Sometimes you meet someone that’s so much fun and so smart that you can’t help but have a little mom-crush on them. That’s how we feel about Helen Lien – she’s brilliant, she’s kind, she’s adventurous, and brimming with positive energy that she shares enthusiastically with anyone lucky enough to know her. When Helen’s not trekking down hiking trails all over the world or making Huntsville a better place in which families can learn and grow, she’s also a pretty awesome mom.
Read below to find out more about Helen’s journey as a parent and why we think she’s an Awesome Mom of Huntsville!
Welcome to our series where we explore amazing local moms and their impact on our community. We’ll hear about their journeys, inspiration, advice, and snag a few gems off their playlists! Thank you to Advanced OBGYN for sponsoring Amazing Rocket City Moms.
Our world is so endlessly fascinating. I LOVE science, education, the Great Outdoors, and of course Madison and Huntsville! I’m a biochemist and engineer by training, a former educator, and I love our community, so finding ways to connect the three is very rewarding for me.
Much of my professional life centers around bridging people with giving hearts to the ways they can help students and educators. My passion for education first led me to The Country Day School now KLA Schools of Huntsville then to HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology and now to The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) where I work in the Office of Development. What struck me most about UAH when I first started working there is the broad scope of its mission and programs. UAH implements programs for learners of all ages from early childhood education at the Early Learning Center and the UAH RISE School to K-12 outreach to mature learners at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UAH (OLLI at UAH). It’s also a Carnegie R1 university ranked because of its very high research activity. Every day at work, I’m reminded that actions (no matter how small) can make a big difference in someone’s life, often in unexpected ways. Students tell us all the time that a scholarship is more than just financial support; it also shows them that someone completely unknown to them cares about them and believes in their dreams too. This is why I love going to work!
In my personal life, I love learning new things and discovering this world with my family and friends. As a family, we value time spent outdoors. My daughter completed her first trail on Green Mountain when she was itty bitty and has tackled increasingly challenging trails ever since. This summer we’re getting ready for our biggest hike: 6-days in the Alaskan backcountry. It is an honor to share these journeys with her as she’s gained confidence in her own ability to persevere and also learned her limits too. Her dad and I want her to know that she can do hard things, that our wild places are worth conserving, and recreating outdoors comes with the responsibility to leave no trace even more so if you are visiting fragile environments like caves. We’re fortunate to be surrounded by friends who share our values and organizations dedicated to wilderness conservation and protection like The Land Trust, SCCi, and Forever Wild.
Her Motherhood Journey (so far!)
So becoming a mom wasn’t necessarily a life goal for me, but I can’t imagine life without my daughter now. She’s just super cool, kind, and fun.
My pregnancy was considered very high risk for both my daughter and myself. There was a pretty good chance one of us wouldn’t make it through alive. I had to pee on test strips more days than I care to remember. Hand-eye coordination is not my forte. An ever-increasing, distended belly that I could not see past, did not improve the situation. Then my OB called me late in the evening one night with our quad screen result. My daughter had a 200x elevated risk for neural tube defect. He reassured me false positives are common, calmly explained everything to me and answered all my questions. He had already scheduled a level 2, 3D ultrasound for me, and he just needed me to confirm I could make the appointment. I have never been more grateful for my ability to access excellent healthcare.
When we hung up, I cried alone on the kitchen floor until my husband returned home from work.
The two week wait for my appointment was one long Google rabbit hole and doom scroll. Worst case scenarios played in my mind. What if I died in labor and left my husband to care for a disabled child alone? What if we both died and left him alone? A dear friend who was, at the time, a 40-year veteran nurse, reminded me that I had choices.
Ultrasound day was a pretty posh affair all things considered. I don’t remember much else other than seeing my daughter’s spine on the little screen, rendered there in black and white. Perfectly straight and completely tucked in the spinal column. And for the 15th day in a row, I cried, but not in fear or worry this time. In relief, because Doc was right – FALSE POSITIVE – and so I chose. It was the easiest choice I’ve ever made, but by golly did it feel good too.
There’s so much more to our family’s journey, but this is when I think I really became a mom.
Her Quest for Balance
I’m very fortunate that my husband is an awesome partner and father. He takes on many of the invisible, day to day tasks that keep a home running, and he does our taxes too. When we camp, he literally takes weight off my shoulders. I’m still the one that fluffs the couch cushions though.
Truthfully, I actually struggle really hard with work/home/life balance. I focus on whatever is in front of me, and I give it all I have. I love my work; our students inspire me and knowing my work can help them pushes me every day to do as much as I can for them. So, at the end of the day, my evenings involve a lot of lolling about, pretending to be trapped under my cat so I “just can’t” actually get up to do whatever I probably should do. When the cat is not convenient to me, I loudly proclaim that I just put lotion on my feet and don’t want to smear it on the carpet, so you’ll have to wait until it soaks in. Maybe my approach to balance is that I find really inane reasons to be lazy and idle for just a few minutes here and there?
Because I know I am like this, family holidays take a bit more planning. OK, extensive planning since we deliberately choose places with no cell reception and are off the grid. We really enjoy backpacking together because we can focus on each other without the distraction of screens. Nothing says luxe relaxation like rehydrated packet food, digging cat holes, PLBs, and washing really stinky clothes in glacially cold streams.
Oh, and I don’t cook on Fridays.
Her Ideal Rocket City Weekend
A truly wonderful weekend includes friends, nature, and meals I did not make. Friday night backyard get-togethers with friends are a great way to kick back and relax after the work week. My friends are my family here. I love them immensely. Especially the ones that feed me yummy things like chocolate cake, skyrdolla, stuffed mushrooms, and tea cakes. Saturday and Sunday are for hiking, caving, napping, and grocery shopping.
No Cooking Friday Night Dinner – Family-owned restaurants are a must for Friday dinners since you can only ask friends to bring you chocolate cake so many times before you’re a mooch. These are my faves! Taqueria Los Arrieros Food Truck, Teresita’s Tamales, Ohana Hawaiian Grindz, and Sam and Greg’s
Saturday breakfast – Cinnamon Sugar mini donuts from Big Foot Little Donuts, but only when they send a coupon.
Sunday brunch – Dim sum at Ding How II is a perennial favorite. Our family has been dining there since we moved to Huntsville 13 years ago. My daughter loves their shumai, but will fight you for the last radish cake. I love the radish cake too but her more, so she wins the fight more often than not.
Hiking – My daughter Yonder Girl has written about some of her favorites for beginners, waterfalls, and fall foliage on RCM in the past. Some of our favorites not included on those lists are Stone Door (easy), Chapman Mountain (easy), Borden Creek (moderate), Walls of Jericho (hard), and Fiery Gizzard to Raven’s Point (hard). The preserves of the Land Trust of North Alabama are full of wonderful, freely accessible hiking trails for all level of hikers. They recently acquired one of my favorite nature preserves, Cane Creek Canyon. Yes, it’s worth the drive from Huntsville. Just go!
Funniest Parenting Moment
Ummm… where do I start? There’s so many. Perhaps this is the most embarrassing given the large audience who witnessed it: my daughter and I waited in line for THREE hours to see Ariel at the Magic Kingdom. When it was her turn, she loudly informed Ariel (and everyone else in line), “My mom says you’re stupid.” There was much gasping and clasping at the neckline of matching family T-shirts. Not much for me to say after that then, “You have to admit you made some poor choices just to be with a Tinder date.”
Helen’s Top Parenting Tip
Try not to let them die.
The Superpower She Wishes She Had
Finding taco trucks, Starbucks, or used book stores no matter where I am.
Her Parenting Resource Recs & Influences
Witnessing a fellow Smithie’s genuine connection with her children, where she exuded so much warmth, love, openness, and total acceptance of them really caught my attention. Here were two older kids who clearly liked being around their mom. Being newly pregnant, I asked her for advice. Without hesitation, she offered, “We have never ever, not once, spanked them.” I was completely bumfuzzled and didn’t understand how you could discipline children without spanking them. We talked for a really long time about bodily agency, teaching consent, and so much more the rest of the evening. What I took away from that conversation is that just because my parents were loving and my childhood charmed, I don’t have to raise my daughter the way they raised me. I can choose the kind of parent I want to be. And just because I choose something different than them, doesn’t mean I don’t honor them and the choices they made at the time.
And the best bedtime book EVER, No Matter What by Debi Gliori.
Helen’s song picks when she needs to…
Get Her Gameface On: Top Gun Anthem (recently), So Am I by Ava Max
Recover From Heartbreak: Here with Me by Susie Suh and Robot Koch, Keep Me by Khalid
Energize Herself: Rather Be by Clean Bandit, Kashmir by Bond, L’Amour Toujours by Gigi D’Agostino
Let Loose and Have Fun with Friends: Taylor Swift, Meghan Trainor, Cascada, Ke$ha, Dua Lipa
Do you know a local mom you think we should feature as an Amazing Rocket City Mom? We want to hear from you about her – send us your ideas and we’ll get in touch!
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Rocket City Mom is a website about raising children in and around Huntsville, Alabama. Started in late 2010 by a local mom and newcomer to Huntsville, Rocket City Mom has grown into a thriving community of local parents and now boasts a staff of four, thirteen regular contributors, and tens of thousands of Tennessee Valley readers making it the #1 Parenting Resource in North Alabama.