Thursday, June 30, 2011

Looking back on 10 years in the parenting business

From today's Briefing:

This week I celebrate a decade in my most challenging, rewarding, exasperating, exhilarating job ever.
I’ve been a mom for 10 years.
When I gave birth to Cooper, a roly-poly chunk of cheeks and thighs and hair, there was no Facebook or even MySpace. Only three of the eventual seven Harry Potter novels had been published. The towers of the World Trade Center were still standing.
Now he’s three inches shy of me with zero detectable body fat.
He can’t imagine life without instant access to information, no matter how trivial. Nor a world without a mom who chronicles much of his life online.
He never had to wait for J.K. Rowling to finish a manuscript. By the time he caught up with the first few novels, the final books were waiting for him.
He’s traveled all over the country but has no firsthand knowledge of the days when loved ones could greet you at the gate of your arriving plane.
This first fraction of the 21st century has ushered monumental change around the world. Terrorism, economic crisis, devastating natural disasters. It’s often frightening to think of the world that Cooper and his little sister are growing up in.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Resources to help keep kids learning over summer break

From today's Briefing:

I daydream about year-round schools.
I imagine the children and I traveling to far-flung destinations during off seasons instead of with everyone else tied to a summer vacation calendar. I imagine lots of little breaks during which no one tires of another family member.
And, beyond those selfish goals, I assume that my children would learn more if their education weren’t interrupted by three months away from a structured classroom.
We tend to fill much of the break with different kinds of learning, gained from trips to museums and libraries, from discussions while we’re driving, from adventures around town and out of town, from occasional day camps, from workbooks focused on reading and writing.
This summer we’re also taking advantage of online and televised resources. Here are some of our favorites.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Saying yes to harmless fun pays great dividends

From today's Briefing:

Summer break had hardly begun when our air conditioner stopped working.
Of course, major appliances don’t follow a routine schedule. Ours broke on a Saturday, giving us a 48-hour window to suffer before a technician could arrive. (Our suffering wasn’t so severe that I was willing to pay overtime fees.)
The first night, we all slept as normal. By the second night, our comfort was majorly compromised. So Cooper claimed the sofa in our upstairs bonus room, where the A/C was still working, and Katie slept on a pallet on the floor next to him.
Katie especially loved the adventure of sleeping upstairs, surrounded by bookshelves and an old television and arts-and-crafts supplies. So much so that she was disappointed when the downstairs unit was repaired late Monday.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Happy 6th birthday, Katie!

Since the day Cooper turned 1, it's been our tradition to take a photo of the birthday child immediately after waking up.

Katie turns 2. (I was in Shanghai when Katie turned 2. I know that Steve took a photo, but I haven't relocated it yet.)

And now, Katie turns 6.

She's sleeping upstairs in a makeshift clubhouse many nights this summer. And she's a big fan of wearing old Cooper T-shirts as pajamas. I especially love this one -- it's from our first trip to Disneyland, when Cooper was almost 3.

Katie went to camp at church (where her class celebrated with fudge popsicles). That evening we met Melane, Brooke and Molli  for a shared birthday dinner at Purple Cow in Allen. (Aunt Mel's birthday is June 19.)

Friday, June 17, 2011

Author's visit is a dream come true for us 'nerds'

From today's Briefing:

Most of my childhood heroes were writers. I spent hours wrapped up in worlds created by Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary and Laura Ingalls Wilder and Noel Streatfeild and Louise Fitzhugh and Astrid Ericsson Lindgren.
When I wasn’t reading, I was often thinking of characters and storylines. I would imagine conversations with authors. I wanted to know what their days were like, how they were able to put together words in a way that kept me reading, which parts of their fiction were based in reality.
I never did meet one of those heroes (though now I do follow Judy Blume on Twitter, something I never could have imagined in 1981). The next best thing was finding kindred spirits — peers who loved the same books and authors, who could dissect minute details, who found comfort in the same passages.
I still revel in finding someone who shares my taste in literature. (And am disappointed when someone doesn’t embrace my favorites — like a young friend who recently read The Awakening by Kate Chopin and hated it.)
And I’m eager to help my children experience life related to the books they love.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

We love a parade, but I'm thankful for Mavs' humility

From today's Briefing:

When the Dallas Mavericks won the NBA title Sunday night, they performed a huge public service.
They modeled humility.
Teammates gave one another credit for winning. Jason Terry thanked God. Mark Cuban graciously placed Don Carter in front so the team’s founder could accept the trophy. Carter in turn shared the trophy with wife Linda Jo.
We wouldn’t have faulted the team for some silly showboating on the Miami court — it’s what we’ve all come to expect. Instead, the players celebrated in front of television cameras with major league dignity and restraint.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Switching gears for summer

From today's Briefing:

My children have fully embraced summer break. In one week, they have easily discarded backpacks, clothes that require ironing, concern over bedtime, worry about homework.
I am still adjusting.
Take our weekday morning routine. My alarms are still set at 6 a.m. (first warning) and 6:20 a.m. (absolutely must get out of bed — after hitting Snooze once).
There’s no reason for this. Even with tennis camp in the mornings, we don’t need to be ready until 8:15. And yet every morning I rise with the alarm, dutifully shower, prepare breakfast and almost make lunches to go. Just as I’m nearing the pantry door to pull out lunchboxes I remember: There’s no school today.

Friday, June 03, 2011

'Positive discipline' expert crusades against spanking

From today's Briefing:

Dr. Jane Nelsen, a marriage, family and child therapist, has been writing and talking about the concept of positive discipline for 35 years. (She’s also practiced it as the mom of seven children.)
She’s speaking today in Dallas as part of the Global Summit on Ending Corporal Punishment and Promoting Positive Discipline, sponsored by SMU.
Nelsen recommends that parents use discipline strategies that meet five criteria:
  1. Help children feel a sense of connection.
  2. Are mutually respectful and encouraging.
  3. Are effective in the long term.
  4. Teach important social and life skills.
  5. Invite children to discover how capable they are.

Nelsen and I spoke on the phone this week in advance of her appearance. Here are excerpts.
Why is it important to spend time on the topic of ending corporal punishment?
It’s sort of my life goal: creating peace in the world through peace in home and classrooms. You can’t do that with violence or abuse.
Why do you believe that spanking is ineffective in disciplining children?
It’s not necessarily ineffective. You have to look at your goal. It’s not effective to feel capable, to teach valuable social and life skills, to contribute. It’s not effective modeling. Why would these kids not hit if they themselves have been hit?
People will say, “I was spanked, but I turned out just fine.” Most of us turned out fine in spite of the spanking
Most of us have a lifetime of searching: Are we good enough? Most of the human condition is trying to overcome those feelings of doubt and shame that our well-meaning parents instilled in us.
Most of us were yelled at, lectured at, spanked. But spanking doesn’t help us reach the goals we want for children.
What’s the idea behind positive discipline?
There’s always a debate about being too firm or too kind. People believe that if kids aren’t punished, the only alternative is permissiveness. I think you can be kind and firm at the same time.
Punishment is not healthy for children.
What most parents and teachers don’t understand is that children are always making decisions about their world. When they’re punished, they are most likely making decisions: “I am bad,” or they become approval junkies.
Can you explain the role of respect in a parent-child relationship?
Everybody knows that example is the best teacher. Being respectful to children is the best way to teach how to be respectful. Some people expect things of children that are not developmentally appropriate. A 2-year-old does not know how to be respectful.
We want to teach children: I am capable and I can contribute in meaningful ways.
The idea is connection before correction. We really believe that the primary goal of all people is to belong and feel significant. When a child is misbehaving, they’re saying they need a hug.
Once we make a connection where they feel safe, we make corrections and start focusing on solutions, inviting them to use their thinking skills and problem-solving skills.
If a child hits another child, ask: What happened? What caused that? What else could you do to solve this problem?
Most parents and teachers step in. They talk, talk, talk, tell, tell, tell instead of asking what happened.
As soon as someone tells you what to do in a way that makes you feel inadequate, your body tightens and sends a message to the brain to retreat.
Searching for an answer helps a child feel like they can contribute and learn valuable life skills.
If you haven’t been using the concepts of positive discipline in your home, how difficult is it to change?
Weaning is never easy for the wean-er or wean-ee. It requires change on both parts. Parents will fall into old patterns. Children are used to what they’re used to, even if they don’t like it.
It’s very simple, but it’s not easy to be kind and firm at the same time.
We expect children to control their behavior when we don’t control our own. Most parents get upset, start lecturing, putting down. The idea that you can motivate others by scolding and making them feel inadequate — is that encouraging or motivating?
How can time-out be used most effectively with children?
Most people use it in a punitive way. “You think about what you did and you suffer.” We don’t say “suffer,” but that’s what we mean.
They are in there thinking, “You are a bad person, and I’ll show you,” or worst of all, “I am a bad person.”
Positive time-out is understanding that children do better when they feel better, in a space with cushions, music, whatever, designed to help them feel better.
You’re teaching them a valuable life skill: When they are upset, they can do something to feel better.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Katie's self portrait

Katie brought home a book of artwork from the school year today. The most arresting piece is this watercolor self portrait. I love her pensive expression.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

What field day taught me

From today's Briefing:

I recently logged 10 hours as a field day volunteer. Five hours walking with Cooper’s fourth-grade class, another five with Katie’s kindergarten class.
We weren’t in a typical classroom, but there were plenty of lessons to be discovered.
Everyone is good at something. No one is good at everything.
My children’s field day is more diverse than the old track-and-field events of my elementary school years. There is a 50-yard dash and a three-legged race, but there are also Hippity Hop races, car washes, martial arts instruction, football tosses and games that have no formal names — only long, comical descriptions. (Place a roll of taped toilet paper on top of a plunger. Hold the plunger high in the air. Run to a marker and back without allowing the roll to tumble off the plunger. And do so faster than your opponent.)
Every year I notice a few kids who get discouraged in the first couple of events. They’re not as successful as they’d like. But eventually they find a game that fits their style — and makes them smile.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

May, according to Twitter

Tri transition ready. Rain holding off so far.

Tri report: Finished swim after weather delay. Delayed on bike by (1) broken pedal & (2) flat tire. Finished bike. No run because of storm.

KT, analyzing a movie character: "He has a lot of anger, and he's taking it out on people. That's not appropriate."

Mr. Potato Head's transformation to Mr. Tortilla in Toy Story 3 never fails to make all three of us laugh.

No school. Lots of rain. Entryway scattered with assortment of Playmobil sets. Happy Coop and KT.