Thursday, February 28, 2013

Three on Thursday

Three things I'm fond of this week ...

Van's Ancient Grains Hot Cereal ($3.99 for two servings)

Great for weekday mornings, when I struggle to fit in time for my own breakfast. I heat just before I leave the house, stir in dried apricots and cinnamon and pour into an insulated coffee mug. It travels well and is still warm by the time I get to the office.
Fresh Sugar Face Polish (a splurge at $55)

A little goes a long way. It smells lovely and makes my skin soft and super clean.
The Mindy Project (free on Fox!)

Now that Downton Abbey is over, I have room for a different television show.  I'm a big Mindy Kaling fan, and this show always makes me laugh.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Tooth Fairy has her work cut out for her

From today's Briefing:

I live in a land of extremes.

In one corner, there’s a boy who, upon the first sign of a loose tooth, forgoes all other activity until that tooth is extracted. When he’s accomplished his task, he places the baby tooth under his pillow without fanfare.

In the opposite corner, there’s a girl who, upon the first sign of a loose tooth, notifies everyone she knows about the impending loss, then drags out the process of losing that tooth for as long as possible.

She’s a multitasker, wiggling and jiggling it off and on for at least a month until the tooth is barely holding on and it finally falls out from exhaustion. Even then, her work is not done. She still must decide nighttime placement for the tooth, compose a note to the Tooth Fairy and gather gifts for the tiny winged creature.

After weeks of hyper-awareness of her third loose tooth — and steadfast refusal to allow anyone to pull it — Katie has a big gap in her smile where the top right front tooth used to reside.

Her tooth fell out just before dinner Monday night. Immediately after the dishes were cleared, Katie began assembling her Tooth Fairy offering.

First, she wrote a note, one in an ongoing series of written conversations with the taker of teeth. She asked the Tooth Fairy for her real name, for her picture and for a few “fun facts.” She signed it, “Love, Katie” and drew a picture of a tooth.

Next, she assembled gifts. She used markers to decorate an empty toilet paper roll to look like a little person. Inside the cardboard tube, she tucked a sheet of tiny heart and flower stickers, plus a temporary tattoo from our pediatric dentist. She also grabbed a package of dental floss from the bathroom.

This is where I come in. Because I have a vested interest in the placement of the Tooth Fairy items.

Cooper has been content for years to use a tooth pillow or small plastic bag for his lost teeth, and he places them just under his pillow, allowing for easy retrieval.

Katie is more complicated. When she lost her first tooth, she placed it, a note to the fairy and an assemblage of presents between two pillows, spaced about four inches apart. Removal of these treasures required three stealthy, hold-your-breath trips into her bedroom and quick-but-sure movements to sweep out the items from under the pillow and her sleepy head.

When she lost the second tooth, I casually mentioned that maybe she could leave the tooth beside her bed, in case the Tooth Fairy had a lot of pickups and deliveries that night.

Katie agreed, leaving tooth No. 2 in a cup of water by her bed. She told me that some of her friends do this so they can discover the color of the Tooth Fairy’s wings (based on the notion that there are multiple fairies flitting about).

The Tooth Fairy was especially thankful that night.

This Monday night, I advocated that she leave the tooth in water again.

“I already know she has yellow wings,” Katie replied as she tucked her tooth into the folded note and placed it under her pillow, next to the gifts.

An hour after she fell asleep, the items were safely removed from the bedroom. When Katie woke the next morning, the tooth, dental floss and cardboard tube were gone.

A note was folded with a dollar bill: “My friends call me TF. My identity is secret. The giant armadillo can have up to 100 teeth. An elephant’s tooth can weigh up to 6 pounds.”

TF would have left a longer list of fun facts, but there are 17 more baby teeth to go.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Friday, February 15, 2013

Memories can be tools for teaching

From today's Briefing:

We’ve been all wrapped up in projects at the Damm house.

Cooper has been juggling four: a presentation on Martin Luther King Jr., a poster on the element sodium (re-imagined as a comic book villain), a presentation on Belgium and a board game based on a mystery novel.

Katie’s second-grade load is a little lighter: Valentine cards, a Valentine box and a timeline of her life so far.

Since this is my second round as a second-grade parent, I’ve been bracing for the timeline project. The requirements, which haven’t changed since Cooper’s turn, demand patient parent participation.

The student must turn in nine note cards held together vertically by tape. The top card is for the child’s name. The next eight represent eight moments in the child’s life.

Half of each card is illustrated with either a photo or drawing. The other half must include complete sentences, first written in pencil (using a ruler as a guide) and then traced with a fine-tip black marker.

The first step in the project was brainstorming which events to include. I sat across from Katie at the kitchen table and asked her to name the most important events in her life so far.

Her final list: the day she was born, dancing with her Daddy, hanging out at a dude ranch, the first day of kindergarten, touring the Texas Capitol, visiting the Eiffel Tower, walking through the Butchart Gardens near Victoria, B.C., and playing at the beach.

As she brainstormed, we talked about memories — what she actually remembers and what she recalls only through family stories and photos.

She remembers that she broke her collarbone (the first time) when she was 2 but doesn’t remember the act of standing up on the slide and falling to the ground.

She remembers getting her hand stuck in a revolving door when she was 3 but doesn’t remember that we were in Chicago at the time.

She asked for my first memory.

I was 2. An adult friend was visiting to meet my baby sister for the first time. The woman brought baby Mel a giant, stuffed Oscar the Grouch. I remember thinking, “That baby doesn’t even know who Oscar the Grouch is. That should be mine.”

Fitting that I coveted a grouch, eh?

Indeed, a lot of my childhood memories are of the morality tale variety.

Like when I was 4 and jumped on the bed — despite the rule that I not jump on the bed — and I fell off and hit my head on the wooden toy chest and busted my scalp open and needed stitches.

Like when I was 5 and let a sixth-grader “look” at my purse after she complimented it, when in fact “look” meant “grab and run away.”

Like when I was 8 and playing inside Edgar’s house even though no adult was home — which broke his family’s rules — and the moment we heard someone coming in the front door we ran out the back door and I slipped on a mat and fell into a rusty nail sticking out of a pole and cut my face open and needed stitches.

Jealousy, disobedience, pride, more disobedience.

If I had to compile and turn in my own timeline, with only eight life milestones, none of those events would make the cut. But they all litter the timeline in my mind. There are no photos, but I could draw a detailed picture of each moment.

And I can rattle off life lessons related to each one. Don’t covet. Don’t jump on the bed. Don’t let flattery cloud your judgment. Don’t be sneaky.

Here’s another: Remember all those mistakes so you can tell stories on yourself, entertain your children and slide in a little advice along the way.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Friends since 2005

Noe & Katie, Valentine's Day 2009
Liz just rediscovered this super happy photo of Noe and Katie from four years ago. The girls were 3 and a half when this was taken. They went to separate preschools (Noe at Sunny Days, Katie at Holy Covenant) but spent a lot of time playing together.

Liz was a second mom to Katie during much of 2009, when Steve's condition was worsening and I required more help taking care of Katie, especially on non-preschool days.

These sweet girls have known each other pretty much since they were born. Katie is five weeks older. We expected Noe much later, but she had other plans and was born 11 weeks premature.

It's such a joy to watch them together still -- with their own distinct interests and some interests that collide. They are both bright, cheerful and funny girls with kind hearts and gentle spirits.

Lent in photos

Cooper, Katie and I are trying a Lenten challenge from Rethink Church.

An explanation of the project:

As we journey through this season of Lent, some will choose to give up something. Some will go about their lives as if it was ordinary time. Some will choose to be more reflective. Whatever your practices this season, will you join this photo-a-day challenge and share with the community how you perceive each word or phrase for the day? No explanation needed, unless you want to. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words.
You don't have to be a great photographer. This project is hopefully more about the practice of paying attention and being intentional, than it is being the best photographer [though we encourage you to get creative!].

I'll be archiving our photos on our new blog, Lent in Photos

Join us!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Happy (Chinese) New Year

Yesterday was our typical Sunday with a twist: a birthday party (the third of the weekend).
  • Church (Cooper was acolyte)
  • Sunday school
  • Quick lunch (at Caffe Bene, a new outpost of the South Korean chain in Carrollton)
  • Quick stop at Super H Mart (for salmon, ramen noodles, Korean sushi & roasted seaweed, plus Katie bought a stuffed Domo with her own money)
  • Piano lesson
  • Katie's DI practice (two weeks until the tournament)
  • Boy Scout meeting
  • Eva's gymnastics party at WOGA
When we got home around 5:45 p.m., Cooper left for a quick bike ride around the neighborhood, and Katie took a shower.

After she was dressed in pajamas, she gathered some construction paper. I asked what she was making. (She creates treasures just about every day.) She told me it was a surprise. Then she was was in her room, with the door closed, for at least 30 minutes.

Every now and then she would shout, "No one come in here!"

She took a break at one point to hand me a handmade dragon mask (a Katie creation from a few months ago). That was my only clue for the spectacle to come.

Finally, she was ready for the reveal. She instructed me to wear the dragon mask. She told me and Cooper to stand in the family room.

And then she came out in a swirl of color.

"I'm a dragon!" she said. "Happy New Year!"

Cooper and I laughed and laughed.

"You are so creative, Katie," Cooper said.

"I thought we should do something for Chinese New Year," she said, clearly disappointed in our lack of a bigger celebration but happy to create her own one-woman parade.

She stood still for a moment so I could take this photo.

Her dragon costume includes about 12 hair bows on her head plus some more on her pajama pants. She wrapped a scarf around her waist. She's wearing legwarmers on her feet. A poncho on her shoulders. A lei around her neck. Just about every bracelet she owns.

The construction paper body includes a mouth on one side and a feather boa tail on the other.

Happy (Chinese) New Year!

Friday, February 08, 2013

Parental pain transitory, but the joy is everlasting

My most essential network is my mom network.
For just about any parenting question or challenge, I’ve got a friend who’s an expert. Craft projects and dance lessons. Discipline issues and academic motivation.
I value their advice and wisdom. More than that, I value the shared experience.
The past few months, I’ve especially relied on other moms of sixth-graders. We share ideas on helping our kids stay organized and the best way to communicate with specific teachers. When we’ve reached levels of desperation and frustration at home, we can call around and ask, “Is your child having trouble with this assignment?”
Best of all, we discover we’re not alone.
There’s great comfort in learning that the struggles at our home aren’t all that different from homes all over the neighborhood.
I also rely on friends who’ve already survived the first year of middle school. We’ve talked about the value of tutorials — and how to convince kids that they’re helpful, not a form of punishment. I’ve quizzed them on the balance of freedom and restrictions. On when it’s OK to give in and when you have to stand your ground.
Sometimes, the most helpful words of all are, “Sixth grade is just awful,” followed by, “It gets better.”
One friend compares the pains of parenting with the pains of childbirth. It hurts in the moment, but then it’s over. You move on. You forget the pain. Then you get to relish in the joys.
And there’s so much joy.
Yes, Cooper was a week late entering the world. Labor was long. Birth required forceps. I required two anesthesiologists to numb the pain. Yet, my body doesn’t remember the pain.
I do remember receiving my firstborn son in my arms. I remember the soft blanket that swaddled him. The swirl of dark hair on his giant head. The very first time I touched his button nose.
In those first moments, all the inconveniences and pains of pregnancy and labor were forgiven.
That’s how it always goes — or the human race would cease to exist. We keep having babies, even though we know it’s going to hurt. We keep raising children, even though there’s all kinds of heartbreak. Not because we have to, but because we want to.
Yes, Cooper sometimes forgets to bring homework home from school. He sometimes worries too much about what his peers might think of him. (Though I suspect most sixth-graders are too worried about themselves to be all that concerned with the people around them.) He makes a few choices that leave me wondering who exactly raised this child.
Yet he’s even more amazing now than when I first held him in the summer of 2001.
He fiercely protects his little sister. On top of schoolwork, he juggles music, church and Scout responsibilities not because he has to but because he wants to. He knows more about Greek and Roman mythology than I’ll ever learn. He engages children and adults alike in pleasant, meaningful conversation. He actually enjoys camping, no matter the weather. He dances to that goofy song “Gangnam Style” with unabashed enthusiasm.
In my trusty mom network, we often lament, “No one warned us how difficult parenting would be.” And that’s true. No one once ever did. (Or if they did, we weren’t listening.)
That same group of moms also recognizes that we can let go of frustration and sorrow and hold fast to love and hope. We know that the pain is dwarfed by the joy.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Friday, February 01, 2013

Daughter's sleepover sets bar at fanciful level

From today's Briefing:

Most days I’m not fancy enough for my daughter.

I don’t wear enough accessories or sequins. I don’t drape or hang enough stuff around the house. I don’t have enough sparkle.

When we’re at department stores, Katie gravitates toward ball gowns and rhinestone-studded heels. I gravitate toward simple separates and comfy flats.

Sometimes I compromise. On my 7-year-old’s advice, I might pile on bangle bracelets or add a scarf. During festive seasons, I might put out a few more Santas or pumpkins than I’d prefer. On everyday occasions, I might give in to some not-too-unreasonable demands.

Katie’s best friend recently spent the night. The day before Noe’s arrival, Katie bought a sleepover ideas book at the bookstore. (She wanted it so badly that she spent her own money.) In the next hours, she pored over the book, thinking about themes and activities for Noe’s extended playdate.

When I woke the next morning, Katie was hovering outside my bedroom door with a shopping list of sleepover supplies.

Based on her plans, the evening would include — but not be limited to — smoothies, cupcakes and a fashion show, plus crafting time that would result in hand-sewn fuzzy slippers, a handmade journal and a hand-built board game.

Her plans also included a winter wonderland inside our home. She wanted snowflakes hanging from ceilings in multiple rooms and passageways.

After a little coffee, I was able to start tackling the list and tempering Katie’s expectations.

We made snowflakes together. I folded varying sizes of white squares and handed them to Katie, who would expertly snip the seams and unfold the paper. I then hung the snowflakes from the curtain rod in the kitchen window — not exactly Katie’s grand vision but good enough.

Then we whittled the rest of the list — this wasn’t a weeklong engagement. Soon after Noe’s arrival, the girls used construction toys to build a veterinarian office for stuffed animals. We took our real-live dog for a walk to the park.

The girls donned pajamas. Because I wouldn’t buy red fabric to simulate a red carpet, Katie improvised and pulled out pages and pages of bright pink paper.

She laid them end-to-end in the hallway, and she and Noe put on a fashion show. (Noe won the award for best walk. Katie won the award for best dance.)

We ate pizza while watching The Parent Trap (circa 1998). I made smoothies using equal parts frozen vanilla yogurt and orange juice.

The girls opted to sleep in sleeping bags on the family room floor. Before I turned out the lights, they used tiny notepads and new ink pens to play a drawing guessing game that they invented sometime in first grade. They fell asleep surrounded by all those animals from the vet clinic.

Eight hours later, they were awake and ready for more.

They didn’t make slippers or decorate cupcakes, but the sleepover was fancy enough and fun enough for two sparkly 7-year-olds.

I can’t coast on that one success for too long, though. A week after Noe’s visit, Katie wrinkled her forehead, looked me in the eye and said, “I need to have a fun little party soon because I have some ideas.”

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at tyradamm@