Sunday, December 14, 2014

Before Sunday School this morning

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Bringing the '70s roots to parenting today

From today's Briefing:

I’m a conflicted child of the 1970s.
I eschew bellbottoms, yet I embrace a fine paisley print.
Avocado green is all wrong, yet harvest gold is perfectly acceptable.
No, thank you, Black Sabbath, Rush and Deep Purple. Yes, please, Allman Brothers, Queen and Fleetwood Mac.
Total disregard for child safety is troubling, yet a little loosey-goosey parenting is refreshing. Perhaps even necessary.
I rode in the bed of pickups. I didn’t wear a seatbelt in a car until 1985, when a state law forced me to. I first doffed a bicycle helmet when I was an adult.
I was thrown off merry-go-rounds and blistered on scorching metal slides. I swam at public pools crowded with kids and supervised by only a couple of teenage lifeguards — every single time without a drop of sunscreen protecting my fair, freckled skin.
Truly, we 40-somethings are fortunate to be alive.
How do we celebrate? By smothering our own children. By stepping in so often that we shield them from real life. By depriving them opportunities to learn how to survive.
I’m working on revisiting my ’70s roots, albeit with a 21st-century mind-set.
I credit the Boy Scouts for largely reshaping my parenting style.
About once a month, my son packs gear for a weekend away. He’s completely in charge of the whole camping-prep affair. If he forgets to pack socks or underwear, sunscreen or bug repellant, I’m not rescuing him.
After all, it’s Boy Scouts, not Mom Scouts. Cooper can survive two days without toothpaste or a hat. If he really needs something, he can barter with other Scouts, and perhaps he’s more likely to remember it next time. Maybe.
He starts fires and wields knives. He cooks and cleans. He builds shelters using grass, twigs and branches. All without the benefit — or hindrance — of my supervision. It’s been good training for him and even better training for me.
Tuesday afternoon, I was in my classroom, frantically answering emails and prepping for Wednesday in an effort to get out the door in time to pick up Cooper from his school and deliver him to a different school for a tennis match.
My phone rings.
“Hey, Momma. A friend’s dad can drive me to Wakeland. I’ll get there faster. Is that OK?”
Without hesitation, I said yes and wished him good luck. Only after the phone call did I realize that I didn’t even ask who the friend is or what the dad’s name is or does he drive a reliable car with seat belts.
Hours later, I parked at the courts to retrieve my son. He had won both matches — without me there to holler his name or clap real loud or repeatedly take his photo. In fact, there were very few parents there. Most just drop off and pick up, Cooper tells me, as visibility is sketchy, depending on which court you’re assigned, and no one really knows who will play when.
A sporting event without an entourage of paparazzi parents? It was almost like we’d stepped back in time.
Now, let’s be honest. I’m never going to be a full-on 1970s mom. I’ll insist on sunscreen every time we go to the neighborhood pool, and no, I’m not going to just drop off. Every single night, I’ll ask if homework is complete and most nights, I’ll spot-check assignments. I plan to take photos at most parties, performances and games.
Yet just this week, at the middle school winter band concert, I left my phone and camera in my purse. I didn’t record a single note of music. I listened, with my hands free and my mind clear. It was groovy. Can you dig it?
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Monday, December 08, 2014

Want to (help) buy a water buffalo?

Drawing by Katie
Katie's dream is to buy a water buffalo through Heifer International. The animal would be given to a family in need, to help with farming and food.

Our church's Christmas mission this year is to buy as many animals as possible. It's a happy collision of Katie's passions -- her love for church, her love for all the world's people and her love for Heifer, an organization we've supported since 2011.

"I think it’s important to help people who don’t have what we have," Katie wrote last week. "I already have everything I need and a lot of what I want. Other people don’t even have what they need, and I think that’s much more important than my wants."

A water buffalo is valuable and therefore pricey -- $250. As she's done in years past, she has launched a plan to raise money for the Christmas project.

Katie is selling bookmarks, one side with a drawing she created for the project (stained glass with three animals) and the other with a poem she recently wrote (see below). Each bookmark is $1.

She's already collected $40 from a kind church member and friend. She's working on creating 200 bookmarks, with the goal of selling every single one and having $240.

Please email if you'd like to buy a bookmark or two!


World, a place needing a together
World, barely enough dreaming
World, a never-ending war
World, a message with no meaning

Love, an open door
Love, just you and me
Love, unites our spirits
Love, blessed harmony

Happiness, a little light in the storm
Happiness, the wag of a tail
Happiness, finding there is no need to lurk
Happiness, walking down life's trail

Peace, is never enough
Peace, the shake of a hand
Peace, has barely started
Peace, a graceful land

-- Kathryn Sibley Damm

Monday, December 01, 2014

When magic and honesty collide

From Saturday's Briefing:

We have exactly 12 minutes until we need to back out of the driveway. My hair is dry, but my makeup is only partially applied, and I don’t yet have shoes on my feet.

I’m poised to apply lip gloss when our whole world changes, as Katie stomps in with a demand.

“Tell me the truth about Santa.”

Have I mentioned that I haven’t yet had even a sip of coffee?

“What do you mean, ‘Tell me the truth about Santa’?”

(The absence of caffeine does not dull my well-honed parental stalling tactics.)

“I mean, is he real?” asks my determined 9-year-old.

“What do you mean, ‘Is he real’?”

(The clock is ticking. I’m running out of time to get ready and time to delay the inevitable.)

“I mean, does Santa really go to every house on Christmas Eve and deliver presents?”

Tears are pooling in her eyes, and I’m praying to keep my own at bay.

“Well, Santa needs some helpers to get all that work done.”

We stare at each other. I’m afraid to breathe. I’m afraid to give more details. I’m afraid that I’m going to be late to work.

“Do parents give the presents?”

“Do you really want to know?”





“Yes, parents usually give the presents. Not always, but usually.”

We stare at each other a little longer. She doesn’t speak. I break the silence.

“But I believe in the magic of Santa and the spirit of Santa.”

She walks away.

I rush to get on lip gloss and shoes. I brew a cup of coffee, toast some bread, let the dog out and in one more time, load the car with graded papers and lunch.

We don’t speak of Santa again until later in the afternoon.

“Katie, do you want to talk about Santa?”


The silence continues for weeks. I assume she’s in deep denial, and I have no desire to pull my baby out of it.

We’re on the road, driving to visit Grandma and Papa for lunch. She pipes up from the back.

“What about the Elf on the Shelf? Is he real?”

We walk into the house.

“What do you mean, ‘Is he real?’ We see Little Red Charlie at our house every year. Of course he’s real.”

“No. I mean does Little Red Charlie have magic?”

“I have no idea if he has magic.”

“Do you pick him up and move him around the house?”


“You want to know if I pick him up and move him around the house every night?”

“Yes. That’s what I want to know.”



She offers no words, but her eyes reveal disappointment. Perhaps a hint of distrust.

Later that night, I broach the subject again.

“Do you think Little Red Charlie should visit again this year?”

She shrugs.

Cooper can take it no longer.

“Of course he should visit!” my tenderhearted 13-year-old exclaims.

Cooper is well read and blessed with a sharp, logical mind. He’s also visited the same Santa — our Santa — since 2001. He dares not to speak of folks who might help Santa or elves. He loves the magic of Christmas, choosing to bask in the moments rather than analyze their source.

Tell me the truth. Is there a chance that his sister will eventually adopt the same cheerful attitude? That the whole house will once again believe in the magic of Santa? Really. I want to know.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Before Sunday School this morning

(And after an indoor soccer game for Cooper. Don't get me started on Sunday morning games.)

Monday, November 17, 2014

Years passed allow time for reflection

From Saturday's Briefing:

It’s been almost 29 years since I last walked the halls of Perry Middle School, a campus that even back then was considered ancient.

Of course, when you’re 13, most everything seems ancient.

On Saturday, I’m driving my own middle-school child to Perry for All-Region Band tryouts, and as I’m apt to do, I’m certain to tell him a few stories.

Like about my first week at the school. I transferred in the middle of eighth grade, in the middle of a family crisis. I was slightly traumatized and terribly shy.

My U.S. history teacher didn’t go out of her way to help me fit in. She sat me in the front of the room, far apart from every other desk. I couldn’t bear to look up and around the room, into the eyes of people who I was certain would all be staring back at me, so I stared at my shoes with fierce intensity.

Karen Jackson befriended me in that class. Years later, we would reminisce about how we first met — friendly Karen and me, “the girl who stared at her shoes.”

Karen and I have been friends ever since. She rescued me many times. We’re separated by a few states, but our connection is strong.

I might tell my son about the spring dance. Not long after I arrived, a calendar came home with a note about a semi- formal. I wanted to fit in. My stepmother began creating a tea-length emerald green dress with an off-the-shoulder ruffle.

It was gorgeous.

The night of the dance, my naturally curly hair was even poufier with the help of hot rollers and a curling iron and some Aqua Net.

It was, perhaps, gorgeous for the era.

I walked into the dance. Lights were dim. Wham was blasting through the speakers. Clusters of young teens danced and talked and ran around.

They were all — every single one of them — wearing Hawaiian shirts or Jams shorts or, at the very least, leis. Except me, the new girl, in the homemade dress and white pumps from Kinney Shoes.

There’s a world of difference between semiformal and luau. We had either misread the calendar or missed a theme change somewhere along the way.

I escaped quickly to the bathroom, which provided no refuge at all. I was now trapped in a tiny room with only girls, all of whom had a front-row seat to my misery.

One girl said aloud, to no one in particular and therefore the entire congregation, “How sad.”

I escaped that scene to my small circle of friends on the dance floor.

Among them was Melissa Tarun, dressed appropriately for the occasion and, more important, armed with compassion and loyalty. She didn’t shrink away from her overdressed friend.

For three decades, she’s been clothed in best-friend- worthy qualities. My children call her “Aunt Melissa.” Whether I’ve got horrible news or big celebrations, she’s at the top of my list to call.

What I really want to tell Cooper as we drive to my old middle school this morning is that the choices we make when we’re young can have long-reaching effects. That there is incredible power in saying hello first, in standing in solidarity with a friend who feels alienated.

I want him to know that three decades later, what I remember most about some tough years are the people who made life smoother. I want him to know that the best gifts, the most memorable gifts, are moments of kindness and compassion, of love and acceptance.

I’ll likely keep silent on how fast his next 29 years will flash by. Some lessons must be lived to be learned.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at