Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Reflections on motherhood May 7, 2021

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My mom saved everything, including this Mother’s Day card I made for her in elementary school. I cut a flower from a seed catalog to create the front of this card. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

IT’S EASY TO IDEALIZE motherhood. To paint a portrait of an infinitely loving and nurturing mother. Always calm. Always kind. Always putting her children first.

But the reality is that being a mom does not mean being perfect. No one is. Perfect, that is.

So this Mother’s Day, I honor all those women who are moms. Not some idealistic version of a perfect mother. But rather a mother who does her best to embrace motherhood and love those entrusted to her care.

My granddaughter. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2019.

As the mother of three now grown adult children and two beautiful grandchildren, I have a little experience in the mothering department. That doesn’t make me an expert. It just lends more authenticity to my words, to my efforts to give my children roots and wings.

I love my three. Two daughters born 21 months apart. And then the son born seven years and 364 days after my eldest. Yes, she celebrated her birthday in the hospital with her newborn brother.

As a stay-at-home mom, I found raising kids both challenging and rewarding. I expect most moms would say that. Tantrums and sibling rivalry and strong-willed children can test any mother’s patience. But then there were the moments of children snuggled next to me or on my lap while I read books. First, simple Little Golden Book storybooks. Then the Little House series. The Betsy-Tacy series. And more.

Busted in October of 1988 sneaking cookies and “hiding” in the corner of the kitchen to eat them. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

And the moments of delight. Like the morning I caught my daughters eating just-baked chocolate chip cookies in a corner of the kitchen…after I’d told them to wait until after lunch for a treat. My oldest daughter pulled a chair to the counter and grabbed two cookies for herself and her sister. I secretly admired her determination. And her looking out for her sister.

I wanted to raise children to think creatively, to forge their own paths. To care about others. And they did. When the eldest, during her freshman year of college, informed us that she was going on a mission trip to Paraguay, I asked, “Where is Paraguay?” And soon the second daughter followed, journeying to New Orleans to help with clean-up after Hurricane Katrina. Twice. Then, after college, she moved to Argentina for six months.

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

The son, too, traveled, to attend college and work in Boston for five years. I disliked having him so far from Minnesota. But I respected his choice and my need to let go. Later, he would travel to a professional conference in Japan and then to Europe.

Certainly, there have been challenges through the years. Difficult times. Plenty of tears and angst and worry. The morning my then 12-year-old son was struck by a car while crossing the street to his school bus stop ranks as an especially terrifying moment. That hit-and-run occurred just days before Mother’s Day 2006. Thankfully, he received only minor injuries. Yet, it was a horrible experience. My heart hurts for all mothers who have lost children.

Me and my mom in December 2017. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Although my kids are long-gone from home, my love and care for them remains as strong as ever. I want the best for them. Happiness. Joy. Purpose. To love and be loved. I would move mountains for them, as cliché as that sounds. I expect my mom felt the same.

My mother, Arlene, and me.

To all the moms out there, including my mom and my eldest (the mother of my grandchildren), Happy Mother’s Day! You are valued, loved, cherished and appreciated.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Mother’s Day 2020 from southern Minnesota May 8, 2020

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Me with my mom during a January visit. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo January 2020 by Randy Helbling.

 

I STOOD BEFORE THE CARD RACK at the dollar store, pink cotton print mask covering my face, eyes scanning the choices before me. I filtered through a few Mother’s Day cards before choosing one for my eldest daughter and one for my mom.

It was an emotional moment for me as I selected the card to send to my mom, who lives in a senior care center 120 miles away in southwestern Minnesota. I last saw her on March 7, the weekend before Parkview closed to visitors to protect them from COVID-19.

Mom is on hospice, which makes a difficult situation even more emotionally challenging. How do you work through the guilt of not being there for your mom when she most needs family? How? The intellectual part of me understands the closure. The “I love my mom” side does not.

So I stood there, in front of that display rack of flowery cards with sweet messages, and considered that this could be the last time I would buy a Mother’s Day card for Mom. I wanted to rip off that mask and plop down on the floor and cry away my pain in heart-wrenching sobs. Because that’s how I felt. Overcome with sadness.

But, instead, I clutched my two cards and walked to the check-out lane, strips of orange tape marking social distancing lines on the worn carpet. I waited while the cashier scanned the biggest pile of merchandise I’ve ever seen a shopper purchase at a dollar store. I tried to be patient and wait my turn while an unmasked young woman edged closer to me, closer than my comfort level. It didn’t help that I’d just heard someone coughing repeatedly minutes earlier.

I recognize my heightened awareness created by COVID-19. I recognize, too, my heightened emotions. I considered for a moment just leaving the cards and walking out of the store. But I wanted, needed, to get the card for Mom without another visit to another store and more possible virus exposure.

So I refocused, wondering about that heap of merchandise the masked woman ahead of me was buying. Teacher, I thought to myself, then asked, “You must be buying for a bunch of kids?” Her answer surprised me. She was not. The goods were rewards for potty training. I nearly laughed aloud. Not because of the concept. But because of the sheer volume of rewards purchased for a preschooler who might just be smart enough to manipulate Mom.

Humor got me through that check-out line and out the door with a card for my mom and another for my daughter. Memories will carry me through this Mother’s Day as I think of Mom. Still here on this earth, yet so far away.

To all of you who have lost your moms, I am sorry. To those of you who still have your moms, cherish them. And to those of you who are mothers, like me, Happy Mother’s Day!

© Copyright 2020 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

 

My thoughts on motherhood after 30 years as a mom May 8, 2016

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My mother, Arlene, and me.

My mother, Arlene, and me.

IN THIS SEASON OF MY LIFE, in the year I reach a milestone decade, I have watched my eldest daughter become a mother to sweet Isabelle. This has proven a contemplative time for me as I think of my own aging mother, of my aging self, of my daughter now a mother.

Daughter to daughter to daughter to daughter, we are linked as family. Eighty-four years separate youngest and oldest.

I cannot help but feel a certain sadness in this passage of time. Wasn’t it just yesterday that my preschool daughter hovered over tulips in our front yard, observing that “the flowers are opening their mouths?”

Why do I remember that? And why do I remember my mom once so fed up with her six squabbling children that she threatened to run away?

There are certain moments in motherhood that stand out: My second daughter sticking a red hot up her nose when we were decorating Christmas cookies. My son struck by a car 10 years ago, the day before Mother’s Day. The first time my eldest went on a mission trip to Texas and I struggled with this long-distance separation. The call from my second daughter that she’d been mugged while traveling in Argentina.

I joke sometimes that I should have locked my kids in the basement in an attempt to keep them safe. While that may have spared me a lot of worry and heartache, it would have been wrong. Mothers instinctively want to protect their children. But we also instinctively guide them out the door into the world.

If only I’d known then what I know now. How true that adage. To every young mom who struggles with a night owl infant, a tantrum throwing two-year-old, a defiant middle-schooler, I want to advise her that these moments are nothing. Nothing. These are manageable situations.

We never know what life will bring to our families. Joys. Challenges beyond anything we ever could have imagined. But one thing remains constant for me as a mother. I love my children today as much as the day they were born.
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To all of you mothers out there, Happy Mother’s Day!

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thoughts on motherhood May 9, 2014

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I love this crazy, loving photo of my three kids, taken in February 2003.

I love this crazy, fun-loving photo of my three kids, taken in February 2003.

HOW DO YOU DEFINE a mother’s love?

Endless, unconditional, unshakable, fierce, enduring? I would choose all.

Yes, I’m repeating myself with some of these adjectives. But so what.

I am a mother of three now grown children, all in their twenties. I always find “adult children” to be an oxymoron. Yet, no matter the age of our offspring, they remain always our children. Once a mother, always a mother. You never stop caring and worrying and, for me, praying.

Have my kids frustrated and maddened me? Sure they have. But I expect I’ve done the same. None of us—parent or child—is perfect. Far from it.

As a mother, I try to do the best I can. I’ve praised when deserved. I listen. I offer advice when necessary. After all I do have a few decades more of experience and wisdom. I support my children. Not always their actions and decisions, but them. There’s a difference.

I cherish my kids. I love them enough to let them go. And we’re not talking geographical distance, although two of my trio live 1,300 and 300 miles away. I’m referencing that proverbial cutting of the apron strings, that realization that this has been my goal, to raise and then let go.

There are days when I’d like to turn back the clock, to swoop my three back into our home,

Busted in October of 1988 sneaking cookies and "hiding" in the corner of the kitchen to eat them.

My daughters, busted in October of 1988 sneaking cookies and “hiding” in the corner of the kitchen to eat them.

to admonish preschoolers for sneaking cookies from the cookie jar before lunch (all the while stifling laughter),

My Tufts University computer science and mathematics majors son played with LEGOs constantly while growing up. This photo was taken in June 2003.

My current Tufts University computer science and mathematics majors son played with LEGOs constantly while growing up. This photo, taken in June 2003, shows the zoo he created using his imagination. No LEGO kit involved here.

to step upon an errant LEGO,

My eldest stars as a flower in the May 1992 school play, "Leo the Late Bloomer."

My eldest (standing) stars as a flower in the May 1992 Trinity Lutheran School play, “Leo the Late Bloomer.”

to sit through one more end of the school year musical in a stuffy gymnasium.

The son, left, the eldest, the son-in-law and the second eldest daughter.

The son, left, the eldest, the son-in-law and the second daughter. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, December 2013, the last time my kids were together.

But time has passed. Snap. Just like that my kids are grown up, two working, one married, another still in college (and working this summer).

I am nearing sixty.

My own mother recently entered a nursing home.

Life changes.

But a mother’s love endures. Forever.

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HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY to all of you moms out there!

And to my three children and my son-in-law, I love each of you now and forever.

© 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