Sunday, May 27, 2012

Before church this morning

Friday, May 25, 2012

Don't forget to plan ahead, but allow some flexibility

From today's Briefing:

Tuesday afternoon, I drove Katie and a friend home from school.

“We planned our play date over the past two recesses so we wouldn’t waste time deciding what to do today,” Katie informed me from the back seat.

“Yeah, 30 minutes plus 30 minutes is an hour,” her friend added. “We spent an hour planning.”

I totally get it. Time is precious; you want to make the most of it. I believe that if you’re going to spend time and money to go somewhere, you should have an idea of what you’re going to do when you get there.

That’s why I spend hours before a vacation researching maps, public transportation, hotels, restaurants, museums, festivals, neighborhoods, shopping and more.

I plan so much, in fact, that my plan sometimes backfires and a vacation feels like I’ve already been there. (There’s a delicate line between not enough and too much planning. It’s a problem I’ve been working on for years.)

I also believe in planning meals for the week and shopping all at once — even if the plan includes simple dinners. I don’t want to waste time making multiple grocery trips every week.

And I believe in planning summer weeks. In the past, this has been a luxury, but this year, it’s a necessity as I can’t drag two children into my new office every weekday through August.

That means employing a spreadsheet and calendar to chart which summer classes are offered, and then registering for courses as soon as possible. Competition for some spots is fierce.

Our school district hosts a weeklong middle-school science and technology program each summer. Parents were warned that last year the class sold out online in less than an hour.

My graduating fifth-grader plans to be a scientist or engineer and was passionate about taking the class.
The morning of registration, I hovered at the computer, as if waiting for Madonna concert tickets to be released. As soon as the course was listed as “open,” I clicked and got Cooper in.

I was lucky. The class sold out in 90 seconds. Even moms and dads with the best-laid plans were disappointed that morning.

Katie and her friend were passionate about their playdate plans, which included playing home (not house) with their dolls, a fancy dinner party on the front porch for their dolls (requiring a change from school clothes into dresses) and school with their dolls.

Katie also wanted ice cream. But a trip to an ice cream shop would rob them of important doll-playing time, and our freezer was bare.

I proposed a compromise: When the ice cream truck drives by, I suggested, you can take a break from playing and we’ll buy treats.

The girls agreed, mostly because Katie knew it was a safe bet that the ice cream man would drive by. His music taunts neighborhood children every afternoon between 4 and 4:30.

So they played home and dinner party, always listening for the ice cream truck.

The truck never came. Their expected afternoon snack was in jeopardy.

“We can get out for ice cream,” I suggested, “but you’ll miss the last of your playing time.”

Without hesitation they voted for ice cream, shelving plans to play school.

“Ice cream is worth it,” Katie’s friend said.

I totally get it. The best plans allow flexibility for unexpected detours.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. She can be reached at

Friday, May 18, 2012

Absence from events does not make you a bad parent

From today's Briefing:

A couple of Fridays ago, I showered and dressed, packed lunches for the kids, served them breakfast, dropped them off at school with kisses and a smile and then cried the entire 17-minute drive to work.

I was lamenting what I was missing: the long-anticipated fifth-grade track meet. Cooper was slated to run the 400-meter dash and the 400-meter relay as part of an annual competition.

The track meet is one of many year-end events that take place during school — and work — hours. For the past seven years, while I worked from home, I could almost always arrange my schedule to attend and often volunteer for these kinds of activities.

My new office job is flexible, but not so flexible that I can skip out for every school or extracurricular event. This year I’ve had to prioritize.

After my new boss approved pockets of time off for May festivities, I explained to Cooper over dinner what I would be able to attend.

Choir competition? Yes. Two field days? Nope, only one. Fifth-grade graduation? Absolutely. Track meet? No.

“I won’t be there for the track meet,” I said, “but it’s not because I don’t love you.”

My son looked around, stretched his skinny arms out wide and replied, “Of course you love me! I’m in this house, eating this food, with you.”

Still, I sniffled my way to work that track-meet morning, sad to miss the event and frustrated with my single-mom reality. I’d catch my breath and try to console my troubled heart with internal pep talks.

“I should be more thankful to have a good job.”

“I’m fortunate I get to attend those other events.”

“Cooper is fine without me.”

“Some parents don’t have any work flexibility and miss everything.”

“It’s really hot outside. At least I’m spending the day inside.”

“Stop being ridiculous.”

Nothing stopped the steady flow of tears. I kept my sunglasses on as I slumped into the office and behind my desk.

Not long after, a steady stream of texts began to hit my cellphone.

My friend Shannon had taken the day off from work to cheer for her fifth-grade son. She also volunteered to hoot and holler for Cooper.

“I’ll cheer for Cooper like he was my own son,” Shannon said.

She did. Plus, she took photos and videos with typical mom voracity and shared every single one. (She also shared some mild complaints about the heat and humidity.)

In between work tasks, I could see Cooper sitting on bleachers, talking to friends, walking to the field. I watched a video of him running and placing third in the 400. And another of him running and placing third in the relay.

I wasn’t there, but I felt connected, and the images gave me plenty of fodder for questions that evening.

Almost as nourishing as all those photos and videos were the words Shannon texted in her effort to console my heartache.

“The kids will become aware that your love is not expressed or demonstrated only by your physical presence at events,” she said.

My mind understands that those words are true. Now I’m working on convincing my heart.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Writing prompt

Katie brought home four writing samples last week. They all start with a prompt, and then the student is free to write whatever she wants.

Here is one of her stories, edited only for spelling. (Cooper and I both laughed loudly as we read this one.)

My Stuffed Animal Came to Life

My stuffed animal came to life and ... he had a party on the roof! He put confetti down the chimney. I grabbed a gardening stick and I poked it.

Then it called for its mommy. I ran to lock the door but it was too late. Its mom came to life. It grabbed my favorite trophy. It climbed on my back and hit my head over and over.

I have some advice to give you. You should never make a stuffed animal have a family! And I mean it!

Happy Birthday!

One of the traditions I love about Bledsoe is how the staff celebrates birthdays.

During every assembly (called Good Morning Bledsoe), the students and staff members who are celebrating a birthday are called to the stage. After everyone is assembled, the whole cafeteria (this year about 900 people) sings a cheerful birthday song, arranged by Michelle Montes, first-grade teacher extraordinaire.

I've been listening to kids and adults sing this song for six years. And, though I know it's counterintuitive, the joyful song almost always makes me a little weepy.

I think my response is a combination of things. I appreciate so much that Cooper and Katie have been able to attend one school their whole elementary school lives. (In fifth grade alone I attended three schools in three different cities.) I love the Bledsoe community, and everyone singing the same song to celebrate one another just hits me in my sentimental spot. And in the waning days of Cooper's Bledsoe career, I'm even more sentimental.

On Friday, the school began to recognize summer birthdays, so the stage was especially crowded. The range covered through June 20, so Katie was the last child called to the stage. She was thrilled to receive her annual birthday pencil and to stand in front of the big group.

Fabulous counselor Angie Williams calls the names. Katie, in a pink hat for field day, walks across the stage.

Michelle Montes leads the song. When Katie wasn't singing or dancing, she was smiling.
Cooper will be in the group recognized on May 24. I'm going in to work a little late that day. There's no way I'm missing his sixth and final time on the Bledsoe birthday stage. And I'm pretty sure that there's no way I'm going to leave without shedding a few tears.

Before church this morning

Friday, May 11, 2012

For Mother's Day, a little mom advice

From today's Briefing:

Moms are no strangers to advice.
First- time moms receive more than they can process months before the baby arrives. Moms taking newborns out into the world are magnets, attracting tidbits and tips from church ladies, cashiers and random folks at the mall. Eventually, those moms become the advice-givers, dispensing wisdom to their children and, yes, other moms.
So, naturally, in advance of Mother’s Day, I asked some of my most trusted mom friends for advice about motherhood.
(I swiped the question from a poignant online video.)
If you could go back in time, to just before your first child, what advice would you give yourself?
Enjoy it
From Angela, mom to three: “Just sit and hold them, love them, pray over them and really try to remember what that warm, squishy little body feels like in your arms. Be still and listen to their breathing and Enjoy their true contentment of just lying on your chest napping.”
From Kelly, an educator: “There were many field trips I didn’t go on with my son because it would mean leaving my own classroom with a sub. I’ve learned over the years that a sub would have been fine, and the memories I missed out on with my son cannot be retrieved. They are only kids for a little while.”
From Julia, teacher and mom to two: “I would tell myself to calm down and enjoy it. I was so worried about proving to everyone including myself that I could do it all that I don’t think I got to enjoy my baby girl as much as I should have.”
From Debbie, mom to two: “Take as many pictures as possible of the children. They grow up so fast it’s hard to believe they were tiny tots at one time.”
From Julianne, mom to four: “Don’t wish away the stages. I would give anything to go back to those early days and just cherish that time.”
Let go
From Jenny, mom of one boy: “I would like to have realized earlier (or remember more often) to let my child experience the natural consequences of his actions and give him more credit to solve his own problems. While it is so painful to see your child struggle or be frustrated, the personal experience is so much more powerful than any words a parent can say.”
From Kerith, mom of three: “Celebrate the uniqueness of each of your children. Don’t compare your children to each other or other children in your circle.”
From Sharon, mom of two grown sons: “Love your children unconditionally and accept them for who they are.”
Take care of yourself
From my sister Melane: “Taking care of yourself is not selfish.”
From Emily, mom of two young girls and a teacher: “It’s OK to like working and being away from your kids. You’re not a bad mom because you don’t want to be with them 24/7.”
From Kanya, mom to two: “As much as you loved and wanted a baby, it’s normal to feel depressed after you give birth. Your life as you’ve known it has changed forever and that’s a lot to take in.”
From Dawn, mom of two: “Set the expectation from the beginning by reserving time for yourself (even if it has to be scheduled on the family calendar in plain view for all the world to see) so that you don’t get neglected and that your family continues to appreciate and value you as a person, as well as your need for time for yourself.”
Do your job
From Denna, mom to two college students: “It really is our job to be a parent and not a friend. If clear boundaries are set and maintained, a wonderful adult will come out of that environment. Making unpopular decisions along the way are never easy, but the result is totally worth it.”
Don’t expect perfection
From Katrina, mom to two: “I would tell myself that the initial transition to motherhood is going to be really difficult. After the initial ‘high’ of birth, there will be sadness and moments of regret. There will be an intense longing for the way things used to be. And then I’d tell myself to hang on, because gradually I will begin to adjust and eventually come to love motherhood!”
From Allison, pharmacist and mom to two: “Breastfeed or don’t. Make your own baby food or don’t. Insist on matching socks and outfits or don’t. Work outside of the home or don’t. Join mommy ’n’ me classes or don’t. You have to do what is right for you and your baby and your family. Not what you think others think you should be doing.”
From Celeste, mom of two: “Always love unconditionally and don’t worry about the crumbs — the things that are OK, but not perfect, such as your home not being spotless 100 percent of the time. Things won’t always be perfect, but they’ll work out just fine.”
From Jackie, mom to a kindergartener: “I wish that I knew that kids are very resilient, and that I didn’t always have to make ‘right’ decisions all the time.”
Trust your instincts
From Laura, mom to three: “From day one — and even before — you know your child better than anyone else. Mother’s intuition is the supreme baby gift. Take all advice with a smile, hold on to what rings true to you, then throw the rest out the window.”
From Kris, mom to three girls: “Your ‘mother’s instinct’ is actually God telling you that you know what you are doing because you know your child best and love your child best.”
Count on love
From Joy, mom of three: “The love of the family for each other is enough to overcome any obstacle. There will be mistakes along the way. I won’t be perfect, and neither will they. But having love at the center of it all will get you through.”
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Mother-Daughter Tea

Every year I consider buying tickets to the Frisco Women's League tea, but for one reason or the other, I never do.

Denise, a mom friend from Bledsoe, was unable to use tickets to this year's Mother-Daughter Tea. She generously offered them to me and Katie. We were happy to accept!

We had just a couple of days to pull together a hat for Katie. (Hats are kind of a big deal at this event.)

We found a straw hat at Hobby Lobby, but we didn't like the blue and pink ribbon wrapped around it. I eventually pulled it off (there was some sturdy glue) and replaced it with some pink sequined ribbon.

That wasn't enough, though. I also added some fake fur to the underside of the hat. And I pinned up a side of the hat with a giant pink flower. Katie declared it "ruffly and pretty."

Katie in her "ruffly" hat
Katie and Tyra, on the way to the party
I found a giant hat for me. Well, giant brim. Not-so-giant crown. My noggin is giant. I can't fit normal hats made for women. (When I placed my order for my college cap and gown, the woman at the bookstore made me remeasure my head. She couldn't believe the measurement.) I could kind of balance this one on the back of my head, but I had to take it off early in the event -- I just couldn't keep it from falling off.

We arrived at the same time as the Mango girls (who we'd seen just an hour before at the Dolphins game), which was good timing, as the entrance line was long. We were able to visit, admire one another's hats and dresses and speculate on the food inside. (Cooper was at the Mango house, playing video games and swimming with the Mango boys.)

The ballroom was transformed into a giant candy land, complete with costumed characters, giant pieces of "candy," a candy bar, crafts reliant on candy. In other words, a Katie paradise.
Katie wore her hat for the duration of the party. I did not.
Our table was with women from Denise's church, and I sat next to Kim, a woman I was destined to meet at some point -- we share some friends and experiences. In fact, her youth minister at First United Methodist Church of Dallas was the amazing Sarah Squires, who was Steve's youth minister at Schreiber Memorial United Methodist a few years before. 
Lovely dessert plate
Lollipop centerpiece
We enjoyed fresh fruit, finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam, pastries and tea.
The fashion show included our friends Lauren and Tara, far right.
We also enjoyed a fashion show and brief visits with other Frisco friends.

Eva (soon-to-be kindergartener at Bledsoe) and Katie
Katie has already requested that I buy tickets for next year -- and that we start working on hat ideas soon.
Our friend Jen won the award for most creative hat -- a handmade paper hat by Emma, her talented 9-year-old.

15 seasons

The hard-working Dolphins (Coop on the far left)
The Dolphins played their final game today, after 15 seasons together. That's about 150 games -- most of them outdoor, about 10 of them during a blissful indoor season.

They started when they were 4 and in preschool. I've written often before about how much this team and all the families mean to our family. And, honestly, today I'm a little too sad to write much more.

A couple of links:
Final season begins
Bad calls
From 2006

I cried as the game was ending -- and not because the other team scored in the final seconds to tie the game 2-2. (How poetic would it have been for this Bad News Bears kind of team to win their final game?)

I cried because I remember the first day we met as a team, in an upstairs meeting room at the Lakes Tennis Academy. Because we've known some of these families since Katie was 3 months old. Because some of these families knew Steve in our innocent pre-cancer days. Because they supported us every moment while Steve was being diagnosed and treated for cancer. And when he was dying. And in the days after he died. And in the two and a half years since.

These boys are good boys. They are polite and generous and funny and smart. They take care of one another. As Coach Phil famously says, they are a team of future CEOs.

Dylan, Reilly, Alex, Tate, Asher, Caleb, Cooper and Jake
I cried because I so vividly remember the afternoon the above photo was taken, when the young, preschool Dolphins celebrated their first season.

And because those tiny, chubby-cheeked boys are now tall and lanky fifth-graders, on the way to middle school and only growing bigger.

Cooper, Tate, Reilly, Jake and Dylan

Friday, May 04, 2012

Lessons of youthful toil valued in adulthood

From today's Briefing:

What’s the crummiest job you ever had?

At the risk of offending current fast-food employees, I’ll admit that my least favorite job was working the cash register at a fried-chicken joint.

No matter the temperature outside, it was always uncomfortably warm behind the counter. A thin layer of grease covered every surface in the store — and my face.

Customers’ tempers often flared if they had to wait too long for a drumstick to fry.

Everything I owned, even the inside of my already-pathetic 1975 Audi 100, smelled like day-old fried chicken.

My fried-chicken dollars paid for that car, plus gas and insurance, clothes, makeup, snacks, magazines — all the stuff a 16-year-old girl thinks she needs.

And though I didn’t always appreciate the lessons in the moment, I did gain some valuable skills.

While on the job I started using “ma’am” and “sir” as a sign of respect. And I learned to not use those terms while working the drive-through microphone; some voices can be deceiving.

I learned how to speak with angry customers — when to stand firm and when to give in to demands.

I learned the value of showing up a few minutes before my shift began and calling in sick only if I was truly ill. I learned to appreciate days off.

While standing around last week to see our boys off for a camping trip, some friends shared their own labor stories. Brian picked tomatoes in fields in Canton during the infamous summer of 1980. By the end of each sweat-soaked shift, he said, his hands were worn out and darkened by sap from vines.

Another friend spent that same summer working as fry cook in his family’s restaurant. Rodney spent hours on his feet in a sweltering kitchen, dunking egg rolls in a vat of boiling grease.

Each of them was also responsible for chores and yard work at home.

Neither loved the work, but today they can’t deny the value found in toiling in tough jobs at an early age.

What about our own children? Their young lives are decidedly cushier than mine or Brian’s or Rodney’s were. And that’s what we want, right? We want the next generation to have a better quality of life than our own.

But what if our improved quality of life is partially the result of relative hardships?

I can’t pinpoint how much of my work ethic is innate and how much was forged from early years of baby-sitting and chores, chicken-slinging and retail madness.

I am thankful that I was able to make big mistakes when the stakes were small and that I established valuable habits at a young age.

My parenting solution so far is not to manufacture hardships at home, but to involve my children in the process of running our home. Their responsibilities include sorting laundry, feeding and watering our dog, putting away clean dishes, making their beds, and taking out trash and recycling.

I don’t shield them from the difficulties of my work. We talk about expectations, deadlines and mistakes. I share with them the joy of getting paid to do what I love. At the same time, I’m honest about tasks that I don’t particularly like.

We visit about the importance of hard work, about not relying solely on intelligence, about the difficulty in balancing professional and personal responsibilities.

When they’re a little older and work outside the home is a possibility, I won’t push them toward the seemingly crummiest job available. But I might not discourage them, either.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. She can be reached at tyradamm@