

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My granddaughter with a book.

 

I HAVE ALWAYS loved books. Always. They have taught, inspired, uplifted, entertained and challenged me and so much more.

 

I didn’t have many books as a young child because my parents couldn’t afford them. But I had this one, which I recently spotted (and should have bought) at a Pequot Lakes antique shop

 

A favorite childhood storybook, Three Billy Goats Gruff, instilled in me a fondness for goats and for fairy tales. And a beginning reader book, Joey the Kangaroo, endeared me to kangaroos. As my reading skills advanced, I treasured my hardcover copies of Little House on the Prairie, The Bobbsey Twins, Little Women and The Five Little Peppers.

Somewhere in that time-frame I discovered Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. Those series led to a life-long love of mysteries, my favorite genre.

I thrilled in bringing home book orders from school and ordering a paperback or two to add to my bedroom bookshelf. Even though money was tight in our family, Mom allowed me to select books like Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle and Other Modern Verse.

 

When Izzy visits, she often heads straight for this basket crammed with 14 books (current count) and a few toys. While I washed dishes one morning, she pulled the books from the basket one-by-one and “read” each one.

 

When I became a mom in 1986 and birthed more children 21 months and six years later, my time to indulge in leisurely reading vanished. Instead, I found myself with a baby or child on my lap or snuggled next to me on the couch with hardboard and picture books in hand. When my eldest turned six, I was already reading The Little House and Betsy-Tacy series to her and her four-year-old sister.

 

When Izzy opened an I Spy book, I showed her how a matchbox bus matched the photo. I said the word “bus,” then repeated myself. At 20 months, she’s learning new words at a rapid pace.

 

I hold dear those memories of reading to Amber, Miranda and Caleb. All three of my kids love to read. Miranda fixated on horses for awhile, our local librarian Mary Jane always on the watch for new equine books.

 

I love this photo of Izzy “reading.” She didn’t even notice me with my camera, so engrossed was she in her book.

 

Reminders of those youthful passions for reading linger in bookshelves packed with science fiction and fantasy books in Caleb’s former bedroom. My son also frequented the nonfiction section of the local library seeking out books to teach himself juggling, magic tricks, computer programming and more. He loves to learn and never wanted to wait for a teacher to teach him. Today, with a computer science degree, he works in that field and continues to pursue learning. He holds an innate desire and passion for knowledge.

Both of my girls worked in the local library while in high school and later at their respective college libraries. They have never been far from books—whether listening to stories read at home or at library story hour, participating in summer reading programs, filing books on library shelves or simply just reading on their own.

 

One of Izzy’s favorite books to read at my house is All Year Round With Little Frog. When she pushes on the plastic frog, it squeaks. I read this book to Izzy’s Uncle Caleb more than 20 years ago.

 

My kids are grown and gone now. But the importance of reading remains, circling back now to the next generation. My granddaughter, Isabelle, loves to page through books and to be read to by her parents and others who love her, including me. She’s already completed her first summer reading program, attends storytime at the library and has a significant collection of books.

 

My husband, Randy, reads to his granddaughter during an overnight stay at our house several months ago.

 

Izzy has received, says my librarian friend Kathleen, “the gift of generational literacy.” I’ve never thought of the continuum of loving books in that way. But I love that phrase. “Miss Izzy loves books because you instilled that love in her mom (and her sister and brother)…and now, another generation benefits…and on and on,” Kathleen observed. Izzy’s daddy, too, enjoys reading, a gift of generational literacy also passed from his family.

 

Izzy pages through her mama’s childhood book, Moo, Moo, Peekaboo.

 

To watch Isabelle page through books I once read to her mama, aunt or uncle brings me much joy. The words I read some 30 years ago tumble from my memory as I hold Izzy close and recite from memory Moo, moo! Peekaboo, we see you, cow!

 

TELL ME: Have you received the gift of generational literacy and/or passed that gift along?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Sweet as Strawberry Shortcake October 23, 2017

I love this image of my granddaughter looking out the front door of my home. I love the light, the mood, the sweetness, the perspective.

 

FOR PROBABLY A DOZEN YEARS or more, the homemade child’s dress hung in an upstairs bedroom closet. I’d purchased it at a garage sale with intentions of some day giving the Strawberry Shortcake print dress to my eldest niece. The dress would be the perfect nostalgic gift for Tara, born a year after the popular doll line debuted. She loved all things Strawberry Shortcake. I imagined how she would delight in receiving the dress for her newborn daughter.

 

Grandma needed a portrait of Isabelle in her vintage Strawberry Shortcake dress.

 

But as life goes, Tara birthed a boy just over a year ago. So, by default, the long-held dress went to my granddaughter, Isabelle. On an early September visit, Izzy showed up in her Strawberry Shortcake dress, much to my joy.

 

 

 

That dress, stitched so lovingly with rick rack trim and accented with mini heart buttons nearly 40 years ago by an unknown seamstress, fit the then 17-month-old perfectly.

 

 

She looked adorable.

 

 

I’m not sure her mom shared the same enthusiasm for the garment as I did. But my eldest made me a happy grandma by slipping this sweet dress onto her daughter for an afternoon.

 

 

 

 

 

I captured the exact moment Izzy discovered that the recliner rocked. She threw her head and arms back in exuberance.

 

Izzy paged through books, played with blocks, blew bubbles, splashed in water, rocked in the recliner and more, moving at the speed only toddlers can move. And she managed all in that vintage dress, the unintended dress now perfectly hers.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling