Sunday, February 26, 2012

Before church this morning

Friday, February 24, 2012

Kids learn big lessons from small groups

From today's Briefing:

My generation of parents has earned its share of derision.
We are overprotective. We think our children have no faults. We lavish too much praise. We often grant freedom without corresponding responsibility. Or we don’t grant enough freedom, creating young people afraid to take risks and solve problems.
All true to some degree. All with short-term and long-term troubles.
One thing I’m convinced we’re doing right: encouraging our children to become part of a structured group.
Organized sports, Scout troops, clubs, performance groups. Yes, there can be too many piled on, but I think every child needs at least one.
They need to learn how to work toward a common goal, to compromise, to lead, to follow when appropriate, to recognize when to set aside selfishness for the greater good. They need to learn how to create and maintain community.
Last weekend, Cooper left such a group and joined another. He and some of his fifth-grade buddies bridged from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts.
It’s an achievement worth celebrating. These boys have worked together for years, following a regimented program based on character, physical fitness, practical skills and community service.
Which translates into camping when it’s 100 degrees and again when it’s 28. Collecting canned food for families in need. Learning how to play marbles. Racing pinewood cars and balsa wood sailboats. Identifying poisonous plants and snakes. Learning how to create a sling from a neckerchief and how to safely diffuse a bee sting.
Cooper and his buddies have learned to care for one another with skills they’ll need as they grow into adults.
With middle school just months away, Cooper and his peers will have even more groups to choose from.
Tuesday night, the middle school principal stood before a crowd of future students and parents to talk about the transition from elementary school. We learned about leveled courses and cafeteria choices and extracurricular activities.
The kids who adjust best to middle school, he said, are those who get plugged in right away. They become part of a small group and remain engaged.
Small groups were what made my own middle school years bearable. When I found like-minded kids to latch onto, I was less terrified of the masses.
My security was choir (though I’m a terrible singer) and my language arts class, filled with other kids who loved to read and write. Those two groups made the rest of the angst-ridden experience bearable.
It was the same in high school and college. I was happiest and did my best work overall when active in a close-knit group. (And friends from those groups are still some of my dearest.)
It’s the same now, long past the days of lockers and mean teens and exams.
I’ve chosen to be part of small groups of friends with common interests. One circle gathers once a month to study the Bible. Another volunteers at our neighborhood school.
This is Katie’s second year in her own small group — a Daisy Girl Scout troop of eight. Early in the experience is an emphasis on sisterhood. It’s right there in promise: “Be a sister to every Girl Scout.”
Katie and her friends are learning how to treat one another with respect, how to be courteous and helpful. They are discovering how their decisions and actions affect others. They are building a small community of accountability and problem-solving partners.
Maybe in two or three decades they’ll have figured out how to be better parents, too.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Kids in cubbies

Katie before Sunday school last week, squeezed into a preschool cubby (the same set of cubbies she used when she was in the 4-year-old class)

Katie and some of the Sunday school boys

Friday, February 17, 2012

Do your kids a favor: Let them lose once in a while

From today's Briefing:

Katie has a first-grade friend who is interested in playing soccer, but she’s afraid to try because she’ll be too far behind.
Seriously. A 7-year-old is concerned that she’s already missed the boat on an entire sport because most of the other girls have been playing for three or four years.
I don’t blame the child. She’s instinctively protecting herself in the environment we’ve all created. A world in which 18-month-olds can begin taking soccer lessons.
There are classes for tiny humans who’ve been on Earth just a year and a half. Little people who are wearing diapers and who have an average vocabulary of 30 to 50 words and who can barely manage to scale a small staircase.
I encouraged my friend, the mom of the 7-year-old, to enroll her for a season. Just let her try. Maybe she’ll love it, score a few goals, make new friends. Maybe not. But let her discover on her own if she can compete with the tiny Alex Morgans out there.
These low-consequence risks are difficult for us parents. But if we don’t encourage small risks, the long-term consequences will be monumental.
When Cooper started kindergarten, his teacher shared that she often has students who have never lost a game of Candy Land.
These children play with parents who always rig the outcome, guaranteeing no loss and no tears at home. And guaranteeing plenty of tears when a loss naturally happens outside the home.
Most children aren’t born graceful losers or winners. I know mine weren’t. We still struggle. If Katie calculates in the middle of a game that her chances of winning are slim, she’d prefer to forfeit. (I don’t let her.) If Cooper is winning, he’s prone to trash talk. (I try to curb it.)
We’ve all been the champion of Cinderella’s Glass Slipper Game and Spot It and Sorry Sliders. We’ve all come in last place in Qwirkle and Monopoly and Chutes and Ladders.
Disappointment at home prepares us for disappointment on the field and in the classroom, among friends and in the workplace.
Over lunch last week, a few mom friends were discussing one daughter’s desire to be a cheerleader.
This sixth-grader isn’t particularly talented at tumbling. (The cartwheel still eludes her, even after plenty of lessons.) She isn’t among the girls who have cheered since age 3 or performed at Cowboys Stadium or competed at the national level.
But she does want to try to be part of the cheerleading squad and all it represents in middle school.
Mom has struggled with her daughter’s choice. Chances are slim that she’ll make the squad. Mom instinctively prefers to shield her from the potential disappointment of not making the team. She could argue that the most supportive act, the safest act, would be to discourage her daughter from tryouts altogether.
She also knows that it’s healthy for her daughter to take risks. To try, then maybe make it, maybe not.
She has decided that the most supportive act is to encourage her daughter to pursue her dream of pompons and football games. And to praise her for trying, regardless of the outcome.
Because the bigger risk is telegraphing to your child that you don’t believe in her. That we only attempt tasks if we’re certain of success. That there is no value in coming in second or third or last place. That failure is unacceptable.
I know that’s not what we really intend when we instinctively shield our children from struggles. But it’s the message they receive.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at


Cooper is bridging tomorrow from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts. This is a very big deal in the world of Scouting.

The preparations for each parent include wrapping an arrow to represent the past four years of achievements, creating a banner/shield to represent the past four years of activities and having a portrait taken to be framed and displayed at the banquet.

I have finished the arrow. I'm almost done with the shield. And the portrait right now is framed by simple, inexpensive wood. One option is to decorate the frame with his name and Scout symbols. I'm willing to decorate it, but I wanted to check with Cooper first.

"Oh, no, Momma," he said. "I'm not a glitz and glam person. I am more humble."

Oh, gracious. Sometimes it's as if Steve Damm speaks right through that child.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Life goes by pretty fast, so stop and watch the zombies

From today's Briefing:

It’s easy to determine my age based on the list of movies I loved during high school: Dirty DancingBack to the FutureThe Breakfast ClubSixteen CandlesTop Gun and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
Yes, I am a child of the ’70s, a decidedly ’80s girl on the verge of turning 40. All those hours of watching silly movies on cable and VHS weren’t fruitless. There were lessons — some more hidden than others — in all the flicks.
Stand up for what you believe in. Take risks. Don’t judge a book by its cover or a teen by his label. Don’t take too many (or any) muscle relaxers the day of your wedding. Navy pilots are dreamy. And, every now and then, you need a break from routine.
Or, as Ferris Bueller would say, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
Ferris is enjoying a resurgence these days, thanks to nostalgic types like me and a car commercial that imagines an adult version of playing hooky, with Matthew Broderick feigning illness like his famous character.
I’m home this week after my own version of playing hooky — an annual long weekend away with friends, away from children and work and laundry. This year’s slice of responsibility-free heaven: Savannah, Ga.
We three moms had a list of places we wanted to see, things we wanted to do, food we wanted to eat. But we were relaxed enough to allow some items to drop off the list, open to making room for unexpected discoveries.
Like the puppet show we stumbled into after touring an art museum. A group of sixth-grade drama students presented the story of Juliette Gordon Low and the founding of the Girl Scouts 100 years ago in Savannah.
We learned fascinating facts about an honorable American woman. We laughed at corny jokes. And I left with stories to share with my own Daisy Girl Scout troop.
“Random free puppet show” is nowhere on any travel guide’s list of things to do in Savannah, but I’m glad we didn’t miss it.
Travel guides do recommend Fort Pulaski, on the road from Savannah to Tybee Island. The fort was designed to protect the young United States from foreign attack, but it wasn’t battle-tested until the Civil War.
I’m certain the architects of Fort Pulaski never imagined what shenanigans would actually take place there more than 150 years later.
On a whim, we pulled into the fort for a look-see — with serendipitous timing. A cannon firing was scheduled to begin in 10 minutes. We parked and hustled across a couple of bridges to be sure we didn’t miss the event. That’s when we spied some unusual activity. We were surrounded by a dozen zombies. And not just any zombies. These undead hailed from the 1860s.
We quickly learned that Fort Pulaski was serving as a backdrop to a low-budget, direct-to-DVD movie with the working title Abe Lincoln vs. Zombies.
After covering our ears during two cannon demonstrations, the three of us walked the pentagonal fort, taking in architectural details and imaging the life of an average soldier. Then we spied on the movie set.
The director, we discovered, takes his craft seriously. He spoke with arrogant authority, as if directing a remake of Citizen Kane.
While perched atop a brick wall, peering into a stairwell, he discovered a camera angle he preferred to the original plan.
“From overhead this is very compelling,” he spoke down to a colleague.
Hesitation sets in.
“Before we marry this, do we have enough zombies?”
Perhaps not.
“Let’s get every zombie in here!”
The creepily dressed extras move in.
“Just surround him with zombies!”
Desperation sets in.
“Is this every single zombie in the joint?”
At this moment, between giggles, my traveling companions and I consider scoring some 1860s garb and volunteering for the job. But the director yells, “Action!” and the zombies stretch out their zombie arms and make zombie noises, and the scene is wrapped.
The lesson from this movie? There are never enough zombies. And there are unexpected rewards when you stop and look around.
I’m glad we didn’t miss it.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at
Two zombies and me

Every single zombie in the joint

Friday, February 03, 2012

Little Dribblers never cease to entertain

From today's Briefing:

Seats to the most entertaining show in town aren’t comfortable. If you arrive late, it’s standing room only. There’s no concession stand.

But the hour is free. And rewarding, especially if you’re related to one of the players.
For a couple of months I’ve been enjoying first-grade girls basketball, a spectacle of traveling and fouls and jump balls and missed opportunities. When I’m not cheering for Katie and her six teammates, I’m giggling. And giving thanks for patient coaches and referees.
Patience is required with 6- and 7-year-olds who are new to a sport that requires so much coordination and willingness to follow so many rules.
Katie lacks a little of both.
Despite her slight deficiency of natural ability, she has become expert at dribbling, partly because she practices on the front sidewalk as often as the weather allows and partly because she spends a lot of time dribbling during games.
After the opposing team scores, she always angles to be the player to receive the inbound ball. If successful in her quest, she moseys as she dribbles, slowing with each step as she nears the half-court line.
And then she dribbles some more, surveying the five opponents who have lined up, as menacing as beribboned, 4-foot-tall girls can be. Seeing no obvious hole through the defense, she backs up, still dribbling, as if she has all afternoon to cross that line. (There’s no shot clock in recreational first-grade basketball.)
Meanwhile, her mercifully kind coaches urge her to move up or pass the ball. If I can’t take it any longer, I cheer (or holler), “Katie!” and dramatically wave my arms in the direction of the basket. And I stifle laughter.
Finally she crosses the line or passes the ball, which is then often stripped away by one of the five hovering, vulture-like girls.
Katie shakes off disappointment as she turns, searches for the girl she is supposed to be defending and skips toward the basket, sometimes with arms tucked inside her jersey.
At every game, there’s a jump ball or two. The girls have been taught to grab the ball and not let go. In other words, they’ve been given permission to do what they’ve been trained not to do their whole lives. And they don’t let this opportunity to blatantly steal go to waste.
If a defensive player gets her hands wrapped around that ball and the offensive player is able to hold on, we’re treated to a few seconds of intense tussling and a pair of determined, scrunched up faces. It never fails to make spectators laugh.
Our ever-serene ref (who looks too young to have his own kids and may delay parenting plans for a long while) eventually blows his whistle and calls the team that wins the jump ball. We always cheer.
Of course, we cheer loudest when someone scores.
One of the most beautiful things about first-grade girls basketball is that we all cheer, no matter which team scores. Now, we might clap and holler a little louder for our own girls, but we don’t let a single basket go unnoticed. Maybe because it seems like a tiny miracle each time the ball actually makes it past the half-court line, gets into the hands of someone who is able to hold on and shoot, reaches the rim or backboard and then falls through the net.
Those few baskets are more exciting, more entertaining to witness, than any live college or professional game.
Best of all, after the final whistle I get to hug my favorite player, praise her for working hard and laugh with her as we relive moments from the game.
Even if her team lost (unofficially, as scores aren’t kept), it’s truly one of the best hours of the week.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at