Friday, December 28, 2012

Focus on the first steps to get to the big picture

From today's Briefing:

More than 11 years of parenting on my résumé, and I still make rookie mistakes.

Katie recently lost her two front bottom teeth, revealing two adult teeth that could hardly wait for their big debut. One night, just as she was tucked in and minutes from slumber, I peered into her mouth and realized the awkward angles of those new teeth.

“Oh, you’re definitely going to need braces, sister,” I said carelessly.

“What?” she half cried, half wailed. “Braces hurt!” (She’s been a keen observer of big brother’s orthodontia since 2010.)

I had ruined bedtime.

I spent the next five minutes consoling and backpedaling (“I’m not actually an orthodontist. What do I know?”), trying to reverse the damage.

I had broken a key rule of parenting: no distressing news after 7 p.m. I had also ignored a key rule of life: Take little steps on the big journey.

If my mom filter had been fully functional, I would have spied Katie’s crowded teeth and said, “Your teeth are coming in strong!” Then, I would have let Katie see the crookedness over time, let her draw her own conclusions for dental work that is at least a year away, and let her dentist describe the lack of room for her adult teeth.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the big picture.

One of our sitters is a semester away from graduation. She’s slightly panicked over the idea of adulthood and the nonacademic “real world.”

My observation: She’s fully prepared for the next step in her life, which will lead her to the next. She might not be ready for mid-May today, but she’s ready for today.

I’m working on adopting that attitude for 2013. As I’m making plans for my family and the new year, I’m continuing to balance focusing on the big picture and the first steps.

My goals for the year include organizing the upstairs bonus room, currently a haphazard collection of stuff that overwhelms me.

I can picture the end result — a cozy reading nook, a table for Lego projects, the closet neatly filled with art supplies. What I can’t imagine is how I’ll get there, which could lead to project paralysis, which means I won’t even begin.

Instead, I’m trying to focus only on the first step. Maybe I’ll sort through piles for 30 minutes?

Another goal: reintroduce exercise into my routine. Since returning to full-time work outside the house in March, I’ve been unable to fit regular exercise into my schedule.

I don’t exactly miss running, but I do miss how healthy I feel after running. I can picture the end result of my goal — three 30-minute runs a week. What I can’t imagine is how I’ll get there. What will I give up — sleep, chores, time with the kids?

Instead, I need to focus on the first step. Maybe lace up my running shoes and run for 10 minutes?

I may not be ready today to host company in the upstairs room or to run a 5K, but I’m ready to take the first steps.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Thursday, December 27, 2012


We had a rare free Sunday afternoon. I didn't want to waste it. So we met up with Uncle Jim and headed south.

We had lunch at Bolsa, one of my favorite Dallas restaurants.

Cooper and Katie climbed through the whimsical Christmas tunnels at the downtown Neiman's.

We spent some time at the Nasher Sculpture Center, one of our favorite all-time museums.

We explored Klyde Warren Park, the new overpass park that bridges the Arts District and Uptown.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Tragedy demands change in thinking on many levels

From today's Briefing:

On the drive home from dance class this week, Katie, seemingly apropos of nothing, said, “If you’re afraid of making mistakes, all you’ll do is pretty much stand still.”
My daughter’s words have been needling me ever since, for reasons she doesn’t begin to understand.
Katie’s been sheltered as much as possible from news of the violence in Newtown, Conn. She doesn’t know that children her own age were murdered in their classrooms one week ago. She doesn’t know that teachers sacrificed their lives for their young charges. She doesn’t know that a 20-year-old is responsible for a breathtaking, logic-defying amount of destruction.
You and I know, of course, and we’re still grappling to find the words to describe the pit in our stomachs and the dull pain in our chests. Our eyes still well with tears when we read the names of the murdered and imagine the emptiness in their homes.
So what are we going to do about it?
I fear that so many of us are afraid of making mistakes that we’re going to just stand still. I also fear that standing still means we’ll be discussing — and shielding our young children from — something similarly horrifying in the coming months or years.
What kind of change do we need?
We need a shift away from a culture that encourages children, teens and adults to shoot virtual people and aliens. The top-selling video games of the year so far, according to Amazon’s sales, are Just Dance 4,Halo 4Call of Duty: Black Ops II and Assassin’s Creed III. Thank goodness for those kids who want to dance.
Can we imagine a future in which most of the top games don’t simulate violence? And can we imagine a future in which parents heed ratings on the boxes?
Halo is rated M for Mature because the Entertainment Software Rating Board has determined that the “content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up” because it “may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.”
Yet many families allow their kids to play it. I’ve often heard that it’s OK because the virtual killing targets aliens, not humans.
There’s at least one student in Katie’s class who brags about playing Halo. That second-grader is rewarded for multiple “kills” on a game designed for someone a decade older.
Video games are hardly the only symptom of a culture in need of repair. The top three grossing movies of 2012: Marvel’s The AvengersThe Dark Knight Rises and The Hunger Games. Violent, violent, violent.
Does watching a bunch of violent movies make the average American a raging killer? Absolutely not. But what does it say about us that the most popular movies of the year are destructive, that we find death and explosions and mayhem entertaining?
We also need a shift in attitude toward mental illness and its treatment. By all accounts, the Newtown murderer was an emotionally and mentally ill young man. We’ve been robbed of the ability to interview him, study him, try to make sense of his deranged actions. No amount of speculation will appease us.
We don’t need to talk to him, though, to know that consistent access to mental health care is inadequate. We don’t need to talk to his murdered mom to know that mental illness is often misunderstood, that it’s difficult to manage, that it’s unpredictable and frightening and has a way of trapping, injuring and mutating the people we love.
Finally, we need a shift in the way we discuss guns in this country. We need measured, thoughtful, educated, civil talks about how many guns and what kind of guns. Our children deserve reasoned discussion about the scope of the Second Amendment.
The time has expired on kneejerk reactions from either side — not just because of the 27 victims in Sandy Hook but because of the estimated 85 people who died yesterday because of gun violence and the 85 who will die today, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
We can’t be so afraid of making mistakes that we choose instead to stand still, waiting for the 85 who will die tomorrow.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Fundraising machine

Last week I wrote about Katie's plan to sell hot chocolate mix in an effort to raise money to buy Plumpy'Nut for hungry children.

Today she sold her final packets of the mix (thanks, Heather!), bringing her grand total to $314.

That represents lots of generous friends and family members who bought the mix and/or made a donation for Katie's cause.

What's even more amazing is how far those dollars will stretch. We learned Saturday night that World Vision is multiplying our church's donations by five. That means that Katie's fundraising efforts equate to $1,570.

That money will buy seven-week treatments for 31 children!

Big thanks to everyone who purchased mix and donated money!

Katie on Sunday, after she'd turned in $217

Friday, December 14, 2012

I'm learning to teach kids to rescue themselves

From today's Briefing:

Parenting is the toughest job I’ve ever had.
I’m reminded of this daily, often hourly, depending on the circumstances.
A recurring theme in my mom struggles: How often I rescue vs. how often I let my children learn about life the hard way.
Last week, I rescued.
Katie’s second-grade class has had some unexpected transitions, and last Thursday was the first day for the room’s new teacher.
Katie was circumspect about the change, and she’d pinned huge expectations on the new teacher and how the first day would go.
She also had big plans for recess that day. She and some friends have been playing an intricate game that involves searching for fairies, and she’d promised her friends that she’d bring a book on fairy houses to school.
I was already late leaving the house for work when I noticed that Katie had forgotten the fairy book.
Most days I would have left the book behind, but this day was already so emotionally iffy.
I ignored my usual rule — “if you leave it at home you’ll have to live without it” — in light of Katie’s vulnerable condition, and I delivered the book to school on my way to work.
This week, I refused to rescue.
I was pulling in to my workplace parking space when I received a text from Cooper, still on the school bus: “Forgot my clarinet.”
He didn’t ask me to deliver his instrument, though that was my first instinct.
I looked at the clock and figured that I could turn around, drive home, pick up the clarinet and his music and get it to school just as the first-period bell was ringing.
Or I could ask one of my stay-at-home mom friends to swoop in to rescue on my behalf.
Or I could write back “So sorry!” and let him learn from the small mistake.
That’s exactly what I did, though I felt a little crummy about it. I worried over how embarrassed he might feel or how frustrated his teacher might be.
I even started to compose an email to his teacher, with the intent of apologizing on his behalf.
Halfway through the note, I stopped and hit delete. Cooper can speak for himself, and he can take responsibility for accidentally leaving his clarinet at home.
His tiny lapse wasn’t a reflection on my character or his.
As soon as Cooper got home that afternoon, I asked about band. His teacher wasn’t the least bit angry, he said.
During class, he went through the motions of playing an invisible clarinet. And he’d already developed a strategy to make sure he didn’t forget again.
I can’t guarantee that he’ll always remember his instrument — or his binders or lunchbox or jacket. In fact, I’m certain that he’ll forget something again soon. (Don’t we all?)
But I take solace in knowing that nothing awful happened because I refused to step in.
In fact, if I keep stepping out of the way — no matter how difficult for a worrying mom like me — something really wonderful might happen.
My kids might learn how to rescue themselves, and that will make everyone’s life a little easier.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Hot chocolate to help the hungry

For many years now, our church has participated in the Advent Conspiracy. We are encouraged to spend less on gifts that people don't really need and more on necessities for people who live without.

For the second year, we are donating money to purchase Plumpy'Nut, a dense peanut butter paste that is designed to treat severe acute malnutrition. Two days of Plumpy'Nut can save a child's life.

Katie was deeply moved by the concept last year, and she decided to sell her stock of jingle bells and puff balls to raise money. She ultimately raised about $60 for the cause.

Katie's raising money again, this time with homemade hot chocolate mix. She measures the ingredients and stirs them together. I package the mix, and she decorates labels.

So far she's raised $7, with the promise of $3 more later today.

If you're in our general vicinity and would like to purchase some of Katie's homemade hot chocolate mix, let me know!

Sunday, December 09, 2012

After church this morning

You may notice that Katie's missing another tooth. She lost her second tooth around 4 a.m. today. She woke up, wiggled it a little, and then it came out. She appeared in my room just after to show me. 

Friday, December 07, 2012

While juggling activities, schedule some downtime

From today's Briefing:

Parents know all about juggling. And December, with added layers of planning, shopping, cooking, driving and decorating, calls for master juggling.

The performance isn’t always smooth.

Take one day last week. I had run out of time to pack my own lunch at home. (I never run out of time for the kids’ lunches. That’s a process I could improve.)

At noon, I walked across my building to buy lunch from the cafeteria. I walked back with a cup of iced tea and straw in one hand, chicken tortilla soup, napkin and spoon in the other.

As I neared the giant, heavy door of my office suite, I decided to balance the tea atop the soup and use my empty hand to pull on the door handle. I could have placed both containers on a nearby desk before opening the door, but that would have slowed me down.

I managed to open the door, but I didn’t control the closing very well. The door swung back on my left hand, knocking hot soup to the carpeted floor.

My hasty effort to conserve a few seconds — and my inability to carve out a couple of minutes at home — created a big ol’ soupy mess. A juggling failure.

Two days later was the kind of Saturday that wears you out before it begins — multiple events, some overlapping, that require lots of driving and costume changes.

This kind of juggling act (outdoor workshop, indoor soccer game, Christmas festivities) requires a plan before the day even begins.

Uniforms and layers of clothing were laid out the night before. Lunches were packed just after breakfast.
By 8:15 a.m. we were in the minivan with all appropriate accessories — including but not limited to binoculars, camera, water bottles, shin guards and books.

The first stop was the Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area for a three-hour bird-watching merit badge workshop.

We learned how to focus binoculars and read a field guide. We spied birds in trees and on water, in brush and in the sky. We learned the call of the Carolina chickadee, the distinctive swoop of the woodpecker and the eating habits of the belted kingfisher.

We were back in the van just after noon. The soccer game would begin in 10 minutes. Only a helicopter could get us there in time. We planned for Cooper to play only the second half.

While I navigated back toward Frisco, Cooper and Katie ate lunch. Then Cooper wiggled out of hiking clothes and into soccer clothes.

He’d just finished tying his cleats when we pulled into the arena lot. He ran into the building. Katie and I jogged behind.

The arena was packed. But there wasn’t a single teammate of Cooper’s on the fields or sidelines. No familiar parents in the bleachers.

I quickly called two soccer mom friends. Neither answered.

Then I checked the coach’s most recent email. Subject line: Game SUNDAY @ 12:10.

We weren’t late to the game. We were almost 24 hours early.

I shook my head. I apologized. The kids shook their heads. They laughed.

We drove home with no sense of urgency, and we enjoyed a few stolen moments of free time before the next activity.

I choose to consider the episode not as a juggling failure but as a reminder to slow down, pay attention to details and bask in downtime — whatever way it’s found.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Before church this morning

(Katie's glasses are held together with medical tape after an unfortunate collision in Jogging Club on Thursday. New glasses should be in before the next bench photo.)