Friday, April 27, 2012

Following rules can be harder on the parent

From today's Briefing:

What makes parenting so difficult?
I ask myself this question daily, sometimes hourly, depending on the circumstances.
At the top of my list lately is consistency. If I make a rule and establish a consequence for breaking the rule, it’s my job to follow through — even if it would be easier or less painful to let it go.
At the beginning of this soccer season, I placed Cooper in charge of keeping up with his gear.
I told him that I would wash, dry and fold his uniform in between games. The rest was up to him.
That means that when it’s time to leave on Saturday morning before a soccer game, he’s responsible for finding where he placed the clean uniform, plus shin guards, cleats, soccer ball and water bottle.
A couple of weeks ago, he was dressing for a scrimmage. Uniforms were required.
“Momma,” Cooper called from his room. “I can’t find my socks!”
I suggested that he check the sock basket on top of the dryer, just in case the black-and-white socks hadn’t yet been matched.
Not there.
He checked every drawer in his dresser. The floor of his closet. The playroom.
He pulled on some old white socks, and we headed to the practice field.
A year ago, I probably would have spent an hour looking for those socks myself. Or I would have added “buy socks” to my list of errands.
But this year I had declared that I wasn’t responsible for keeping up with soccer gear. The rules were clear: If you lose something, you find it or replace it.
Cooper spent more time the next day looking for the elusive socks. He finally gave up, pulled a $20 bill from his stash of cash (earned from cat-sitting over the past year) and asked if I would take him to the store.
Once there, he found a replacement pair, walked to the register and waited for the total. Including tax, he owed $8.66.
Cooper’s eyes widened slightly, but he handed over his money without complaint and with a barely discernible droop of the shoulders.
A year ago, I might have swooped in for the rescue, pulling my debit card from my wallet at the last minute.
This time, my purse stayed shut.
After we were buckled back in the car, Cooper said, “Those are some expensive socks.”
“Yeah,” I answered. “Socks can cost a lot.”
What I didn’t say was this: Letting you buy those socks with your own money, watching you draw down your relatively small savings for something I could have easily purchased was much more painful for me than you.
Those are the kind of words kids don’t want to hear, the kind of words I didn’t fully understand until I was a parent.
Besides, it’s not my words he’ll remember. He’ll remember spending his own money on something he lost — and eventually found.
A week after buying and wearing the new pair, Cooper was putting away clean laundry when he discovered his original pair of black-and-white socks, tucked in a stack of folded T-shirts.
He laughed at himself.
“At least I have a backup pair,” he said.
I’m guessing he won’t ever need it.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Thursday, April 19, 2012

New routine means less time, many adjustments

In tomorrow's Briefing:

Just when we all thought the mommy wars were over — or at least a timid truce was in the works — someone says something ridiculous like “she hasn’t worked a day in her life,” and it all gets stirred up again.
This time, as politicians, politicians’ spouses and political experts are debating what defines work and who exactly is interested in economic recovery, I’m tuning it out.
Because what I’ve learned is that the real mommy war, the one that actually counts, is internal.
I have been fortunate enough to work from home for almost seven years. In my case, work has meant taking care of my family, volunteering and freelancing for paying clients.
Some of my work-at-home friends do one or two or all of those as well. Laundry, dishes, building bulletin boards, tutoring kids, managing finances — it’s all work.
In the past month, my earn-a-paycheck workplace has changed. I’ve returned to office life.
Let the internal battles begin — emotional and logistical challenges over child care, housework, downtime, previous commitments and more.
I am calling our current phase a period of adjustment.
One morning last week, I prepared breakfast for Cooper and Katie, packed lunches for all three of us and then put some carrots on the stove to cook for that night’s dinner.
I rushed to my room to dry my hair, apply makeup and braid Katie’s hair. Then I returned to the kitchen, greeted by the scent of burnt carrots.
As I tossed the blackened veggies and lamented my failed attempt to get ahead for the day, Katie hugged me and said, “It’s OK, Mommy. I sometimes do too much, too.”
I was trying to do too much again Sunday night.
I remembered late in the evening that the office was celebrating a co-worker’s birthday the next morning and that I needed to bring a breakfast dish.
It had been a long day of church and Sunday school and Boy Scouts and volunteer work, so I was already comfy cozy in a T-shirt and flannel pajama bottoms patterned with giant, colorful owls. I did not want to change clothes and drive to the store.
So I found a recipe that called for ingredients I already had.
Just as I was pouring apple bread batter into buttered pans, I remembered that I’d also forgotten to get a gift.
I made a quick decision: I put bread in the oven, tucked Katie into bed, placed Cooper in charge and drove to the newest restaurant in town. My goal: a gift card for my ice-cream-loving colleague.
The ice cream shop had been open only four days, and folks in Frisco can’t stay away from new places to eat, so the parking lot was packed. The drive-through line snaked around the building.
When I finally reached the ordering screen, I asked for a limeade (all that waiting made me thirsty) and a gift card.
The server told me that she couldn’t sell a gift card at the drive-through window.
“Please?” I asked. Not because I am lazy. But because there was no way I was going to parade through a crowded ice cream shop two miles from home while wearing novelty pajamas.
“We just can’t,” she said.
I didn’t give up. I asked at the payment window. I asked at the delivery window.
No luck.
I reluctantly left with only a limeade, headed for a nearby coffee shop that does sell gift cards through the window (all the while hoping my co-worker actually likes coffee) and made it home with one minute left on the oven timer and a story that made Cooper giggle.
I’m giving myself some grace. I’m trying to accept that our new routine will smooth out over time, not overnight. I’m working on laughing at myself over burnt carrots and poor clothing choices and yet-unknown pitfalls.
I’m working on internal peace.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Friday, April 13, 2012

Grocery store trip is a lesson in restraint for all

From today's Briefing:

I wore the red pants once, then washed them with everything else I’d worn that week — including whites.
Those whites turned a decidedly unfashionable splotchy pink.
I’m sure I had been told the importance of sorting laundry before washing, but I obviously didn’t listen. Experience was my real teacher.
Experience has been the best guide for most housekeeping duties.
For example, when a snickerdoodle recipe calls for one stick of butter, pay attention. Otherwise you might use one cup of butter and end up with greasy snickerdoodly goo instead of cookies.
When an automatic dishwasher calls for only automatic dishwashing detergent, take heed. Otherwise you might substitute liquid dish soap and fight a losing battle with freakishly multiplying suds.
Similarly, years of grocery shopping have yielded plenty of mistakes and time and money wasted — and lessons learned.
Now, as a middle-aged adult, I can sweep through my neighborhood grocery store in 30 minutes to gather enough healthy food and drinks for a full week.
Every week it’s the same efficient path: deli, bakery, produce, organic shelves and freezer, dairy, butcher, sometimes floral, checkout lane.
I was recently reminded that this is not an innate skill.
Cooper is a brand-new Boy Scout, having graduated from the ranks of Cub Scouts and Webelos. The Boy Scout program encourages more independence than Cub Scouts, which emphasizes family participation.
For his first Boy Scout camping trip, Cooper volunteered to be his patrol’s grubmaster, arguably the most essential position of the weekend. The grubmaster is in charge of procuring food for ravenous, active boys.
Cooper and five fellow patrol members planned their menu the week before camping. Cooper left the meeting with a budget and list of meals. I was advised to take him shopping and to keep my opinions to myself.
I did my best.
That meant we spent an hour wandering aisles. Cooper didn’t divide his shopping list into departments — he shopped meal by meal.
For the snack supper, we fetched Doritos and Double Stuf Oreos. (My skills of silence were tested early.)
For Saturday’s breakfast, we crisscrossed the store, getting eggs, then tortillas, then sausage, then cheese.
I couldn’t keep quiet at the wall of cheese. (Admittedly an intimidating section — so many choices!)
Cooper’s instinct was to grab the first package of shredded cheddar he could find. It was also the most expensive.
I suggested he look at the prices before deciding. That’s when he noticed that one brand was $2 more than the store brand. He was sold on generic.
Gathering lunch supplies took us back to the meat department, then to produce for carrots (the only fresh fruit or vegetable for the entire weekend), back to dairy for more cheese and grated potatoes, then to paper goods for aluminum foil.
Dinner sent us back to the chip aisle for Fritos and the canned-good aisle for beans. Sunday’s breakfast menu sent us looking for cereal, Pop-Tarts, powdered doughnuts and milk. (I was quiet, but my facial expression spoke loudly, I’m sure.)
An hour later we left, my patience slightly frayed and my minivan filled with more junk food than it’s ever seen.
Cooper returned from the campout, declaring the meals a success.
“But next time I might buy more healthy food,” he said, unprompted, “like fruits and vegetables. I mean, we only had carrots.”
It’s a lesson he’ll remember better because he experienced it instead of hearing it from me.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Friday, April 06, 2012

Gramma still offers comfort during storm

From today's Briefing:

While the skies were unleashing unpredictable violence all over North Texas this week, my children ducked and covered at school, and our dog and I huddled in a hallway near our laundry room.
Ideally the dog and I would have been inside the laundry room, where there are no windows or mirrors. But the shelves in there are filled with stuff that would hurt if jostled onto our heads.
Even more ideally, we would have been in a bathtub, with a mattress on top of us and a half gallon of ice cream in my lap.
That’s how my late Gramma took cover during tornado warnings. She was somewhat of a twister expert, growing up in Alabama and raising her children in West Texas.
By the time I was hanging out with her, she and Grandpa lived in Central Texas. Those were her retirement years, when the day was structured around meals, word games, soap operas (The Young and the RestlessDays of Our LivesAnother World), poetry writing, local newscasts and Wheel of Fortune.
The television was almost always on, and she never missed a weather alert. Tornado warnings sent her into action.
First, she would put on her best undergarments. If the house tumbled down around her and she had to be rescued by young, handsome paramedics, she wanted to be wearing a bra (retirement meant she often went without one around the house) and especially nice underwear beneath her nightgown and robe.
She’d drag a twin mattress from the guest bedroom and prop it up in the hallway, near the bathroom.
Next, she’d head to the kitchen for whatever ice cream was in the freezer. She hoped for rocky road or butter pecan. If the very worst happened, she wanted her final meal to be her favorite ice cream.
At last, with all the important pieces in place, she would climb into the tub, pull the mattress overhead and dig into the ice cream.
Years later, Gramma’s severe weather rituals amuse me. And comfort me.
As I sat on cold tile Tuesday and listened to frantic weather reports from an out-of-sight television, thinking of her antics made me laugh. She posthumously took the edge off a stressful afternoon.
And I took comfort in rediscovering some of her instructions for life.
Be comfortable when you can. If you want to walk around your house in a muumuu, with nothing underneath or atop, go right ahead. There’s no shame in a pajama day.
But if company’s coming or you’re driving into town, you need to make an effort. That includes, but is not limited to, socially expected undergarments.
Be safe. Gramma could be kooky, but she wasn’t reckless. If a meteorologist told her to take cover, she would. She wouldn’t attempt to chase the storm in her Grand Prix or stand on the back patio in hopes of snapping a photo of a funnel cloud.
She’d lived long enough and endured enough extremes to respect the power of natural forces.
Enjoy small pleasures. Don’t let your freezer run out of ice cream. Or your pantry run out of cookies.
Whatever little treat brings you joy, keep it handy. Because you never know which meal is your last meal. And, if you’re fortunate enough to weather the storm unscathed, you should celebrate.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Oh, baby

Bledsoe parents have been asked to provide one baby picture and one recent picture of our fifth-graders.

It wasn't easy to choose either. I enlisted Katie for help, and here's what we turned in.

Good gracious, the past decade has flown by.