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

Monday, March 19, 2018

I'm traveling lighter as kids get older, but it's a bittersweet celebration

Cooper and Katie, Wrightsville Beach, March 2018
From Saturday's Briefing:

Rain was falling. The sky was darkening. I had 25 minutes to pick up disparate items across a giant Target store before it was time to pick up Katie from youth group.
Another mom in the parking lot looked rushed, too, but her burden was heavier. She had a tiny infant in a stroller and a spirited 2-year-old (is there any other kind?) pulling on an arm.
I kept a socially acceptable distance, nodded hello and asked, "Do you need any help?"
The mom laughed and said no, that she just needed to pick up one item — one item only — for her daughter's eczema. No one else was at home just then to watch the baby or the toddler, so she had no choice but to bring them with her in the chilly rain.
"I remember those days," I told her as we navigated puddles to the automatic doors. "They can be tough."
She asked how old mine were.
"Sixteen and 12. I'm sure you've heard it before, but time goes so quickly when you're a mom."
I grabbed a cart — not a single one dry — and wished the mom good luck as she steered her babies toward the pharmacy.
I zigzagged from section to section, easily grabbing what I needed, no one asking for something to eat or a spin through the Star Wars toy aisle. It's the freedom that moms of young children dream of. It's the reward of raising children who become independent — one at church, the other at home toiling on a 5,000-word research paper on the implications of small nuclear reactors in a community setting. It's also bittersweet, like so much of this parenting journey.
Cooper, Katie and I traveled to North Carolina over spring break, fitting in another college visit and a couple of days at the beach. We've been traveling as a trio for almost a decade now, and both children have matured into self-sufficient and helpful partners.
I no longer look over my shoulder constantly, making sure that we're all together. We stick together by instinct. I no longer lug more than my portion. We each carry our own bags and jackets and boarding passes. There's no squabbling over who gets the window seat. Cooper and Katie keep track. I'm no longer a one-stop entertainment shop with books, notebooks, stickers, crayons, stuffed animals and snacks. We each pack our own carry-on bag.
The journey here wasn't always smooth. We've endured lost items and meltdowns and miscommunication. You don't stop being a parent when you're on vacation, and sometimes the role is heightened, on high alert for different kinds of choices — and dangers — than at home.
I've placed a priority on our little jaunts because there's so much of the world we haven't seen, because we create special memories when we're away from home and because I'm trying to prepare my people for life on their own.
As we walked the campus of North Carolina State University, I tried to imagine Cooper there without me. Could he navigate from one building to another without my guidance? Could he solve problems on his own? Could he find help if he needed it? 
Absolutely.
He's got a few more weeks of junior year, one more year of high school, then he'll be forging adventures without me, wherever he lands. It's what we've been working toward his whole childhood.
This is cause for celebration, of course, and the root of a tiny heartache that feels more profound when I see babies in strollers and toddlers hanging on their mommas. I remember those days, rough in the moment yet sacred for what they represent — the foundation of lives to be launched, much faster than you ever expected.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. She can be reached at tyradamm@gmail.com.
Cooper and Katie, Wrightsville Beach, March 2018

Monday, March 05, 2018

I'm a teacher, not a police officer, and I won't carry a gun in class

My column from Saturday's Briefing:

The list of what I will do for my students — what most every teacher will do for her students — is long.
That list includes but is not limited to:
1. Repeat instructions as many times as necessary.
2. Explain one concept in three, four, five different ways.
3. Perform an impromptu interpretive dance of short prairie grass to illustrate a cause of the Dust Bowl.
4. Write a recommendation letter for private school admission.
5. Check forehead for possible fever.
6. Email mom with an important message that absolutely cannot wait until after school.
7. Help look for a retainer in the trashcan.
8. Open a locker that is impossibly jammed.
9. Cover an oozy wound with a bandage.
10. Read stories aloud with silly voices.
11. Methodically search a backpack for an essential item that is inexplicably missing.
12. Stay up late grading essays.
13. Stay up late double-checking plans for a new lesson.
14. Stay up late reading a student's favorite novel for a promised book talk.
15. Stay up late watching a student's favorite TV show because he relates all life experiences to that series.
16. Try to understand the demands of competitive cheer, dance, gymnastics, martial arts, hockey, wrestling and lacrosse.
17. Listen without speaking.
18. Offer hugs and high fives freely.
19. Walk a child to counselor's office while diverting attention so peers don't witness a breakdown in progress.
20. Workshop how to tell parents potentially disappointing news.
21. Model conflict management.
22. Make up a story about quotation marks protecting commas from birds of prey because students keep forgetting to place punctuation marks in the correct order.
23. Brainstorm ways to study for a quiz when every other way isn't working.
24. Research books and authors to find a title for the most reluctant of readers.
25. Reassure every child during an emergency drill that it's just practice in case of the unlikely event of fire, tornado or an intruder.
What I will never do: Carry a gun into my classroom.
I do not believe that the answer to gun violence is more guns.
I do not believe that my students will be safer if I am in possession of a firearm.
I do not believe that part of my professional development should be how to operate a firearm.
I chose teaching as my second profession because I am passionate about literacy, children and the health of my community. I'm finishing my fifth year now — far from a veteran — and have no regrets about my decision.
Yet there's no denying that teaching is emotionally exhausting work that never gets left behind. We worry about our current students and the babies from previous years. We consider how to reach each one individually, how to motivate them, how to offer effective feedback, how to push them without being too pushy, how to help them set goals and then reach them.
I'm 100 percent on board with that job description.
In the event that an intruder with bad intentions entered our sacred hallways, I would do everything possible to protect my students and all the students in the building. I would hide them, shush them, shield them. I would stand between any threat and those children.
I will not sacrifice my values — the same values that serve as a foundation for the culture of my classroom — and take up arms against another human.
We are right to hold teachers to a high standard. We are wrong to expect teachers — even a small portion of them — to become law enforcement officials as well.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. She can be reached at tyradamm@gmail.com.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

God is too big to be left out

I've noticed this week an increase in the number of social media posts that bemoan the absence of God in public schools. I think that we are all trying to make sense of the continued violence that plagues our country, especially in the sacred hallways and classrooms of our nation's schools.

Yet God could never be left out of our schools.

Our schools are populated by the children of God. Every child and adult is a beloved soul. We carry God's light with us and within us. When students and teachers walk through the doors, they don't leave behind that light.

Our libraries are filled with beautiful prose and poetry, a reflection of gifts from God. Our hallways are filled with student-created art. Surely God is present in those places.

I understand that there are people who believe that our country began to disintegrate when the Supreme Court ruled in 1962 that school-sponsored prayer violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Yet no court decision dictates when an individual can petition God. Nothing gets in the way of a silent prayer between a human and God.

My classroom is filled with children from multiple faith traditions -- and in some cases, none at all. I never want a single child in my room to feel belittled or maligned because of their family's religious or spiritual beliefs. Why do we think that forcing a specific religion on a spiritually diverse population is going to solve a single problem? 

During our daily moment of silence, I have no idea what's on their hearts and minds. I know what's on mine. Sometimes it's, "I need to record third-period attendance now, before I forget." Sometimes it's, "I'm proud of these sixth-graders for standing silently."

Sometimes I take a small moment to thank God that a student has returned after suffering from the flu or that a student who has been struggling is showing signs of improvement or that Cooper drove safely to high school that morning.

Sometimes I seek specific favor, asking for patience with a child or clarity with a problem or wisdom before sending an email.

Sometimes I ask forgiveness for an edge in my voice or a conversation that lacked sufficient grace.

Sometimes I ask for safety for those children in my room and all the students on our campus and all the adults who take seriously the job of protecting them.

God may not be reflected exactly the way some would prefer in our schools, but there is no doubt that God is present wherever humans are gathered. God is too big to be left out.

He said, "My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest."
-- Exodus 33:14



Monday, February 19, 2018

Parenting is preparing children for their real lives right now, not just adulthood

My column from Saturday's Briefing:

Parenting often feels like a tenuous balance between coordinating daily events and preparing these children for their adult future.
Right now: It's time to get up. Your alarm went off 20 minutes ago. You have to be ready to leave in half an hour.
Future: You need to figure out how to wake up reliably because one day you'll be on your own, and I won't be there to see if you hit snooze too many times.
Right now: Make sure you have all your clothes laid out for tomorrow. You need running clothes, school clothes and your concert uniform.
Future: When you're in college, you might not have time to do laundry every other day. You'll need to plan ahead to make sure you have what you need for at least a week.
Right now: Where is your agenda for the week? What assignments are due tomorrow? How many hours do you need to set aside to study for that test?
Future: You need to find a system that works for you to help you organize deadlines independently.
Parenting is also preparing these children for their real lives right now — not just the logistical gymnastics but the moments that sharpen and reveal character.

We adults tend to divide a lifetime into two easy segments: childhood and adulthood. We sometimes forget that children are fully engaged right now, listening to what we say, mimicking what we do. Their lives don't magically launch when they graduate high school or college. They're entrenched in the real world today.
My 12-year-old is in the middle of seventh grade, learning how to calculate the area of a circle, how to write a short-answer response with embedded quotations and how to play increasingly difficult melodies on the oboe. She's picked up a few other skills, too.
This week she was in a small group of young people. A boy began to make racist comments.
"You have to stop," Katie told him. "That's not OK, whatsoever."
He insulted her. She didn't back down. He insulted her again. She held her ground.

Katie,
yesterday after church
She summoned courage and relied on strong conviction to speak truth. She moved beyond self-advocacy, a skill we've been working on for years, to advocate for others.
Katie isn't practicing for real life. She's in the middle of it.
We talk through all kinds of scenarios at home. What would you do if you see someone being bullied? What would you do if someone offers you drugs? What would you do if someone texts you, asking for a nude photo? What would you do if you're at a party and you're not comfortable with what's going on around you?
I think in some ways I've considered these conversations sort of good luck charms. If we talk about the possibilities enough and prepare for them, they won't actually ever happen.
Instead, I'm realizing, there's no way to anticipate every possible conversation. Because I've never once asked my children, "What would you do if someone starts maligning an entire group of people based solely on race or gender or religion?"
We can't provide our children a script for every possible encounter or event. We can't inoculate them from trouble. We can't expect that they'll behave with grace or common sense every single time, either. That's not because they're children — but because they're human.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. She can be reached at tyradamm@gmail.com.