Monday, January 08, 2018

Having awkward talks could prevent trouble down the road

From Saturday's Briefing:

A parent's résumé is ever evolving, and there's absolutely no way to contain it to a single page.

Basic duties include and are certainly not limited to: carrying, shepherding, cooking, cleaning, driving, purchasing, managing, demanding, negotiating, delivering, teaching, guiding, reading, corralling, worrying, rejoicing, clarifying, listening, speaking, convincing, cajoling and deciding.
Speaking subtopics are added as time continues and circumstances change:
  • Modeling basic language skills.
  • Repeating "I love you" multiple times daily.
  • Saying "no" with varying degrees of intensity.
  • Establishing critical rules about safety.
  • Offering advice for social scenarios.
  • Repeating cautionary tales.
  • Explaining current events.
  • Discussing uncomfortable yet crucial topics.

I'm thankful for the natural progression of humans from infant to teen, which allows us parents time to practice before we get to the really tough conversations. We get to smooth out our technique with discussions about taking turns and sharing, giving us confidence and courage to tackle the heavy stuff.
All that practice — more than 16 years of parenting so far — convinces me that difficult conversations become less difficult the more often you have them.
So this week, when I stumbled on a study out of Northwestern University about girls being overwhelmed by sexting requests, I had no qualms about broaching the subject with my two children.
They've heard it all before.
Don't ask anyone, ever, to send you a nude photo via smartphone.
If anyone asks you to send a photo, report it to a trusted adult immediately.
If anyone sends you an unsolicited nude photo, report it to a trusted adult immediately.
If one of your friends confides in you that they have sent a nude photo, do not gossip about it. Find a way to help your friend talk to an adult.
If you make a mistake when navigating all of this, please let me know so we can work through it together.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Why I'm taking it easy this Christmas (and eating store-bought cookies)

From today's Briefing:


My Katie is spending half of Christmas Eve at church.

It's entirely appropriate, of course, and I'm thankful that she's eager to share her talent and time with our community.
I will also be spending half of Sunday at church, though in a less participatory manner. I'll be in the pews for every one of her three dramatic portrayals of a shepherd who's journeyed from the fields to the manger in Bethlehem. I'll settle in again late that night, when she joins the youth choir to sing at the final candlelight service.

Our day will be different than most other Christmas Eves, when we cheerfully fit in dinner and stockings at the grandparents' house. It's a lovely tradition that we started two decades ago and has been broken only by severe illness or inclement weather (I'm looking at you, 2009).

But the grandparents are singing at two services (alas, different ones than Katie's four), and there was no way to schedule one more event and maintain some semblance of peace on earth.

Christmas, of all the holidays, has the greatest potential for high expectations and, sometimes, deep disappointments.
We're fraught with the memories of Christmases past and the potential of Christmases future. We want the food to be special, the gifts to be appreciated and traditions to be continued. We want snow, but not so much that it impedes our travel. We want photos that reflect the magic and joy and meaning of the day. We want all the buildup, from Thanksgiving until Dec. 25, to be worth the effort.

We are often so focused on making every single moment as special as possible that we sometimes forget to leave space for unexpected surprises. Sometimes, we even forget to reflect on what makes the moments special.

Our church's family worship services will include manger scenes re-created by children in simple costumes. There's bound to be a wayward wise man or a Joseph who flees the scene. (A child's service that goes off without a hitch just feels inauthentic.)

Katie's role is to tell the birth story from the point of view of one of the shepherds mentioned in the Book of Luke. To write her monologue, she read and reread the verses. Then we imagined what life was like for a shepherd at night, how familiar he would be with the constellations, how he would immediately notice a new star, how frightened he would be in the presence of angels.

When Katie speaks in front of members of our congregation, she's going to express how torn one of those shepherds might feel after finally reaching Bethlehem, finding the baby in the manger and being told to leave to spread the good news.

All that work to reach a destination, to witness a miracle and then turn around and go home?

It's easy to feel the same way about our modern Christmas experience.

I'm constantly seeking balance, trying to prune some of the work out of the journey while trying to enjoy the experience a little longer.

This year that means no Christmas cookies baked in the Damm kitchen (store-bought have been sustaining us this season). That means packages under the tree are wrapped but not elaborately decorated. That means that we will spend Christmas Day with the grandparents, focusing not on the time we missed the night before but the time we have right now.

And as I sit in four worship services Sunday, I'll be focused on the destination, not anxious to rush off to the next event, instead eager to bask in the majesty of the story and the truth in the music and the mild chaos in the manger.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. She can be reached at tyradamm@gmail.com

Monday, December 11, 2017

The up-and-down emotions of having a new teen driver

From Saturday's Briefing:

Way back in 2001, when one of the delivery room nurses placed my firstborn child in my arms, I felt the sense of relief and joy and love that overwhelms new mommas.
I cried a little because I was in pain and because I was slightly scared and because I was holding in my arms a tiny human who would totally depend on me and his daddy for every possible need.
Tears returned as we journeyed home, Steve driving north on Interstate 35E and me in the backseat, alternating my gaze between infant Cooper and the traffic that surrounded us.
Our little trio was out in the world for the first time, and I instantly understood the ubiquitous "Baby on Board" signs mocked by many. In that moment, I would have welcomed flashing yellow lights and a giant billboard atop the Passat, proclaiming "Brand-New Human on Board."
Parenting ever since has been an unpredictable journey marked by relief, joy, love, pain and fear, usually all at once.
This week brought one of the biggest milestones in the path so far. Cooper is now a licensed driver, with a used car that offers him newfound freedom. I'm happy for him and proud of him, of course, and I kind of want to drape his sensible four-door sedan in flashing yellow lights, topped with a giant billboard proclaiming "Brand-New Driver on Board."
As usual, many of my parenting worries aren't actually related to my children's choices. Instead, I'm concerned about the people around them.
I've got no control over the people who drive too fast on our street, when little ones are on scooters or drawing with sidewalk chalk or playing hide-and-seek on the block.
I can't force drivers at the four-way stop look up and pay attention to children walking across the busy intersection that separates our neighborhood from our schools.
I can do nothing about the folks out there who switch lanes without signaling or speed up when they should slow down or turn right on red without really looking.
So I'm facing this milestone like all the others. I'm praying that all the preparation plus all of his common sense will help guide him through tricky situations. I'm hoping that he keeps his cellphone in the glove box, that he chooses reason over risk, that he remembers no class schedule or appointment is worth skating through a yellow light.
With time, and a whole lot of deep calming breaths, I expect that I'll start to enjoy a little freedom, too. Cooper can now get himself to pre-dawn practices for band and cross country. He can drive to and from Sunday afternoon Boy Scout meetings and Wednesday night youth group.
I reserve the right, though, to chauffeur every now and then. I enjoy his stories from the classroom and his perspective on current events. I want to hear about the younger Scouts who act silly and the most recent lesson at church.
Those moments between destinations are often the most meaningful of the journey.
We're just a year and a half from another big milestone — high school graduation followed by college plans — and I'm starting to hoard the moments we have left. Because the thought sending my 6-foot-4 baby out into the world, far from home, overwhelms me with relief, joy, love, pain and fear, all at once.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. She can be reached at tyradamm@gmail.com.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Farewell, Big Guy







Our one-and-only Santa passed away yesterday. We are one of thousands of heartbroken families, and we are praying for the Big Guy's own family. I wrote about him for Briefing back in 2008, when he made the move from Frisco to Allen (and then eventually Fairview).


The true Santa has moved, and we are following him

TYRA DAMM
Publication Date: November 20, 2008  Page:  Section: YOUR DAY  Zone: STATE Edition: BRIEFING 

There is one Santa Claus. Since the turn of this century, he's been spending the weeks before Christmas in Frisco, charming thousands of children and their parents.

You know him. He's tall, with flowing white hair, matching beard, twinkling eyes and, of course, a rotund tummy.

He's casual, this one true Santa. He wears his workshop clothes - red velvet pants, suspenders and whimsical printed shirts - when he greets the masses. (He probably saves his formal red and white suit for the big night.)

He is kind but not saccharin. He never makes promises he and his helpers can't keep. He's the perfect mix of wisdom and mild mischief.

For eight years he held court at Stonebriar Centre. This year, Santa is headed east. Ten miles east to the Village at Allen, a new outdoor shopping center.

This is big news to all us parents who cherish visits and photos with the real Santa.

During December our mantel is crowded with photos of the Big Guy with our children from every Christmas season of their lives.

In one glance you can watch Cooper grow from a chunky baby to a lanky boy, his transformation even more apparent when captured sitting on the same dear Santa's lap, year after year. In every one of those photos, our now 7-year-old boy is smiling.

Katie's photos are a study in emotional range. Ecstatic. Angered. Terrified.

Part of the fun of the visit is anticipating and watching her reaction.

There's definitely been a big reaction to Santa's move to an oversized strip center in Allen.

Two friends called me separately last weekend to break the news. "You're not going to like this," one said, "our Santa is gone." (Why any mall is pushing Santa on us two weeks before Thanksgiving is another issue entirely.)

In the true Santa's place is one of his ubiquitous helpers. Santa is magical, but he can't be everywhere. The jewel-toned background and props are the same, but the man is definitely different. Shorter (not elfin, but certainly not tall enough to guide reindeer on a worldwide Christmas Eve flight). Less hair. Not as twinkly. Poor guy - he has a tough act to follow.

An online Frisco chat room has been abuzz for days, with many posters planning to leave the Stonebriar substitute behind in favor of our old favorite.

During Katie's tumbling class, the other moms and I talked about our options. The true Santa loyalists declared allegiance. We plan to cross Central Expressway and stand in line outside to pay respects to Santa in his new digs.

On Monday, Katie and I checked out the Allen space. Construction workers and landscapers scurried about, turning the middle of a parking lot into a spacious pavilion. By Saturday night, Santa's December workspace should be ready.

Santa is scheduled to arrive from the north in time to light a 35-foot Christmas tree. He'll hang around from 8 to 9 p.m. for visits and photos and return Sunday for a full shift. He'll work every day, excluding Thanksgiving, through Dec. 24.

Some days he'll have Donner and Blitzen with him. He couldn't do that when sitting in the middle of the mall.

He'll sit through whatever weather North Texas dishes out. I'm guessing he's hoping for somewhat cool temperatures, albeit warmer than his hometown climate.

In his old Frisco days, he often fanned himself between visits, though he never let discomfort affect his Christmas spirit.

We don't know how much longer Cooper will believe in the real Santa. And Katie has at least three or four more Santa-related emotions to explore in the coming years.

So as long as we can, we'll happily trek across the county and wait with the other true believers for another brush with Santa's magic.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. E-mail her at tyradamm@gmail.com.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Why I don't care about my family's political differences

From Saturday's Briefing:

We're on a journey to one of the most holy days of the year, yet the mood feels anything but sacred. Almost every day we learn of yet another man in power who has been accused of harassing, abusing or defiling women (or, in some cases, girls or other men).
Our elected officials are struggling — more than usual, it seems — to compromise and make decisions that benefit the majority of Americans. I feel like we're all holding our breath, dreading — and expecting — the next natural disaster or mass murder of innocent souls.
As if all of that news and apprehension isn't distressing enough, many of us have placed ourselves on one side, eager to taunt, belittle and demonize the other. Oh, how my spirit aches for peace on earth.

I've got no easy road map for getting there, but I've got a suggestion for where to start. How about we begin by acknowledging that decency and ethics and common sense are not relegated to any single political party, gender, race, nationality or religion.
My extended family spent a few days together over Thanksgiving break. We are joined by blood and marriage (or significant relationships), but we certainly don't share views on gun control, term limits, health care or even religion.
We do share a passion for good food, movies, charades and foosball. We tell stories about the past and dream about our futures. We recognize that our connections are more important than our divisions.
Our conversations, in the game room, at the dinner table, around the backyard fire pit, deepen our understanding of one another and strengthen our empathy.
When I'm in the kitchen with my aunt, mincing parsley for scrambled eggs, I don't consider how she votes in each election. I recall the hundreds of meals she's prepared for me over the years. I soak up her contagious laugh. I marvel at her generosity and wide-open heart.
When I'm shopping for groceries with my sister, I don't think about her political views. I appreciate her optimistic outlook, eye for beauty and sense of whimsy.
We are good people who sometimes make bad decisions. We try to learn from our mistakes. We value relationships over being right.
I suspect most families are the same. And yet we seem incapable of treating one another like members of a great extended family. I'm convinced that change in our communities, and therefore our nation, begins with change at home.
I wonder how many parents have essential conversations with their children about keeping their bodies to themselves, about seeking explicit permission before touching another person, about reporting when this rule is violated.
I wonder how we can better model conflict resolution, how we can listen more and talk less, how we can look beyond our self-interests and consider what's best for everyone.
I wonder how we can better manage our anger and identify and treat mental illnesses in a meaningful way.
The journey toward peace is circuitous and longer than any of us want. The destination may not be what we expect.
I'm certain we'll get there faster by drawing from our shared connections and honoring our differences without vilifying one another. I can't think of a better way to prepare for Christmas than to begin that sacred work today.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. She can be reached at tyradamm@gmail.com.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

From slow crawl to holiday rush

From Saturday's Briefing:

A huge difference between being a child and being an adult lies in the 55 days between Halloween and Christmas.
When I was much younger, November and December felt frozen. So very many days passed between watching It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and A Charlie Brown Christmas.
There was ample time to peruse — and memorize — every single page of the toy sections of the Sears and J.C. Penney catalogs.
I’d stare at calendars, wishing for days to move faster, anxious for Thanksgiving to hurry up so we could all feast and play card games and watch the annual slideshow at Gramma’s house.
By nightfall, after we’d snacked on turkey sandwiches and slivers of leftover pie, it was acceptable to openly discuss Christmas plans. Decorations. Meals. Wish lists.
Still, time would crawl by this point, each day agonizingly longer than the day before, until finally it was Christmas Eve Eve. That’s when the magic would happen.
Hot cocoa. Nonstop television. Festive snacks. Maybe a gift to open early. Family and friends gathering.
At last, Christmas morning arrived, and we’d unpack stockings and unwrap gifts. We’d play new games, read new books, lounge about in new pajamas.
It was the fastest, most glorious day of the year.

And now? Once you’re in charge of making the magic happen, there simply aren’t enough hours available.
Before we’ve greeted the first trick-or-treaters, my mind starts to create lists:
  • Gifts already purchased
  • Places I might have hidden gifts already purchased
  • Gifts yet to purchase
  • Nonprofits to help
  • Possible days for decorating the house
  • Families to add to our Christmas card list
  • Events already on the calendar
  • Days on the calendar not yet claimed
  • People I want to visit with
  • Recipes I want to try
  • Traditions we absolutely must continue
  • Traditions I can ask Katie to pick up
  • Traditions I might let slide
The lists don’t steal the joy of the season. In fact, lists make people like me happy. Completing a list is like, well, like Christmas morning.
It just all tumbles by so quickly.
It's part of the tragedy of adulthood. We want to freeze — or at least slow down — time with our babies who are no longer babies. We want to savor moments because we know they're fleeting. We want to spend our time wisely because we know we don't get it back.
Yet we’ve placed on ourselves the burden of creating magic for children who want the opposite. They want time to move faster. They don’t yet fully understand the value of reveling in the right now. They don’t consider time a nonrenewable resource.
Every year I make new promises to myself — and try to keep them in the following years. I no longer worry about fancy ribbon for packages. I no longer stress if the Christmas dishes stay boxed away. I no longer obsessively try to “even up” gifts for my children. (I’m certain they don’t count packages or add up prices in their heads.)
This year’s promises: We will drink cocoa whenever we feel like it. We won’t feel guilty about turning down an invitation or two. We’ll watch A Charlie Brown Christmas together, even if there’s homework that night.
We can’t control time, but a great gift of adulthood is learning that we can take care to spend it well.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. She can be reached at tyradamm@gmail.com.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Try rooting for the whole team


From today's Briefing:

A sign of parental growth: You watch a performance or a game without nonstop laser focus on your own child.
If you’ve achieved this feat with 100 percent accuracy, I congratulate you. Perhaps you can share your secret with the rest of us. I’ve been parenting for more than 16 years, and it’s a skill I’m still working toward.
Soccer games, musicals, band concerts. It’s all the same. Yes, I’m happy that my child is part of a group, and yes, isn’t it great they’re all working together so well, but where can I sit to get the best photo and/or video of my child?
For the first two years of Cooper’s marching band career, I knew on precisely which yard-line he would begin and end each movement of the show. After watching so many rehearsals, halftimes and competitions, I could easily discern if he was in synch with his line or if there was a tiny misstep.
What were all the other kids doing? I was a little fuzzy on the details.
This year has been different. I know that Cooper begins the show way in the back, just in front of a sousaphone. (He’s the tallest kid out there, so he’s easy to find.) I know that at some point he and his clarinet end up on the opposite side of the field, in front. There’s a whole lot of marching and playing in between, but I don’t track his every move.
Instead, I’ve been focused on the big picture and details not necessarily related to my child. 
I’m listening more purposefully to the music. I’m mesmerized by the color guard flags. I watch with fascination as the whole group of about 120 teenagers creates precise images on the field.
This year I’m a bigger fan of the whole band.
And, oh, these kids have earned their fan base. They give up a month of summer break to prep for the fall. They practice together eight hours a week outside of school hours, arriving by 6:45 a.m. most weekdays and staying until 7 or 8:30 p.m. one night a week. (There always seems to be a bigger pile of homework on late practice nights.)
They provide the soundtrack to football games. They entertain at halftime. They spend most Saturdays in October in a stadium far from home, prepping and waiting to compete – and then waiting to hear contest results.
Every one of those kids deserves admiration – not only for their individual contributions but for their willingness and ability to work as a cohesive unit.
Today as I’m watching our band perform at the UIL area marching competition, I’ll check for Cooper in the back, smile and wave in his direction (though he’ll have no idea where I am) and settle in for the big show.
I’ll watch for Brian and Madison, Jonathan and Sruthi, Ethan and Jill, Kenneth and Malini. I’ll take a couple of photos of the whole field, not bothering to zoom in on Cooper or anyone else. This is a team effort, and I’m rooting for the whole team, including but not limited to my own child.


Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. You can reach her at tyradamm@gmail.com.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

How I spent my summer break ...

One of my projects this summer was reporting and writing for construction magazines:

Monday, October 16, 2017

We all have work to do

A year ago I wrote about raising children to protect their bodies and to respect the bodies that belong to every other living soul. The conversation was forced, as they often are, by current events. Here we are again, discussing as a nation the same story, just a different man in a powerful position taking advantage of women with less power. (Click here for last year's column.)
All of the "Me, too" comments are heartbreaking and not the least bit shocking.
I was a fresh college graduate, working at my first daily newspaper as a copy editor. The editor walked through the backshop as we were checking proofs on deadline. He pointed to a headline and told me I could do better. (He was right.) I returned to my desk, wrote a better headline and was proofing the page again when walked through the backshop a second time.
"This headline sings, Tyra," he said, and he placed his hands on my shoulders, pulled me toward him and kissed my forehead.
I was barely 21.
My freckled face turned crimson. The backshop went silent. He walked one way, I walked the other, my eyes on the floor and stinging with tears. I cried most of the drive home that late night.
So, "Me, too," that one time.
I'm now 45 and quick to correct and redirect sexist comments in my classroom. I pray that not a single one of the girls I've taught will ever have to say, "Me, too." I pray that not a single one of the boys I've taught will exert their power unfairly over another human.
We all have work to do

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Shining a light on the good

From today's Briefing:

The aftermath of the vicious attack in Las Vegas makes me want to gather my children, lock the front door and hide under the covers for a week, for a month, for maybe forever.
I haven’t, though, and I won’t.
Our plan is to continue enjoying as much of the world as we can reach, to give more than we take, to live the gift of the days we’ve been granted.
For the past couple of weeks, in an effort to push away fear, I’ve been focusing on heroes. I think of them, with fondness and a nod to the great author Madeleine L’Engle, as light bearers.
In her classic novel A Wrinkle in Time, L’Engle points to the heavy-hitters: Leonardo da Vinci, William Shakespeare, Marie Curie, Albert Einstein, Gandhi, Buddha, Jesus Christ. They are among the “very best fighters” and “lights for us to see by.”
We are surrounded by light bearers.
Think of the people who threw their bodies atop others to protect loved ones and strangers as a madman terrorized the concert crowd in Vegas.
Think of the first responders who risked their lives that night and who risk their lives every day to take care of everyone else.
Their light dissipates the darkness.
In my own little community, heroes abound.
There’s Aerin Thomas, daughter of a friend. Aerin was 12 when her father suffered a heart attack in their home. She administered CPR until the paramedics arrived and helped keep her dad alive.
There are the Tamney girls – Cathryn, a freshman in college, and Victoria, a high school junior – who have devoted hundreds of hours serving children with special needs. 
There are Pete and Gracie Hosp. The most darling couple in Frisco, Texas.
They married here 60 years ago, and they’ve been bearing light ever since.
Gracie and her husband volunteered in Sunday school classes and homeroom classes, on football fields and school buses. Pete served on the City Council and on the school board. He served on city committees that no doubt met for infinite hours, requiring all kinds of support at home from Gracie. He was a volunteer firefighter and a Boy Scout leader. He was one of Santa’s most reliable helpers, filling in for the jolly elf all over town.
Pete and Gracie helped to build this community that more than 168,000 people now call home. 
Pete and Gracie aren’t the kind of people who seek glory, but they were recognized for their commitment to their town and its people with a namesake school.
Pete and Gracie Hosp Elementary opened in August 2014, about a mile from my home. I had the honor to help launch Hosp Elementary as a staff member and to visit occasionally with our namesakes.
Teachers and students alike were awestruck when Pete would walk the halls, pop in to a classroom or surprise us at a Friday morning assembly. Teachers and students alike would line up each December to have their photos taken with the Santa who looked suspiciously like Mr. Hosp.
That dear man passed away this week, survived by his sweetheart and two adult children. His light, though, will never extinguish.
Pete and Gracie have been heroes to children who are now grownups, are heroes to children who are still learning to read, will be heroes to children who will never get to meet them.
Among that big bunch of Hosp children are future light bearers, sacred souls who will refuse to define the world as scary and out of control, who will serve their own communities and, in turn, inspire a whole new batch of heroes.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. She can be reached at tyradamm@gmail.com