Saturday, October 03, 2015

Working yourself out of the mom job

From today's Briefing:
Sometimes you’re so entrenched in the work of parenting that you forget you’re working yourself out of the job.
I’ll always be a mom, of course, but every night that I tuck in my children, I’m one night closer to being out of the raising-children business. With my babies now 339 months and 124 months (otherwise known as 14 and 10), I’m well past the midpoint of the heavy lifting of child rearing.
It’s been years since I stocked no-tears shampoo in the bathroom cabinet. Sippy cups are long gone. I have no idea about the latest technology in disposable diapers or baby wipe warmers (are those even still popular?) or jogging strollers.
Yet I’m still firmly rooted in the business of raising my children, so much so that it’s easy to forget that the days are waning.
Most schooldays, Cooper beats me home. He rides his bike from school and settles in to his homework routine. By the time I walk in the back door, he’s at the kitchen table, studying classical civilizations or irregular Spanish verbs or mitochondria.
Before I can even set my purse on the barstool, he asks, “Momma, how was your day?”
Not, “Momma, I’m hungry.” Or, “Hey, I need to tell you something.” Nope, he welcomes me home with maturity that sometimes takes me off guard — until I remember he’s four years from college. My time as his everyday mentor is running low. We’ve got more — so much more — to cover, but that daily greeting reminds me he’s moving in the right direction.
Now there’s evidence that he’s starting to realize what exactly he’s moving toward. He’s increasingly aware of the world beyond our sheltered home.
I’ve had a little hip pain — nothing serious but enough to make me grumble a couple of times.
“Why don’t you go to the doctor?” my reasonable son asked this week.
I think it’s muscular, I answered, and I want to work on some stretches on my own before I go to the doctor and incur who-knows-how-much in expenses.
“Don’t we have insurance?” Cooper asked.
Yes, I explained, but we have a high deductible, which means I pay 100 percent of costs for everything until we hit a certain amount, and then we pay a percentage of the costs.
“And we don’t want to hit the deductible,” I told him, “because that means one of us has had an accident or needs surgery or something catastrophic has happened.”
I told him how much premiums cost each month and how many hours I work to earn that money, and then I threw in a few estimates for office visits and diagnostic tests. I explained that we, of course, seek treatment when we need it, but it’s also important to be a wise consumer.
He was silent for a moment. Then he crossed the room, wrapped his arms around me and said, “It’s hard to be an adult.”
I hugged him right back, silently agreeing and soaking up the gesture of empathy.
He broke free and looked me in the eye. “So, how long can I stay on your insurance?”
Wise question, young man. You’ve got another 12 years if you need it. Soak it up. That time’s guaranteed to fly by.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Monday, September 21, 2015

Climb that tree, baby bear

From Saturday's Briefing:

A line of children and their people wiggles around the museum building. We’re all waiting for the doors to open for a wildly popular temporary exhibit in Washington, D.C.

Cooper, Katie and I find our spot behind a mom and her two sons. Her boys spy nearby trees, ask permission to climb and sprint away.

Katie watches the scene unfold. She sees the boys kick off their Crocs, peel off their socks and scramble up the trunk like bear cubs. She pleads, “Can I go climb a tree?”

“Well, no, you’re not, um, exactly known for your tree-climbing skills,” I answer apologetically, suspecting that I am crushing her spirit even as the words come out of my mouth.

What I was really thinking: I’m afraid you’ll scrape your knee or your elbows. I’m afraid you’ll fall and break a bone. We have a flight back home in six hours, and we have school tomorrow. I don’t want to risk it.

Hope drains from Katie’s face. Her shoulders slump. She asks again, using only one word. “Please?”

I look at the bear cubs, one nestled in the crook of a branch, the other climbing still higher. I look at their momma bear, who is so casual about her climbers that she’s not even looking in their direction.

She’s checking her watch, perhaps wondering how much longer she’ll have to stand in line next to an overprotective mom.

In those next seconds, I consider the tension that’s present every single day in the life of a parent: balancing the instinct to protect with the necessity to let go. I consider the actual likelihood of my 10-year-old requiring a trip to the emergency room.

I relent.

“Go climb,” I say. “Be careful!”

Katie zooms to the far corner of the museum grounds. She’s chosen the tree with the lowest branches, the one she’s most likely to conquer.

I keep our place in line and crane my neck to watch my own wannabe cub.

Her sneakers are too slick to offer traction on the trunk, so she kicks them off. Socks are next.

She tries again. And again. And again. Other children leave the line and start trying to climb, too.
There’s an ad hoc meeting under the branches, with lots of motioning and examining and pointing. They’re hatching strategy.

At last, Katie looks close. She’s wrapped her arms around the bottom branch. Her feet have found footing on the bark. But she lacks the upper-body strength to move any more. She hangs from the branch like a sloth — a freckled, bespectacled, giggly sloth.

She drops to the ground. She walks around the tree. She returns to the branch. She tries again. She resumes the sloth position.

Cooper tries to boost her up. She still struggles. She shoos him away. She settles back into sloth mode.

The line awakens. Parents begin to wave their children back and hoist bags on shoulders. The doors will open soon.

Katie abandons her sloth tree and runs barefoot across the lawn. She sits on the square of concrete at my feet to put on socks and shoes. I notice a few minor scratches on her knees. Her hair is disheveled. There’s some dirt on her shirt.

“I almost did it!” she gushes. “I almost climbed that tree!”

She stands up just in time to shuffle into the museum, wearing the most joyful smile — a reminder that I need to resist my predilection for worst-case scenarios.

I need to embrace acceptable risks more often. I need to keep in check my overprotective tendencies — a difficult task for this momma bear.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Monday, August 24, 2015

My promises to you before high school

From Saturday's Briefing:

Dear child starting high school on Monday,
Though I don’t know how it’s possible, as I still remember exactly what you were wearing the day you started kindergarten, I have a few promises to make.
I will not to compare you to others.
You’re entering a world in which your value seems determined by measurement against peers.
Your class rank will be calculated twice a year until you graduate. The number is significant to universities. It may affect some scholarship applications. But your number, whatever it may be, doesn’t define you.
You will compete for a ranked chair in band. Your chair may dictate which part you play and where you physically sit, but that number, whatever it may be, doesn’t define you. Your value is exponentially greater than can be calculated by your grades or your ability to play clarinet or how fast you run. Institutions and strangers may base their opinion of you on numbers and rank, but my love for you will never rise or fall based on points.
I expect you to do your best.
You are your greatest competitor. I won’t compare you to your peers, but I do expect you to work hard, to be kind, to push yourself. I expect you to steadily improve and to seek innovation.
Compete with yourself, dear child. Check your work. Don’t skimp when studying for an exam. Try to write every essay a little better than the last.
I will help you less often than I think you need and more often than you think you need.
I’ve spent the past 14 years helping you become independent. You are capable of preparing meals, cleaning the kitchen and transforming dirty laundry into clean, dry, folded clothes. You can change light bulbs, repair small electronics and follow written instructions for any number of systems. The more often you practice those skills at home, the more confidently you’ll handle real-life duties in college and beyond.
Yet, despite your good intentions, and in light of occasionally misplaced bravado, you still need my help. We still have four years before you leave, and I’ll keep teaching and supervising and gradually releasing until then.
I will ask questions.
Who are you texting? Who are you meeting? Who are you eating lunch with? Where are you going? When will you be home? How did you make this decision? Have you finished your homework? Did you review your notes? Are you prepared for tomorrow?
How are you feeling? How can I help?
The questions won’t stop, and I look forward to your answers.
I will give you space.
I don’t want to smother or hover. You need space to plan, to make decisions, to deliver on promises — and then celebrate your successes and learn from your mistakes.
You need to advocate for yourself. You need to solve problems by yourself.
You need to know that I believe in you and that you are capable. Healthy space gives you room to stretch and grow.
I will maintain boundaries and enforce consequences.
You’re on the road to adulthood, but you’re not there yet. I’m your mom first and your friend second.
When you break a rule, you’ll experience the natural consequences plus whatever additional discipline I decide is appropriate. I promise to be fair and consistent.
I will forgive. You are 14. You are human. You are going to make mistakes.
I will forgive lapses in judgment and rough manners. I will forgive broken curfews and messy rooms. I will forgive forgotten chores and unwarranted sulking.
I am 43. I am human. I am going to make mistakes.
I hope you’ll forgive mine, as well.
Love, Momma
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email

Monday, August 10, 2015

Not too eager for summer's end

From Saturday's Briefing:

No matter how you feel about summer break, no doubt you’re aware that its days are numbered.
These waning days are at the top of the conversation- starter list, closely followed by shared disgust with oppressive, three-digit heat. No matter where you are — be it Target, Kroger, a public library or front sidewalk — someone’s got an opinion.
The receptionist at the pediatric dentist asked me this week, “Are you ready for school to start?” The telltale weary look in her eye and the tone in her voice indicated that she, no doubt, had been ready for the break to end in July.
The young people at my house seem ready, too.
Actually, Cooper sort of feels like school has already started. It’s the summer before his freshman year, and, like generations of band members preceding him, he’s learning songs and drills just in time for football season. On top of that, he’s waking early every morning to run in advance of cross-country season.
That means that Katie and I are often home alone, which means Katie either talks to me nonstop — she’s never had trouble expressing herself — or she invents her own projects. (Sometimes she manages to do both at the same time.)
This week, for example, she placed on the sofa a giant stuffed animal, fastened a pillowcase around its neck, stuck a cardboard crown on its head, gave it a handmade scepter and named it “Sir Cluck.”
Sir Cluck’s reign was short-lived yet memorable, which is how I feel about summer — a little too brief and packed with moments we won’t forget.
This summer we drank from a waterfall on the side of the road near British Columbia. The water tasted liked snow.
We cruised through Glacier Bay National Park and witnessed a piece of ice crash into the ocean.
We sang and danced at Vacation Bible School.
We nurtured basil in a giant planter and snipped leaves for pastas and salads.
We watched Back to the Future and The Truman Show.
We devoured a generous number of snow cones and popsicles.
Crammed in the middle of all those memories are the everyday moments we’re likely to (or would like to) forget — squabbles over whose turn it is to fold towels or utterances of “I’m bored” or reruns of Jesse. So many reruns of Jesse.
Those are the kind of moments that tend to push mommas over the edge, that make us count down to the first day of school and its accompanying return to routine and reasonable bedtimes.
I’m not counting down yet, though. I know that these leisurely seasons won’t last forever.
One day we won’t know all the latest VBS songs by heart. We’ll have difficulty finding one week that we can all go out of town together. There won’t be piles of stuffed animals all over the house. Sir Cluck’s legacy will have faded.
By the first day of school, I’ll be ready for the first day of school. Until then, I’m not wishing away these remaining moments.
The neighborhood pool beckons. Some snow cones are calling our names. A movie or two begs to be watched.
These days are numbered. I want to make them count.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at
Last Thursday, leaving the mall, after a movie, snacks and being silly

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Homework binder covers

I'm trying a new homework documentation system this school year (via Jack of All Trades).

If a student hasn't completed homework, he or she will sign an individual sheet in the documentation binder. The goal is to help the student be more accountable and to help me track patterns -- so the student, parents and I can work toward solutions.

I've created some binder covers for me and my team to use. Click here to access the PDFs -- feel free to download and print for your own use!