Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The tough part about holidays for this mom April 2, 2018

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MOST HOLIDAYS, NO MATTER how hard I try, I find myself envying families who can all be together. I know it’s juvenile thinking and I should be thankful for the times I have my three adult children (that always seems like such an oxymoron) under my roof for a holiday.

But if you’re a mom (or dad), and you’re honest, don’t you miss having every child you’ve birthed or adopted together with you, celebrating? OK, maybe it’s just me. But I miss the daughter who lives four hours away. And I miss the son who lives 1,400 miles away. And, when my eldest daughter and her family are with the other side of the family on the other side of the country, I miss them, too.

I’m getting better at accepting this as the way things are when your kids grow up and leave home. I’m adjusting. Connecting via technology helps. Randy and I have also found other ways to deal with the absence of our once nuclear family. On Thanksgiving, for example, we volunteered to deliver meals in our community. Last Easter we drove 2.5 hours to southwestern Minnesota to visit my mom in a care center. I can choose to be sad. Or I can choose to purposely give joy, thus receiving joy in return.

I’ve learned to delight in the once-a-year-occasion (maybe) that our family gathers in Minnesota. That last happened in August. Seven months ago. Too long. But at least we were together for a few days. Never mind that my son texted recently that he is changing his residency to Massachusetts, tangible evidence that he doesn’t plan to return to Minnesota to live anytime soon.

Then I think of the parents who have lost children and I have no reason, none, to feel sorry for myself.

This is life. I am reminded that, as parents, we are to give our kids roots and wings. Roots and wings. It sounds so poetic, so uplifting. But the reality is that sometimes I wish my kids had missed that flying part. Or at least landed closer to home.

TELL ME: Do you share any of my feelings? How do you cope with missing your kids on holidays? Or are you one of those “lucky” parents who always has your kids around for holidays?

 

Just for the record, I spent this Easter with my husband, oldest daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter. And it was wonderful.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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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

 

Thoughts as my son heads back to Boston after the holidays January 3, 2018

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Caleb and I pose for a Christmas Eve 2017 photo.

ON THE FINAL EVENING before he left, I leaned across the sofa to wrap my arms around him. He closed his laptop, stretching his long arms up and around me.

“I want to hold onto this moment,” I said, gripping him tighter.

“I’m not going to take it away from you,” my son answered.

 

The downtown Minneapolis skyline. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

He was right. Only my mind could keep or release the sweet memory of our hug. After 10 days with Caleb home for the holidays from Boston, I was struggling with his departure. Hints that perhaps he could relocate to Minneapolis or St. Paul were met with a firm “no.” At least for now. So I widened the geographic range to Milwaukee, Chicago, St. Louis. Still no interest.

 

The 2016 commencement ceremony begins at The School of Engineering, Tufts University. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I am resigned, for now, to the fact that my son loves the East Coast. He’s in a place where, after more than four years, he feels comfortable and at home. I never thought my youngest would move the farthest from Minnesota. He started college in Fargo, but soon found the flat and windy North Dakota city and the college a less than ideal fit for him and his insatiable desire to learn, to be challenged. So, shortly after he turned 19 and following his freshman year, he flew to Boston, toured three colleges and gained acceptance to all three. He transferred into Tufts University, a stellar college that offered the challenges (and financial aid) he needed. And now he works in the computer science field in greater Boston.

 

I zoomed in on the Boston skyline from the patio roof of Tisch Library at Tufts University. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo spring 2016.

 

He’s never really said why he prefers Boston over Minnesota. Not that he owes me an explanation. I understand how a metro region with a strong tech base would hold appeal for Caleb. The area seems to me the Silicon Valley of the East Coast. Caleb has found plenty of like-minded techies in groups like Boston Indies. Several times he’s demoed his soon-to-be-released video game, Blockspell. And he’s presenting at the 2018 BostonFIG (Festival of Indie Games) Talks on January 20 at MIT Stata Center. I’m not saying similar opportunities don’t exist in Minnesota. But he’s found his fit in Boston. I need to be good with that. And I am.

Yet, a selfish part of me still yearns for geographical closeness.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A wonderful Christmas December 27, 2017

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My granddaughter, Isabelle, all fancy in her Christmas dress, decides she’s going to open one of her gifts before church services. Rules are rules, though. You have to wait until after church and dinner. She was stopped after pulling tissue from the bag. No crying occurred.

 

HOW WAS YOUR CHRISTMAS? I expect the question will repeat itself numerous times in the next week.

Mine was wonderful. Wonderful because nearly all the people I love most in this world celebrated Christmas with me. I missed my sweet second daughter, absent because she was on-call as a Spanish medical interpreter in eastern Wisconsin. And, yes, she was called into a Green Bay ER on Christmas Day. I’m used to her absence on holidays. I don’t like it. But I know that I am not the only mama without all of her grown children back home.

 

Izzy and Grandpa look at one of her many new books on Christmas Day. She’s sitting in her Izzy-sized chair from her grandparents in California.

 

Unless you’re fortunate enough to have all of your children (and grandchildren) living nearby (and by that I mean in the same state), you understand. We can’t always celebrate holidays together. This year while I enjoyed Christmas with my adorable 20-month-old granddaughter, her Opa and Oma in California were missing her. I know how difficult that had to be for them.

 

Isabelle studies the packaging from her “Daniel Tiger” character set while Uncle Caleb uses his smartphone. I love this photo, which also includes a hand-crocheted monkey I gave to Isabelle.

 

My son flew in from Boston, arriving in the late evening the day before Christmas Eve. Icy conditions canceled more than a dozen flights out of Logan, thankfully not his. I hadn’t seen him since August, not all that long ago. But still too long for this mama. He’ll be around until shortly after New Year’s.

 

Izzy and her mama (my daughter, Amber) read Good Night Minnesota one of the many new books Isabelle got for Christmas. She loves to read. Uncle Caleb gave Izzy the Curious George sweatshirt she’s wearing.

 

I carry now sweet Christmas memories—of gathering around the table and the Christmas tree, of worshiping together, of wrapping my arms around my lanky son, of cuddling my granddaughter, of laughing and talking and loving.

 

Give Izzy a book and she’s a happy girl. This Christmas book came from Kathleen in Washington. Aunt Miranda and Uncle John sent the “Mommy’s Favorite Elf” shirt from Wisconsin.

 

My heart is happy, brimming with memories of family love.

TELL ME: How was your Christmas?

© Copyright 2017 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

 

Beyond a mother’s love July 26, 2017

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WHEN I BECAME A MOM 31 years ago, a new love settled into my heart so profound and protective and encompassing that I was forever changed.

Decades later, my care and love for my two daughters and son remain as strong as the day they were born. Sure they are independent now, living as near as an hour away and as distant as 1,400 miles. But they are still as close as the love I hold for them.

 

 

My motherly love reaches higher than a prairie sky, wider than a prairie landscape, deeper than the prairie place that rooted me.

And just when I thought love could expand no farther, my granddaughter was born. Isabelle is nearly 16 months old now, growing into a little girl with a mind of her own. She walks with confidence, is single-word talking, cries sometimes when her mama leaves the room, offers hugs and blows kisses, loves books and brings incredible joy to my life.

 

 

At the birth of Izzy, a new love settled into my heart so profound and protective and encompassing that I was forever changed. I am a grandma smitten.

TELL ME: How has a little one (whether son/daughter, grandchild or niece/nephew) changed you?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflecting on fatherhood June 16, 2017

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My husband and I with our three children, taken last Christmas. Rare are the times now when we are all together given the son lives in greater Boston and one daughter lives nearly six hours distant. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

“HAS YOUR DAD ever thanked you for saving his life?” I asked my husband. I doubted my father-in-law had, yet I had to ask.

“No,” Randy answered.

“You know, if this would have happened today, you would be in the news, considered a hero.” Randy agreed.

Fifty years ago this coming October 21, the then 11-year-old central Minnesota farm boy shut off the power take-off to the corn chopper that trapped his father’s arm. With the power off, Randy then raced across the field to a neighboring farm for help. His actions saved his dad’s life.

Why do I share this story just days before Father’s Day? It is an extreme example of how relationships between fathers and their children have changed. In the 1960s, the time frame in which this accident occurred, the rural men I knew worked long hard hours on the farm. By the time they exited the barn or field, they were too exhausted to interact much with their kids. They worked tirelessly to provide for families that often included a half dozen or more children. Rare were the two-kid families.

It was, too, the norm of the times for men to be distant, uninvolved and unemotional. I remember how I craved any time with my dad that didn’t involve farm work. Taking lunch to him and my Uncle Mike in the field provided some one-on-one contact. So did the few minutes I could grab to show Dad my latest sewing project. And I loved the Sunday afternoon drives our family took to look at crops.

The generation that followed—my generation—started an evolution of change. We were more opinionated, challenging of past stereotypes and undaunted by the past. Farm boys like my husband left the farm for jobs in town. And so the subtle changes in father-child relationships began.

 

A photo of our daughters in 1988.

 

When my husband became a dad 31 years ago, he forged relationships with his two daughters and son early one. Among my fondest memories is that of Randy sprawled on the living room carpet reading the Sunday comics to his children. He also read books and played infinite games of Monopoly with our son. One sweet photo shows him painting his daughter’s toe nails.

 

Watching our son graduate from Tufts University School of Engineering with a bachelor of science degree in computer science. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

 

Our kids have always known they can count on their dad—to stick on a band-aid, cheer them on at a spelling bee, fix their cars, move them into and out of countless dorm rooms and apartments…

Randy has always been there—through the second daughter’s fitting of a back brace to treat her scoliosis, through the son’s being struck by a car, through the school programs in stuffy auditoriums, through the tears and joys and anguish.

 

My favorite photo of my husband holding our then 10-day-old granddaughter, Isabelle. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2016.

 

I am grateful for the strength my husband exhibits as a father and now a grandfather. Already 50 years ago, on that central Minnesota cornfield, he showed incredible strength by saving his dad’s life. Like his father before him, Randy is often quiet and unemotional. But I see at his core the love he holds for his family. And that is what matters most.

TELL ME: How do you think fatherhood has evolved? What makes a father? Or share a memory.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling