Sunday, April 19, 2015

Before church this morning


Saturday, April 18, 2015

The importance of roots

From today's Briefing:

Our red oak stands proud. Its limbs reach for the street and the sky and the front porch all at once. Its canopy offers shelter from the sun. Its leaves shake in spring wind, provide comfort in summer heat, dazzle in autumn sunsets, drop with winter’s first kiss.
That tree grows stronger each year, defying its scrawny first year at home, way back in 2002, when we moved in to our brand-new neighborhood. The tree seemed to struggle at first, showing few signs of progress.
Early spring after early spring, Steve would stand on our front porch, arms crossed, studying the tree. After ample investigation, he’d nod and say, “This is going to be THE year for the tree.”
We’ve endured six springs without Steve. In his absence, at least once a year, I stand before the tree, cross my arms, nod and declare it the year of the tree.
I’ve lived in this home, with that red oak in the front yard, longer than I’ve lived anywhere else. My little family has been a member of this pocket of Frisco, Texas, for almost 13 years.
Living in one place for so long — after three decades of somewhat nomadic behavior — feels comfortable and comforting.
Take last Saturday, for example.
We attended a youth baseball game at our nearby community park. The starting pitcher was third-grader Adam, honorary extra brother in our home. He lives in the house behind ours. I’ve loved him since before he was born.
And now I get to watch him stand tall on the mound, red-white-and-blue cap pulled low, mitt on his left hand, baseball in his right. Strike, ball or hit — it doesn’t matter. That’s our Adam, pitching in a game he’s loved his whole life.
In another neighborhood later that night, I stood in a crowded kitchen, raised a glass and toasted the engagement of Lindsay and Alec. We’ve known Lindsay for five years. Her mom is one of my most honest, most faithful, most hilarious friends.
This family has struggled, but they are now strong.
They all stood together — mom, dad, two sisters, one brother and a brother-to-be — surrounded by people who love them. There were a few sentimental tears, balanced by laughter and infectious smiles.
The soul of this community, of my community, is the people. They are a huge influence in why I remain in this house, with that red oak, even without Steve.
In his final weeks, he was confined to this house. He took his final breaths in our bedroom. Though those memories can be haunting, I’ve never once considered leaving.
Cooper, Katie and I are invested in the people around us. We grieve when a neighbor is diagnosed with cancer, and we rejoice when she is in remission.
We marvel that the young man across the street, who was 5 when we first met, is about to graduate high school. We give thanks for dedicated teachers in every grade, for talented instructors in every instrument, for compassionate coaches in every sport.
With each subsequent year, I expect our roots will grow deeper. I hope that my children feel secure, comforted and protected.
I pray that these years at home, in one place (with a few adventures sprinkled in), give them confidence to stand proud, to reach up and at the same time reach out, to provide comfort to others.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at tyradamm@gmail.com.

Monday, April 06, 2015

How sweet it is to spoil once in a while

From Saturday's Briefing:
When I take my children to special events, ballgames or concerts, I rarely spend money on extra stuff. I don’t pay for overpriced T-shirts or souvenir mugs or stuffed animals. Memories from the event are the only souvenir we need.
And food? Just the basics, if that, please. I’ve been known to smuggle in granola bars and juice boxes to ward off visits to unhealthy, uber-expensive concession stands.
Apparently, the rules don’t apply when I’m chaperoning other people’s adorable children.
Last weekend I took my 9-year-old, Katie, and our kindergarten friend Mattie to American Airlines Center to watch the Disney on Ice presentation of Frozen. We belted out the soundtrack on the drive down the Tollway. We admired dozens and dozens of tiny Anna and Elsa lookalikes as we stood in line to enter the arena. We posed for photos in front of cardboard snowflakes.
We were ready to embrace the entire Frozen experience, no extras required.
Katie, having lived with me her entire life, already knows my stance on vendor sales. She loves to look at merchandise on display, but she rarely asks to take anything home.
Mattie, on the other hand, knows nothing about my spending habits. Plus, she saw her mom hand me $40.
We’d barely entered the building when she spotted the first of many snow-cone stands.
“I want one of those!” she enthused.
“Let’s look at all your choices before we spend your money,” I advised.
She obliged. Yet nothing would break her devotion. The girl wanted a snow cone. And she was so charming and so polite — how could I turn her down?
So we stood in line for crushed ice drenched in bright red syrup and served in a plastic stein. Anna on one side, Elsa on the other.
Mattie, already bubbly about the show, was now positively giddy.
Snow cones may induce happiness, but they lack nutritional value, so our next purchase was a kid’s meal for Mattie — hot dog, potato chips and a small Sprite. Of course that meal lacked nutritional value as well, but at least she’d no longer feel hungry.
Before the show lights dimmed or a single performer skated on to the ice, we had our first tiny spill. A smidge of red snow cone dripped on Mattie’s pastel peach dress.
“That will wash right out,” I chirped, as I draped more napkins in her lap.
She’d barely polished off the snow cone when intermission began.
“I’m hungry,” she said. “I’m really hungry.”
A cotton candy vendor strutted nearby.
“I’d like some cotton candy.”
I exchanged skeptical glances with Katie. Neither of us knew the right answer.
“Does your mom usually let you eat cotton candy?” I asked.
“Well, I’ve had it before.”
Now, if this had been my own child, I wouldn’t have even entertained the question. Of course you don’t need cotton candy after eating a giant cup full of liquid sugar.
Yet this wasn’t my own child. This was a 6-year-old caught up in the magic of her favorite movie come to life before her eyes. She wasn’t greedy. She just wanted a little fluffy sugar to take the edge off her hunger.
How could I refuse?
Katie bounded down the stairs until she met up with the cotton candy vendor, then returned with a bag of blue and pink spun sugar, topped with a wearable crown.
By the time we walked out of the arena, crown on Mattie’s head and plastic stein in her hand, all the cotton candy was gone — except the bits stuck in her hair or clinging to her white sweater.
When we returned Mattie home, I sought forgiveness in lieu of permission for the excessive sugar feast.
I later learned that our young friend had a classic sugar-fueled meltdown later that day. She crashed early and hard — a little reminder of why I usually exert more parental control, and why it’s sometimes fun to slightly spoil children who aren’t your own.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at tyradamm@gmail.com.
Top: Mattie and Katie walk toward the arena.
Bottom: Katie, Mattie (and the snow cone) and me

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Holy Covenant Easter egg hunt: Then and now

Top: Tyra, 9-month-old Katie and an Easter Bunny in April 2006
Bottom: Tyra, 9-year-ol Katie and Amy Easter Bunny in April 2015

Left: 4-year-old Cooper hunting eggs in April 2006
Right: 13-year-old Cooper amusing his momma by re-creating the photo in April 2015

After church this Easter morning



Monday, March 23, 2015

Never take a snow day for granted

From Saturday's Briefing:
My hands tingle with pain. I can’t feel my toes. My nose is numb. It’s time to go home.
“We can’t go inside yet!” Katie implores. “We might not have weather like this for another five years! I want to keep sledding!”
Nothing she can say will sway me. I trudge up the hill toward home, willing my frozen feet to move.
Then Cooper chimes in, “In five years, I won’t even be home for snow days.”
The truth paralyzes more than the bitter winter wind. Cooper’s well-timed retort buys them both a few minutes more in the sleet/ice/snow.
(In fact, we’d get more wintry mix that same week, but Texas kids never take snow and ice for granted.)
All that snow has melted, and spring has officially, if begrudgingly, begun. Yet I can’t shake the chill of Cooper’s words. His time at home is slipping away.
He’s filed his degree plan for high school. He’s selected his freshman classes.
We’re experiencing the “last” of everything related to middle school. The last UIL band competition and the last track meet will eventually yield to the last bus ride home, and then we’ll have exactly four more years.
It’s the kind of countdown that makes me want to gather up all the previous days that I wished away. You know the ones.
“I can’t wait until my baby sleeps through the night.”
“I can’t wait until my toddler is potty-trained.”
“I can’t wait until my child can read.”
It’s the kind of countdown that keeps me awake at night, keeping him company while he finishes homework.
We don’t talk much during those late hours. He solves quadratic equations and studies Spanish vocabulary at the kitchen table while I grade papers, fold laundry, wash dishes, read — and try not to wish away the late nights.
When he does pause from his studies, it’s usually precipitated with, “Oh! Momma, I meant to tell you ...” followed by a joke he heard or a song he wants me to listen to or an observation about the complicated middle school social structure.
How many of those moments would I miss if I shuffled off to bed? I’m not panicked about the passage of time; all the same, I’m in no position to waste it.
This year’s spring break adventure (yet another shared experience with an expiration date) landed us in Southern California, where we stayed with dear friends, visited the beach, explored botanical gardens — and sat in the car.
I admit, I was grumbly about Los Angeles traffic at first. It should not take 90 minutes to drive 30 miles in the middle of a random weekday. My grand plans for nonstop sightseeing were thwarted. We simply couldn’t navigate from one place to the other fast enough.
Who was stuck in the rental car with me, though? My two children, who for the next four years have the exact same school calendar.
I embraced that traffic as extra time with my two people — Cooper in the front passenger seat, helping me navigate and offering commentary on every automobile on the 5, the 110, the 134, the 405 and Santa Monica Boulevard, and Katie in the back, asking questions about every billboard on the 5, the 110, the 134, the 405 and Santa Monica Boulevard.
As always happens when I’m driving in unfamiliar territory, we got a little lost a couple of times. I tried and failed to parallel park at least three times. We wandered 20 minutes in a Hollywood parking garage, desperate to locate our rental car. (Parking, clearly, is not my forte.)
Not a single second was wasted.
We were together for every missed turn, for every comical attempt to slide into a metered spot, for every increasingly uncomfortable minute searching in that nondescript basement lot.
Bring on the sledding, the marathon homework nights, the stuck-in-traffic days. They’re limited edition, supplies lasting not as long as we’d like.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at tyradamm@gmail.com.