Investing in our children’s experiences is key

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Posted: Friday, August 23, 2019 6:00 am

I turned 34 a month ago.

Every July 22 I have to do a double-take when I do the math and realize, yup, my parents had me – their third child – when they were several years younger than I am now.

Sitting at home with a cat, a bevy of bills and lingering loan payments, I often wonder how people my age are able to make it all work.

Have kids? 

I still debate if I can afford to splurge for the $3 bread or if I should settle for the $1.69 loaf that meets the minimum requirements of a baked good. 

It was once dough. It was then heated.

I am fairly certain that without great friends and family in town, I would be living under the Woodland Park bridge.

That’s why I laugh when people – mostly my mom – ask me when I’m going to have kids.

Firstly, it takes two to tango and I’ve struggled to find a woman to cha-cha with.

Secondly, how could I afford that?

“I want a grandchild,” my mother will tell me.

“You have a grandchild,” I state, reminding her that for the past 10 years she has, indeed, been a grandma.

She is unphased. 

“I want another one.”

Then I remind her that I coach four teams of kids aged 9 to 18 every year.  

“Mom, it’s like I have 50 kids already,” I explain. “I just see them two hours a day for a few months out of the year.”

The conversation typically ends at this point, but it has repeated itself in various iterations over the past decade.

At first it started as a convenient way to end an uncomfortable conversation.

However, as the age gap between my players and me has widened throughout the years, I’m now working with kids that are 16 to 25 years younger than I am.

These aren’t my kids – trust me – but, yes, I’m actually old enough now to be their dad.

And that has made me see things differently not only in terms of my role but the community’s role in these kids’ lives.

I’ve lived in Hillsboro for 31 years, with only portions of three years spent living in the dorms at the University of North Dakota. 

Over three decades, I’ve seen the community go through a number of changes.

I spent my early years going on walks or bike rides along downtown Hillsboro, which was lined with billowing trees and home to Fankhanel’s Variety store.

Both are unfortunately gone now, but I still remember them because they made my world seem so much more magical as a kid.

At the Dairy Bar, you could watch the fish in the indoor aquarium or gaze at all of the memorabilia on the wall while you waited for your chocolate-dipped ice cream cone. 

While the building still stands, that business – popular to kids and families – is no more.

Days were spent on the playgrounds at Hillsboro Elementary School and Woodland Park. 

Olsen Softball Complex, which was just “the softball complex” growing up, was my second home, and my first Little League coaches – Tony Mooney, Doug Flieth and Eric Bartholomay – seemed like rock stars.

I remember these places and these people vividly because they made my small childhood world seem larger than life. 

They made Hillsboro “home” and not just a town I lived in.

The community was invested in my experience, so I felt invested in Hillsboro.

I am so thankful our local school districts, churches, park district and civic groups have dedicated themselves to offering fine facilities and programs for our young people.

There’s a reason so many – at the cost of great time and expense – invest in our baseball, softball and football fields, our golf course, our gymnasiums, our parks and our classrooms.

These places exist not to make money but to make memories.

In these spaces, we take pride in ensuring our neighbors and children have a great experience. 

In my line of work at the newspaper, I’m never going to be rich. 

I may never be able to afford raising a kid of my own. 

But, like so many in our area, I will gladly put my money and energy toward raising 50 of them. 

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