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Roxane Salonen, Published July 21 2009

Parenting Perspectives: Thanks for the fantastic Fourth memories, MSUM

The colorful blasts of Independence Day ’09 may be distant echoes now, but I’ve yet to fully move on from that first week of July.

Perhaps I’m stuck in stage one of the grieving process – the denial.

This won’t resonate with those who haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing Minnesota State University Moorhead on the Fourth of July in past years. But those who have, especially parents with small children, might join me in silent commiseration after attending this year’s pared-down, budget-friendly version of the annual celebration.

Every July Fourth for the past 12 years, our family has packed up the minivan with sunscreen, water bottles and a stroller or two and headed to MSUM.

The mood was always festive, the kids were always giddy. “Can I get a snow cone?” they’d beg at the entrance. Sometimes, we’d relent.

But that was just the beginning. After buying our stash of tickets, we’d stroll past the lively bingo tent and meander toward the duck pond, sucker pull and climbing wall.

Inevitably, someone who’d come before would give us their unused tickets. We’d do the same for someone else on our way out. A spirit of generosity pervaded the grounds.

Over by the library, a crowd would be gathered, attentive to the entertainment in progress: Native American dancing, juggling or a one-person band. Clowns nearby would be shaping balloons into swords and flowers. A few dogs would be lying down, panting in the heat.

Eventually, we’d sample some funnel cake, then stand in line for pony and barrel rides. We wouldn’t leave until buying some pickles-on-a-stick and caramel apples in a dish. A few of our clan would opt for popcorn or ice cream cones or cotton candy.

With the lake folks having evacuated, those of us who remained found in this scene our own secret haven in the shade of the gigantic campus cottonwoods. Happily weaving our way through lines of kids riding decorated bikes from the morning parade, it seemed the perfect blend of food, friendliness and fun.

Somehow, I’d missed all this during my college days, but as a parent, I felt gratitude and pride toward my alma mater for the community offering.

But just as my husband’s guitar store was declared “nonessential” during the height of the spring flood, a large chunk of July Fourth activities was deemed nonessential this year. The pared-down version was a nice gesture, but not quite the same.

As our kids moped around during the afternoon of this year’s holiday, feeling the void, I couldn’t help but wonder how many other “nonessentials” might be compromised in this economic downturn.

But I don’t blame the university. I understand it has to be for now. And for now, the thing to say seems to be this:

Thank you, MSUM, for the wonderful memories, as well as your attempts to preserve some of the fun. I don’t know if we told you how much we appreciated it all when it counted.

If things ever change, we’ll be first to show up at the iron-gate entry on 10th Street South in Moorhead, gratitude in hand.

Roxane B. Salonen works as a freelance writer and children’s author in Fargo, where she and husband Troy are parents to five children. She also has a blog,