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From Utah to rural ND, it's a new season to be present

Katie Pinke’s parents with her daughters at the first UND football game of the year. (Katie Pinke/Agweek)1 / 3
Katie Pinke's family traveled to Utah to watch her son, Hunter, in his first college football game for the University of North Dakota, which played Utah on Aug. 31, 2017. (Katie Pinke/Agweek)2 / 3
Wishek elementary girls basketball in Napoleon, N.D., on Sept. 7, 2017. (Katie Pinke/Agweek)3 / 3

I've been a mother for 20 years and a sports mom for most of that time. Several days ago, I experienced a new "first" as a college football mom. We watched our son get in on a few plays as the University of North Dakota football team scored a touchdown against Utah in front of 46,000 fans. There were probably 200 fans in UND green in the former 2002 Olympic stadium in Salt Lake City. We lost the game, but the experience was still thrilling and opened a new chapter for our family as college football fans.

A week later, I sat alongside my family again for another page in a new chapter of being a sports mom. Our oldest daughter, Elizabeth, and six of her classmates played their first fourth grade elementary basketball game. They came from six points behind with a minute and a half left to tie the game and won by a basket in overtime. There were no more than 75 fans, but the little gym was loud and the game was thrilling.

From a big stadium in a major city in Utah to a little gym in a small town in North Dakota, I experienced the same emotions as my child played. When Nathan yelled, "He's in! He's in!" as our son lined up, my heart raced and my eyes welled up with tears. It's been a long journey from playing nine-man football in rural North Dakota to playing in front of 46,000 college football fans in Salt Lake City. But as Hunter had been reminded by a coach, "It's the same game."

Five years earlier to the day, which we knew based on Facebook memories, he stood on the sidelines of his first-ever high school football game. And five years before that he was playing elementary basketball just like his sister is now. When Elizabeth made her first basket, she looked up at Nathan and I with a proud smile, and I shed a few tears again.

The passing of time triggers my emotions. The tears have nothing to do with winning or losing — it's more about the journey.

Parenting is hard work. I thought I would be better at it after 20 years, but every day is new and I am always learning. As I often share with friends after having their first child, "Welcome to the most rewarding and challenging role you'll ever have." The days are long but the years are fast, some say.

Parenting has taught me to be present in the moment as much as possible. My girls once labeled me as "the last mom" when I commuted to and from the state capitol and was always the last mom to walk into their brother's games or concerts or pick them up from daycare. On one hand, at least I showed up. But I didn't want to forever be the last mom. I learned the importance of being on time and not rushed, present and not distracted from outside obligations.

We took three days off work, pulled our girls out of the second week of school and invited my parents to travel with us to Hunter's first college football game. It was a 48-hour whirlwind trip that required us to wake up at 3 a.m. twice to make it all work. We knew Hunter was traveling with the team, but he wasn't guaranteed to play. Seeing his joy and excitement was worth all the travel hassles. Of course, we prefer winning, but seeing the camaraderie of the UND team and coaches, the amazing outreach and sportsmanship of Utah fans and our family time etched new memories into our lives.

To make it to Elizabeth's first basketball game, we left work a little earlier than usual. I picked up Anika from school, my mother-in-law from her house and my husband and father-in-law from our business so we could all drive together to the game. After the excitement of the win, we shared supper together.

Being present and together as a family in any chapter of life holds more value to me than the points on a scoreboard.

To add to the week of new memories, our youngest child, Anika, started a new chapter, too. She went to her first piano lesson from the same teacher her dad and brother took years of lessons from and who her sister currently studies under.

Whatever your season or life chapter, be present. If you have a child, grandchild, neighbor or just a hometown team to cheer on, go to the game — and as we sing at UND games, "Stand up and cheer!"