Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Kitchen adventures put need for control to the test

From Saturday's Briefing:

I like to think that my children have solid life skills, that I've given them appropriate freedoms and responsibilities to function in a home.
In theory, my two teenagers can prepare meals, wash dishes, take care of laundry and clean the house. The work isn't always done with precision, and there's some work I'd rather just do myself, but they don't balk — at least not obviously — at chores I give them.
Some of their domestic skills, and my need for control, have been put to the test recently.

Their youth group was hosting a potluck at church this week, the same week my schedule was packed with deadlines. I asked Cooper and Katie to choose the dishes, create a shopping list, purchase the ingredients and prepare the recipes.
The first step was simple. They agreed on cowboy cookies (a family favorite) and orzo pesto salad (based on no past experience).
Cooper shopped, navigating the store with occasional questions, which he would sometimes ask grocery employees and sometimes text me.
"Where is celery? I'm struggling."
(Produce, near the lettuce.)
"What about orzo?"
(Pasta aisle.)
"And chocolate chips?"
(Baking aisle.)
After he returned home, he realized that he'd forgotten unsalted butter. And that he had mistaken pecans for walnuts in the bulk aisle. He returned to the store.
At last, all the ingredients were assembled, and Cooper and Katie divided to conquer tasks. She was in charge of making pesto and boiling orzo. He was in charge of chopping all the veggies. They would share the cookie duty.
As I worked on a project nearby, trying not to hover, I realized all kinds of tips that I hadn't yet shared. It's easier to chop bell peppers from the flesh side, not the waxy skin side. You can line up two stalks of celery, side by side, for quicker slicing. Basil should be rinsed well and totally dried before being tossed in the blender.
I attempted to stay out of the kitchen and to offer advice only when asked.
With the salad complete, they moved on to dessert. I left the house to run a couple of errands, expecting to come home to the scent of cowboy cookies.
Instead, I came home to frustration. The dough was too thick, Cooper complained. I quizzed him on butter. Did they put in one cup? Or one stick?
The kitchen was silent, followed by frantic rereading of directions and butter sticks. Alas, the batter was missing half its butter.
Their faces fell. "Is all this wasted?" one wailed.
"These are the kind of mistakes we can recover from," I counseled. "You can still add more butter." (It's much harder to remove it, as I learned in the Great Snickerdoodle Debacle of 1994.)
I intervened before they just threw another stick in. I suggested that they scoop the dough into a new bowl, use the mixer to beat another half cup of butter, then return the dough and mix again.
At last, the dough was ready, and together we scooped teaspoons of the stuff onto cookie sheets — cookie sheets that were warm, by the way, because Katie forgot to remove the pans from the oven before preheating.
The whole experience took twice as long as it would have, had I done the work myself. There would have been less uncertainty, less irritation, less mess.
There also would have been no risks and no rewards.
Cooper and Katie gained a few new skills as they prepped for their potluck. I suspect they'll be more likely to remember that lists should be double-checked before leaving the store, that one stick of butter equals half a cup, that the oven should be cleared before preheating. Most importantly, I hope they remember that most mistakes aren't life-or-death matters — they're invitations to grow.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. She can be reached at tyradamm@gmail.com.
Katie and Cooper, hard at work in the kitchen (with special Sandy appearance) 

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

People in glass houses shouldn't throw Build-a-Bears

From this week's Briefing:

When Cooper was a toddler, some of his favorite toys were the Little People playsets.
He would line up the animals two by two to march in and out of Noah's Ark. He would direct cars up and down the elevator and ramp of the garage. He would spend hours arranging a sheep and a cow, a goat and a chicken, a horse and a pig, plus Farmer Eddie, around the barnyard.
When he finished playing, I would help him place each character back in its own set. It was totally fine for the giraffes to ride the garage elevator or for Farmer Eddie to check out the deck of Noah's boat, but at the end of the day, those pieces needed to find their original homes.
Cooper was still an only child. His toy collection was small. I expected we'd always keep everything tidy and in its place. I was naïve.
One night before bath time, not all of the livestock made it back to the barn, but I didn't notice until it was too late. While Cooper was getting clean, one of our dogs procured the cow and gnawed on it like it was a real side of beef.
All that remained were shards of brown plastic.
I cleaned the evidence, fearful of how our son would react to the mangled toy, and vowed to never mention it. I also began a crazed search for a replacement cow to make the barnyard whole again.
Fisher Price didn't sell individual animals, so I briefly considered buying an entire new set, just to get a single cow. That was pushing it too far, I realized, so I turned to eBay. No one was peddling a lone cow, but there was a bag of random Little People creatures, including the one animal we needed.
I placed a bid, won the lot, ripped open the box when it arrived, fished out the coveted cow, washed it with dish soap and nestled it next to the chicken when Cooper wasn't looking.
Parenthood drives us to some strange places.
It's what causes grownups to stand in line at the mall for hours — hours! — with their toddlers and preschoolers, waiting for the opportunity to buy a stuffed animal at a reduced cost.
Build-A-Bear offered a now-infamous promotion earlier this month, promising to sell stuffed animals for $2 for a 2-year-old, $3 for a 3-year-old, etc. Stores across the country were overwhelmed with customers who lined up and set up camp for the bargain. Some fights were even reported. The promotion was shut down for safety concerns early in the day, long before everyone in line could choose a bear or bunny or unicorn for cheap.
My first reaction to this madness was relief that my children are now teenagers. We are in the bittersweet stage of culling our massive collection of stuffed animals rather than adding to it.
Second reaction: moderated scorn. Who would waste a summer day trapped in a line with hundreds of other families? Do these people not realize the value of their time? How on earth are they keeping those children calm while waiting?
Third reaction: empathy tinged with recognition. I'm not that far removed from the teddy bear days, from wanting a change of pace after being home for days at a time, from going to great lengths to make my tiny child happy — whether they know it or not.
Clearly, based on my shady past as a mom freaked out over an incomplete barnyard for a 2-year-old, I am in no position to question or judge. I can only learn from my own obsessions and questionable choices, while sometimes longing for the days when the biggest parenting crisis was a destroyed cow.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. She can be reached at tyradamm@gmail.com.

Monday, July 09, 2018

What I learned on my summer vacation

From Saturdays' Briefing:

Cooper and Katie on Shipwreck Rock
Life away from home offers unique insight into how independent my children really are, how much more they need to learn — and how much I have to learn, too.
They both can navigate an airport security line with ease. They can speak with adults, ask questions and advocate for themselves. They can walk into a store on their own, make wise decisions and check out without me.
There are some life skills we're still working on, though, including some I never thought to cover.
We spent a couple of days last week in a charming vacation home on the edge of Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, Colo. The owners lived at the front of the property, and they've furnished the rental home like an extension of their own.
Cooper was thrilled to find a stereo complete with a turntable and collection of albums. He wasted no time in selecting some tunes (Dean Martin, the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel) and turning on the equipment. He quickly learned the delicate balance of placing the needle at the beginning of the first song, without allowing the needle to slide off the edge. He had no context for the flipside of an album — he's never had to turn over a CD, itself a dated medium.
Halfway through a Rolling Stones song, a snippet of words and notes repeated again and again.
"Pick up the needle, Coop. It's stuck," I told him.
Katie thought for a moment and exclaimed, "That's why people say, 'Sounds like a broken record!'"
Later that night, Katie chose a movie to watch. Most of the family's collection was on VHS. Katie held The Hunchback of Notre Damecassette as if it were a fragile antique. She looked back and forth between the VCR and the cassette, unsure of how the two should meet. I coached her through, and when the movie came on the screen, it was about halfway finished.
It was an excellent opportunity to teach the lost art of rewinding.
After some hiking and river rafting, we left Colorado Springs to join family farther west in South Fork. The rental car was packed with suitcases, bottled water and snacks. I set my navigation app to lead us to South Fork, and we hit the road.
We were about an hour into the journey when an electronic road sign warned that U.S. Route 285, the upcoming leg of our journey, was closed because of wildfires. Cellphone service was spotty, and the navigation app wouldn't respond with an alternative.
I'm no expert on Colorado roads. Those mountains get in the way of direct routes. A wise traveler in such a situation would have at least placed a printed map in the car.
I was not such a wise traveler.
Cooper was eventually able to pull up a map on his phone, study the roads and find an option other than turning around. While I continued driving, he directed me to take State Highway 9, a detour that would add almost two hours to our trip but would protect us from wildfires or an even longer route.
We're a good team, the three of us. When one of us struggles, someone else is ready to swoop in. We're independent when needed, but we're not afraid to ask for help. Not a single one of us knows everything, but we're curious and eager to learn.
A year from now, Cooper will be preparing for his freshman year in college. Four years after that, Katie will leave home, too. My continued prayer is that they will be ready to navigate on their own, that they will ask for directions when necessary and that they always feel anchored to our family team.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. She can be reached at tyradamm@gmail.com.
Rafting the Rio Grande

Monday, June 25, 2018

What to do when life twists in ways you don't expect

From Saturday's Briefing:

A dear friend and I met at a park last week, sat at a picnic table in the shade and discussed her cancer treatment options.
This mom of two children never anticipated making these kinds of decisions. She never planned to spend this winter, spring and now summer at medical appointments and in hospitals. She never expected to take on life-and-death worries at such a young age.
Life often twists in ways we don't expect. We can't totally prepare.
As we continued to visit, I shared with her a story that I'm not proud of.
It was the summer of 2006. Our family of four was halfway through a weeklong vacation.
We had flown from Dallas to Milwaukee, rented a minivan and drove north to Calumet, a tiny town in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We spent a couple of days exploring my grandfather's hometown, learning about copper mining, eating pasties, walking the same streets he'd walked decades before.
Then we drove east, to St. Ignace, to catch a ferry to Mackinac Island, a charming resort area with no motorized vehicles.
The trip was unfolding exactly as I had planned it. We'd eaten at the restaurants I'd researched. We'd arrived at all of our destinations within 30 minutes of my estimation. In the back of the van were carefully packed bags — suitcases for the island and suitcases we could leave behind.
We pulled in to a ticket office, purchased fares for the next ferry and piled back in the van to drive to the docks.
Steve waited for an opportunity to turn left on a busy four-lane road. A car on his left stopped and motioned him through. Steve didn't see a car in the second lane, a car that wasn't stopped, a car that hit the minivan on the driver's side.
The minivan was totaled. We were not. Steve suffered some cuts from the airbag that deployed. We were all a little achy. Mercifully, we walked away from the accident.
We did not make the next ferry. We talked with the rental car company (that was an unpleasant phone call). We talked with our insurance agent at home. We gathered all those bags — even the ones I had carefully packed to stay behind — and climbed in a police officer's SUV. He drove us to the docks, and we made a later sailing.
I should have been thankful that we weren't seriously injured, that the other driver wasn't injured, that we had a place to stay that night. And though deep down I was thankful for all of those things, I am embarrassed to say that I was mostly angry.
Angry that my plans were disrupted, that we had to lug all of our stuff on that boat, that we'd lost sight-seeing time, that we'd have to arrange for another rental car when it was time to leave the island.
My plans allowed no room for variables.
Six months later, we were hit with the devastating news of my husband's cancer. When I had time on my own to process his grim diagnosis, I reflected on that summer vacation, our accident and my crummy attitude — and I was grateful for the lesson, a harbinger of much tougher circumstances to come.
Our family's short-term and long-term plans did not allow room for a tumor and all its associated baggage. But rogue cells pay no attention to human plans. I realized that I could spend energy on anger, or I could spend energy on seeking solutions and recognizing blessings along the way.
I still need reminders to leave room in my plans for unexpected twists — both the welcome and the uninvited. I don't always succeed, but experience has offered perspective that tempers my frustration.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. She can be reached at tyradamm@gmail.com.
Arch Rock, a natural limestone formation,
on the back side of Mackinac Island, July 2007

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

It's time to widen our circles, because no one can afford to be trapped in isolation

From Saturday's Briefing:

I live in isolated worlds at times. We all do.
My past week has felt paradoxically isolated and connected, with hours spent with education colleagues, writing curriculum for the next school year, and a few more hours spent with United Methodists, celebrating and dreaming for our church.
School people — these are my people. We speak the same language: power standards, TEKS, formative assessments, rubrics, SAMR and vertical alignment.
Students have barely settled into summer routines, and here we teachers are, evaluating last year's learning and creating new lessons. (Take note: Only 66 days until school begins again.)
We try to anticipate student needs and misconceptions, relying on experience and data. We are devoted to our content and our students — so much so that sometimes we bicker over processes or word choice or document formatting. (Chocolate is often the solution for smoothing discontent.)
This community of educators fuels my passion for learning and for teaching. I am thankful for each one of them. At the same time, I am wary of becoming too attached - and therefore detached from the reason we started teaching in the first place.
I need this circle of teachers to help me become a better teacher. I also need connection with other communities to help me become a better learner. I need to understand pop culture and demands on children's time. I need to live in their world so that I better grasp their background knowledge. I need to live in our world so I know what I'm preparing them for.
Church people — these are my people, too. We not only speak the same language, we sing the same songs, with verses passed down through generations.
Clergy and laity from the United Methodist Church in North Texas gathered for our annual conference, with voting, awards, meetings, meals, keynote speakers, workshops and worship services.
Just like in public schools, there's some inside-baseball work in the church. The content is crucial to the people doing the work. The difference between a deacon and an elder, for example, means everything within the organization — but not so much to the outside.
When we church folks are together, we're working toward a common cause. Our conversations revolve around how to serve the hungry and the poor, the grieving and the oppressed.
This community of like-minded believers fuels my passion for listening and for serving. I am thankful for each one of them. And yet, I am wary of becoming so isolated within this group that I forget the larger purpose.
I need my circle of church friends to help me live my faith with integrity. I also need connection with other communities to help me become a better neighbor. I need to recognize my own privileges and be aware of what others lack. I need to be less attached to the security of a building and more open to going where called.
When I reflect on the mass shootings and suicides that plague our country, I'm struck by a common theme — isolation.
The men who open fire on crowds of people often seem to have no connection to a community. They lack a group to hold them accountable.
Suicide, meanwhile, is the 10th-leading cause of death in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There's no question that many of these weary souls experience debilitating desolation.
While the nation continues to debate appropriate levels of gun control, security in public spaces and access to mental health care, we have the opportunity to take a more personal approach.
Who can we invite into our communities? Who needs our love?
The better question: Who doesn't need our love?
One of the worship services last week featured three choirs singing together the words of Mark Miller, a professor of church music and beloved composer: "Draw the circle wide. Draw it wider still. Let this be our song. No one stands alone!"
We can't afford to live in isolation. We need community. We need wider circles that overlap to take in every single soul.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. She can be reached at tyradamm@gmail.com.
Choirs from Hamilton Park UMC and Highland Park UMC
joined together to sing "Draw the Circle Wide."

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Summer means it's time for parents to loosen the reins — sorta

My column from Saturday's Briefing:

Summer break beckons, with Memorial Day weekend marking the end of the school year for some families and a quick taste of freedom to come for others.

Along with summer comes a shift in parenting — with less emphasis on bedtimes, deadlines and grades — yet we parents aren't really on vacation. Parental vigilance doesn't go away. It simply shifts with the age and season.

Vigilance in the earliest years requires attention to an environment mostly in our control. We install latches on cabinet doors and gates at the base of stairs. We're in charge of the food our children eat and the media they're exposed to.

As our children go to preschool and then elementary school, our vigilance evolves. We're preparing our young people to make decisions on their own while trusting that the adults around them are protecting and guiding in our absence.

And then, quicker than you can imagine, those little ones are taller than you, driving and venturing out without any supervision. You pray that all those years of teaching made an impact.

Here, for example, is a recent conversation between my teenager and me:

Me: Did all of your friends make good choices while you were out?
Teen: Yes.
Me: Vaping?
Teen: No.
Me: Drinking?
Teen: No.
Me: Drugs?
Teen: No. It will always be no.
Me: I will always ask.

I ask because I love this young man with the intensity every parent knows. I ask because I want him to know that I'm paying attention and that his choices and his friends' choices matter. I ask because, though I trust my children, they are still children. They push boundaries and make mistakes.

Summer doesn't offer a break from social vigilance — when you have teens it actually increases — but there is a reprieve from the usual school-year management. I don't need to ask about homework or due dates. There are no morning or afternoon tutorials to attend. We don't need to check grades online or shop for supplies for a Rube Goldberg machine for physics.

With a rising senior at home, though, there are different kinds of tasks to manage: studying for one more ACT, writing drafts to answer essay prompts for the Common Application, researching scholarship opportunities.

And, of course, there are the parenting challenges that exist year-round: calendars, chores, curfews.

Summer calendars evolve as children age. Not long ago, I would piece together day camps, carpools and baby-sitting to accommodate my work schedule and the kids' freedom.

Summer now means volunteering at church camps, staying home (and going out) without me and getting out of town for Boy Scouts, church choir tour and mission trips. That extra freedom requires a special kind of parenting upon return. There's often the shock of re-entry, when the reality of family life clashes with the romanticized version of life on the road.

There's laundry to fold, trash to take out, floors to vacuum and sinks to scrub. It's not glamorous, but it's necessary. Because one day these children are going to leave and return only to visit. They'll be running their own households, making big decisions on their own, budgeting time and resources based on priorities, maintaining their own homes.

Maybe by then we parents can let our guard down a little, though I suspect that the instinct to protect our babies is a lifelong condition, lingering long after they're no longer babies.

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

Parenting is a lifelong condition. I'm thankful to have these two!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

I was never a gifted speaker -- until loss forced my hand

From Saturday's Briefing:

Head for the Cure 5K on May 5 (photo from HFTC)
I am not a gifted public speaker. This is no secret.
In the final weeks of my husband's life, he was planning his memorial service with our pastor and chose verses, hymns, ministers and speakers. I was on his list, but Steve also knew that I would struggle to speak, so he asked that I write something and then find someone to read my words.
His mom, as always, came through. She delivered my memories to the hundreds of people who gathered to remember our Steve.
My career path shifted after his death. I continued to write and edit while working to become a classroom teacher. After I completed my coursework and certification, I couldn't wait to share my passion for reading, writing and civics with students.

Except I was slightly terrified of standing in front of so many people and talking.
Fifth-graders are a forgiving people. I taught 48 of them that first year, and they helped me to find my speaking voice. In time, I was able to make eye contact and speak in coherent sentences without my voice and hands shaking, without my cheeks flushing. I learned that acting goofy goes a long way toward overcoming fear.
Speaking in front of their gathered parents? That was a different story.
Over the past five years, though, I've become less awkward and more comfortable when speaking to crowds. My stomach no longer flip-flops when I'm handed a microphone.
In fact, recently I delivered a prayer before about 1,700 people at the North Texas Head for the Cure 5K, an annual event that raises money for brain cancer research. As I stood on the platform, waiting for my turn in the program, I marveled at the turns my life has taken.
I have supported Head for the Cure for eight years, eager to be part of a cause that finds a cure for the cancer that stole my husband and my children's father much too soon. Through the nonprofit, I have become friends with like-minded folks, people who have been directly or indirectly affected by brain cancer.
The team running in memory of Steve included people who knew and loved him and people Cooper, Katie and I have met since his death.
There's no way to know what our life would look like if Steve hadn't acquired a deadly tumor — or if a cure existed — and I know from experience that it's a dangerously depressing game to play.
I do know that our lives have been richly blessed in the years since — not because of his absence but in spite of it.
We've connected with other families who have experienced loss. We continue to find comfort and strength in our faith. We have learned to rely on the kindness of others and, in turn, to share that kindness as often as possible.
Adversity has grounded my children in ways that only experience can. They are empathetic, and they have perspective on life and death that no one wants but everyone truly needs.
These gifts that come from trials and loss aren't typically celebrated, especially in the middle of crises. I have friends fighting daunting diagnoses and hardships today. They need support, love and resources — not outsiders looking for silver linings on their behalf.
Yet when I pray for their health and circumstances, their caregivers and loved ones, I also pray for unexpected gifts — strengthened relationships, clearer understandings, fears overcome and skills refined.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. She can be reached at tyradamm@gmail.com.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

You are not your child's activities, so don't take it hard if they quit

From Saturday's Briefing:

I've stored up an extensive supply of mom identities.
I've been a soccer mom, gymnastics mom and dance mom. Girl Scout mom, violin mom and Destination Imagination mom. My current status includes church choir mom, Boy Scout mom and track mom.
And marching band mom.
That's a heavy burden, as any marching band family will tell you. All-day drills in the height of August heat, early morning practices as long as the football season lasts, Friday night lights, daylong competitions on Saturdays.
Of course, I'm not the one doing the strenuous work. That's up to the kids, who learn a particular method of marching, play an instrument, manage props, adjust constantly based on feedback, all while meeting expectations of directors and drum majors and section leaders. We parents have a lighter burden, often related to logistics and morale, but we take the work seriously.
Cooper, who is finishing 11th grade, has recently decided that he won't return to marching band for senior year. He's putting away his shako and plume, and I'm hanging up my marching band volunteer parent shirt.
I didn't take the news gracefully at first. When he told me that he was thinking about leaving, I said no, absolutely not, we won't even discuss it.
And then I realized how foolish I sounded, stopped talking and listened.
His academic schedule remains ambitious, with a healthy dose of AP courses and two hands-on engineering classes. He wants to continue running with the cross country team, whose season is concurrent with marching band. He's been accepted in a mentorship program that requires extensive extracurricular work.
He wants to attend football games as a regular student for just one year.
Most importantly, he's considered what makes him happy and what he wants for his future.
Who am I to say no to that?
So much of our community revolves around children -- most every imaginable sports league, tutoring and accelerated learning centers, gyms for competitive cheer and tumbling, music and dance studios, plus access to private lessons to keep up with every other child taking private lessons.
We have strong schools with highly engaged parents who support PTA and booster clubs. Drive through our neighborhoods, and you'll find yard signs proclaiming membership on the swim team, the drill team, the baseball team. You'll spy back windows of SUVs and minivans with stickers supporting orchestra, cheerleading, volleyball.
We have wrapped ourselves in our children's passions. Or perhaps, in some cases, our children have been enveloped by our passions.
We schedule vacations and celebrations around tournaments. We shuffle family budgets to accommodate extraordinary expenses. We ask our neighbors and colleagues to buy cookie dough to fund trips and uniforms.
Are all of these sacrifices justified? That's up to each family to decide. More importantly: Are families comfortable even asking the question?
Cooper's decision forced me to think about how I define myself. Is my identity dependent on what my children choose to do? Are my children's actions or inactions a reflection of me?
Cooper, at an October 2017 game
Without question, my love for Cooper and Katie is constant, not contingent on membership in any club or placement on any team. They can own their own passions, with or without me. They don't need my approval as much as they need my love.
And they don't call me "Band Momma" or "Tennis Momma."
They simply call me "Momma." No extra adjectives required.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. She can be reached at tyradamm@gmail.com.


Monday, April 16, 2018

Happy birthday to me, a 46-year-old teacher just now learning about Drake

From Saturday's Briefing:

I turn 46 this week, yet I'm still waiting to feel middle-aged.
Well, that's not entirely true. I only recently learned who Drake is, which flummoxed my children and made me feel a little old. In my defense, neither NPR nor my one go-to satellite radio station plays much rap.
And this week, one of my sixth-graders was seeking clarification on life during the Civil War, innocently implying that I would be a good primary source. I gasped and reminded her that the war was fought from 1861 to 1865.
"Oh! That's right," she said. "I meant, can you tell me about World War I?"
Again, no.
At last she remembered that I could tell her about living during the Cold War — and only part of it, I might add.
In the last two decades of the 20th century, my grandparents lived in a cozy house in a tiny community on Belton Lake in Central Texas. Across the lake lies the massive Fort Hood. There were days in the early 1980s when the air would boom and the ground would rumble, reminders of the artillery practice taking place nearby.
"Reagan's mad at the (bleep) Russians again," Grandpa would mutter on days when the reverberations didn't stop.
My students also like to hear about life before cellphones and the Internet, when research projects required the use of a card catalog, stacks of reference books and access to a microfiche reader. That also meant hours at the public library, where friends gathered most every day for homework, group projects and good-natured foolishness.
When it was time to go home, we needed a quarter to use the pay phone to call home. You hoped there would be no busy signal.
They are fascinated by the idea of television shows that had to be watched right that moment — or else you'd have to wait for a rerun. They struggle to imagine that people were forced to view movies on someone else's schedule, not on demand.
They are confused by a time in which anyone could walk to airport gates to say goodbye or to greet family members and friends as they walked off an airplane.
I'm happy to share my age and stories with my students, even when they confuse the 19th century with the 20th. I've learned that the gift of a new year can't be taken for granted, and I'm thankful for the experiences — positive and negative — that I've piled up since 1972.
After surviving so many loved ones, I've learned to never complain about a birthday, a day that isn't promised to any of us. I've gained perspective on what's a true crisis, what's worth grumbling over and what we can let go. (Most of it we can let go.) I've tried to more often share appreciation for acts of kindness and more freely say, "I love you."
Though I'm thankful for technological advances in my lifetime and the immediacy and convenience they offer, I'm even more grateful for enduring friendships, wisdom found in classic literature and the universal benevolence of people, no matter the time period. Yet I'm eagerly awaiting the next waves of innovation, excited to see how younger generations affect change.
Perhaps that's what defines my middle-agedness — straddling two centuries, looking back and looking forward while aiming to enjoy today.
Just a few days shy of 46
Or, in the words of Drake, "I'm living life right now ... this what I'mma do till it's over."
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. She can be reached at tyradamm@gmail.com.

Monday, April 02, 2018

In 36 hours, I was reminded of the power of young people to create hope

My column from Saturday's Briefing:

The past couple of weeks have weighed more than most.

There have been a few parenting struggles. There have been significantly more work and household duties than there are hours in the day.

Two friends have been diagnosed with cancer. A dear family friend passed away after enduring years of health struggles.

Ongoing political turmoil and global unease continue to build, and I worry about short-term problems and long-term implications.

The weight of it all can feel crushing.

Yet we don't have to look far to find people who lighten the load. In the span of 36 hours, in fact, I was reminded of the power of people — young people, especially — to create hope.

A few Frisco students spoke last Saturday about their dreams for the future, as part of TEDxYouth event hosted at a middle school. The lineup included five of my sixth-graders, who spent weeks researching, writing, revising and rehearsing on a topic of their choice.

One student implored us to conserve water and reduce the use of disposable bottles. Another made an impassioned case for space exploration and the potential of finding life in faraway galaxies. Another spoke about inspiration for wild ideas, emphasizing the importance of creativity and no-holds-barred brainstorming that might lead to something life-changing or life-saving.

These 12-year-olds speak with confidence and poise. Their enthusiasm is contagious. They see no limits.

Those students lighten the load.

Yet we don't have to look far to find people who lighten the load. In the span of 36 hours, in fact, I was reminded of the power of people — young people, especially — to create hope.

A few Frisco students spoke last Saturday about their dreams for the future, as part of TEDxYouth event hosted at a middle school. The lineup included five of my sixth-graders, who spent weeks researching, writing, revising and rehearsing on a topic of their choice.

One student implored us to conserve water and reduce the use of disposable bottles. Another made an impassioned case for space exploration and the potential of finding life in faraway galaxies. Another spoke about inspiration for wild ideas, emphasizing the importance of creativity and no-holds-barred brainstorming that might lead to something life-changing or life-saving.

These 12-year-olds speak with confidence and poise. Their enthusiasm is contagious. They see no limits.

Those students lighten the load.


Sunday afternoon I attended an Eagle Scout ceremony for a young man I've watched grow up. Baylen's a quietly courageous leader, a gentleman who loves his family and who never draws attention to himself.

His dad told gathered friends and family about a recent dinner out. A nearby patron started to choke. Baylen, relying on Boy Scout training, left his seat, performed the Heimlich maneuver and saved the stranger's life.

Baylen lightens the load.

Later that evening, I arrived at church a little early to pick up Katie from youth group. I stood in the back of the room, visiting with a volunteer and enjoying a peek into student-led worship.

A high school student delivered the night's homily. Haley spoke about the importance of a life led by love. She spoke about letting go of material worries and focusing on how to positively influence the lives of others. She encouraged the teens around her to choose love as motivation and to live with purpose.

Then the youth band performed a final song, and all the kids sang and danced (or at least performed hand motions). We gathered in a wide circle, held hands, recited a blessing and pledged to take light into the world.

Haley and the youth band and kids in worship lighten the load.

Some Americans today are frustrated that teens are speaking out against gun violence and asking for regulations on gun ownership. Others are embracing the young voices, joining them at protests and marches, applauding their activism.

I find hope in those voices. They are less cynical, less strident, less entitled than many of older voices. They have shrugged aside apathy, something adults have asked young people to do for generations.

The students who are speaking up lighten the load because they are taking interest in civics and the political process, because they are poised to register to vote -- good for our democracy no matter which party they choose, because they feel the weight of the world and want to do something about it.

Hope lies in rejoicing in the light of the world, in honoring heroes of all ages, in listening to impassioned pleas for change and in considering how we will respond.

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


Youth group, March 25, 2018