Friday, June 28, 2013

Some parents' extremes are cringe-worthy

From today's Briefing:

The performance hall auditorium darkens. Seats are filled with patrons dressed in their Sunday best. Some hold glossy programs, sold for $15 in the lobby. Some balance flower bouquets on their laps.

The curtain lifts to reveal a dramatically lit stage. Jubilant music begins. Dancers leap, twirl and glide with studied precision.

And then, someone from the audience hollers a dancer’s name.

“Woo hoo, Lucille!”

(Note: Not an actual dancer’s name at this recital.)

Apparently, once Pandora’s dance recital box is open, there’s no turning back. Because from that point forward, for the duration of an almost three-hour performance, audience members didn’t hesitate to raise their voices in the middle of numbers to demonstrate support for the dancers they love.

I’m no stranger to shouting out affection under appropriate circumstances. I’ve strained my voice on soccer fields and cheered from the sidelines of basketball courts. I’ve whooped at awards assemblies.

I draw the line, though, at singling out a dancer or two in the middle of an ensemble performance.

Can’t applause at the end of the number suffice?

No, no, certainly not. So we buy flowers wrapped in cellophane and tied with a ribbon to present at the end of the show. We buy ads in programs that proclaim our love, pride and best wishes.

And, apparently, we yell personalized huzzahs from theater seats.

I’m afraid that we’ve gotten so wrapped up in our little people and their achievements that we’ve forgotten our manners. We are convinced that our children aren’t just special but are extraordinary; worthy of praise above all others.

I left the recital with a twinge of disappointment, worried about my generation’s parenting quirks and the expectations we’re placing on our children.


The sun has set. Girl Scouts and their volunteer counselors use flashlights to navigate a park by the lake. Between activities, the girls sit on lids of plastic buckets. They wear wide-brimmed hats and handmade lanyards. They smell of sunscreen and bug repellant and snow-cone syrup.

They sing silly songs about squirrels, bubblegum, ravioli. They stand at attention as the American flag is lowered. Then they say goodbye and wait in carpool lines for rides home.

In the middle of all this fun, my Katie started to feel sad. She was exhausted from a full day that included tennis, swimming and playing with a friend, even before she arrived at the lake for twilight camp. She was a little homesick.

She sat on her bucket and cried.

In no time, she was surrounded by four friends — fellow Girl Scouts who’ve known one another for years. They comforted her with kind words. They acted goofy to make her laugh.

They weren’t performing or seeking accolades. They were demonstrating true compassion and friendship without adult intervention.


I’m often overwhelmed by the extremes of suburban life. Hypercompetitive room moms, over-the-top birthday parties, competitive cheerleading, company dance teams, elite volleyball, select soccer, baseball coaches who publish 7-year-olds’ statistics.

We adults have created and perpetuated an unhealthy climate for our kids.

They don’t need a trophy at the end of every single season. Or an elaborate end-of-school- year party with expensive entertainment and take-home gifts. Or their names hollered in the middle of a group performance.

If we stopped all that nonsense tomorrow, I’m absolutely certain they’d survive.

Because they are naturally, innately good.

We just need to learn when and how to get out of the way.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Friday, June 21, 2013

Wrap good memories in bad

From today's Briefing:

Like many a romantic comedy, the plot of my big romance that led to marriage included a breakup.
Steve and I had been dating long distance for about six months in December 1992. I thought everything was peachy. He did not, as he made excruciatingly clear during an awkward dinner at an Addison Tex-Mex restaurant with his parents and me. We broke up soon after. After some silence and reconsidering and forgiveness on both sides, we reunited six weeks later.
As for the scene of the beginning of the breakup — well, we had trouble forgiving and forgetting. We associated all our early-relationship angst with that Tex-Mex restaurant. It was years before we even tried eating there again.
The night that we relented and tried to reclaim the restaurant as a happy place, the service was slow and the food was mediocre. We left convinced that the restaurant was cursed and never returned. (Easy to do when surrounded by plentiful Tex-Mex options.)
We all have bad association memories — a song that reminds you of a tragic time, a smell that recalls a sadness, a locale that evokes dread.
My longest-lasting bad memory: The infamous English Muffin Pizza Incident of 1977.
This was my kindergarten year. Miss Green occasionally worked cooking into the curriculum, and one day she taught the class how to make English muffin pizzas. I convinced my parents to buy all the ingredients, and one night we tried to re-create the meal.
Assembly was smooth. The pizzas went into the oven. They smelled delicious as they baked.
We removed the cookie sheet from the oven and then realized trouble was afoot. The English muffins were stuck to the foil on which they’d been placed. The bottoms were burned, and there was no way to separate the pizzas from the foil.
This triggered a dramatic shouting match. As I recall, one parent had advised we use foil and the other parent said no foil. The one who said no foil felt vindicated, but really, no one won because we had no dinner.
I remember standing in the kitchen, devastated that I couldn’t replicate the classroom recipe and upset about the shouting.
I never again asked to make those pizzas. And as I grew up and tried to piece together the events leading to my parents’ divorce, I considered the English Muffin Pizza Incident as the harbinger.
Thirty-something years is a long time to hold a grudge against a recipe. Over the years, I realized that the English Muffin Pizza Incident was significant only to me, and that was because I’d held on to it for so long.
This week, I reclaimed the recipe. Our kitchen happened to be stocked with all the ingredients. I called Cooper and Katie in, and together we sliced English muffins, placed the halves on a cookie sheet (hold the foil), spread pizza sauce on the bread, sprinkled grated cheese on the sauce, and placed pepperoni and prosciutto on the cheese.
They baked for 11 minutes at 375 degrees and emerged from the oven bubbly and crisp but not a bit burnt.
This was no gourmet lunch. It was comfort food. Comfort because there was no shouting, no tears. Comfort because the three of us worked together. Comfort because it reminded me that we don’t have to forget bad memories, but we’re free to create better ones.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Happy 8th birthday, KT!

As avid Damm readers know by now, it's tradition around here to take a photo of the birthday child on the morning of the birthday.

Click here for last year's Katie roundup.

Good morning, sleepy 8-year-old! 
It's time to wake up and enjoy the day! 
Happy birthday, Katie!

Instead of the usual waffle, breakfast included a decorated sugar cookie.
She was most excited that the writing was in cursive.

After breakfast, she opened gifts from me, Cooper, the Stogsdill-Taruns and the Nguyens. 
She was thrilled with the gift from Cooper -- Saige, the American Girl doll of the year.

And still there's more celebrating to come! Happy 8th birthday to spirited Katie, an old soul who finds joy wherever she goes.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Our footing isn't firm in dance recital world

From today's Briefing:

There are two kinds of moms — those who embrace the dance recital and those who do not.
At the risk of offending the former, I declare myself a member of the latter.
We are in the throes of preparation for Katie’s first-ever — perhaps only? — dance recital, and I am reminded why, for so many years, we avoided any dance class that culminates in a big, showy show.
Let’s begin with the cost.
I have paid for dance tuition every month since September. I have paid a dance recital fee. I have paid a dance costume fee. I have purchased specific shoes. I have purchased theater tickets for the privilege of watching my daughter perform a two-minute piece.
And, from what I can tell from studio rehearsals, she’s dancing in the back row the whole time.
Perhaps she was placed there because she’s unusually tall. Or maybe because her hip-hop moves are, well, not so hip.
No reason to despair, though. I will have no trouble spotting her face, as her features will be highlighted by garish color.
For eight years now, I’ve done everything possible to instill in my daughter the idea that we are all beautiful just as created. We need no makeup or piercings or hair dye or surgical enhancement.
(Not that there’s anything wrong with any of those. I do not intend to offend an even greater demographic.)
So far her only splash of makeup has been nail polish. Next week, though, I will inexpertly apply foundation, blush, eyeliner, mascara, eye shadow and shocking pink lipstick to my freckle-faced daughter.
It’s not just her face that will shimmer unnaturally. You should see the costume. Katie calls it “almost too crazy to believe.”
Black Converse. Black pants. Fairly basic stuff. Until you get to the ball cap, punctuated with a mass of silver sequins. Under the hat is a shiny purple scarf thing that wraps around the forehead. The scarf matches a shiny purple jacket, worn over a sequined crop top.
At least I call it a crop top. Katie calls it a bra, always followed by a gaggle of giggles.
I think the idea is to unzip the jacket just enough so that you see the sequins and a touch of belly.
Why did we sign up for all this?
Well, I didn’t exactly understand how seriously folks take their dance recitals. (Perhaps I should have watched Dance Moms before enrolling.) And Katie really did want to try an organized dance class.
Turns out she’s more of a disorganized dancer.
As the school year progressed, the appeal of class waned. She prefers moving to music on her own terms — not in line or in turn. By early spring, she was reluctant to attend practice. I insisted she stick with it because she’d made a commitment of time, and I’d made a commitment of resources.
I didn’t realize we’d committed to overdone makeup and a partially exposed midriff.
I’m certain that the night of the big show, I’ll have a cheerful spirit. I’ll hold my breath as Katie boogies on stage. I’ll hand her a small bouquet of flowers when the show’s over. Afterward, we’ll celebrate the culmination of months of hard work with frozen yogurt and decadent toppings.
And then, Katie will likely retire from her studio career.
Nothing will stop her, though, from busting out dance moves whenever music plays, whenever her joy can’t be contained.
That’s something I’m happy to embrace.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Contact her at

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Summer so far

In an ideal dream world, I would spend summer days at home, sleeping late, reading, taking Cooper and Katie to the pool, visiting with friends, perusing library shelves and museum exhibits.

In this real world, though, I work, and I'm happy to have a good job not too far from home, with flexibility, nice people and health insurance.

And, really, Cooper and Katie aren't suffering.

This week they're sleeping late (well, late for them) and having great fun around Frisco with our dear friend Haley, who is helping take care of us for the fourth summer in a row. She is a huge blessing in our lives.

Just a snippet of the fun since the last bell on Friday -- and it's only noon Wednesday ...

  • Ice cream with Adam and Julie
  • Block party on Nightwind Court
  • Ballet Shoes evening with Maddie, including make-your-own pizzas, watching the movie and ice cream
  • Zooniversity show at the Frisco Public Library
  • Watched The Goonies and Jesus Christ Superstar at home
  • Watched Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs at the theater
  • Hope Park
  • Saturday morning at the pool
  • Picnic under trees
  • Lunch at Ikea (kids eat free on Tuesdays!)
  • Dinner with the Watland-Woody family
  • Rangers game (courtesy of the Trimble family, who have the best seats, three rows up from Nolan Ryan)
  • Lots and lots of reading (I've finally let Cooper read The Hunger Games series)

Seriously, that's more in five days than I would usually do all summer long in my own childhood. (I've totally got them beat, though, on episodes of The Brady Bunch, Gilligan's Island and Gidget.)

Katie, Thomas & Cooper at the Ballpark; that's Nolan Ryan's balding head in front of us (blue shirt)

Katie in her hip-hop recital costume (watch this space for an entire column devoted to the recital)

Checking out Hope Park on a really hot day

Can you spy a cute KT monster?
Lunch at Central Park, Frisco

A bonus dance video, shared by Cooper & Katie, which made me laugh out loud at work:

Friday, June 07, 2013

Peek at the future

From today's Briefing:

One of the many perks of long-lasting relationships is knowing and befriending the children of your childhood friends.
We spent last weekend in Houston at the home of one of my best friends. Jayshree and I met when we were 13, and though we haven’t lived in the same town since we graduated high school, we’ve continued to endure challenges and celebrate joys together.
She and her husband have a 16-year-old son, Devan, who is the perfect combination of the two of them — funny, smart, kind, social, outspoken.
A bonus of hanging out with my longtime friend and her teenage son: a sneak preview of parenting teenagers. They are five years ahead of us, and I appreciate the peek into our own future, even while wanting time to slow down.
When we arrived Friday night, Devan wasn’t home, and a car was missing from the garage. He was out with friends, though no one was really sure where. Jayshree and Sanjay weren’t worried. He’s earned their trust.
Devan eventually came home and told us about dinner and a movie with friends. As he spoke, I imagined my own son with a set of car keys and the freedom to roam. Cooper behind the wheel is a frightening image.
But my son is 11. He’s been granted freedoms appropriate for his age, like riding his bike solo and watching some (not all) PG-13 movies. He’s proven that he’s responsible enough for those freedoms. He obeys bike laws. He can handle limited, mature content — and will ask questions if there’s something he doesn’t understand.
And when Cooper falters — like the day I saw him cross the street on his bike without looking both ways — his freedoms are reined in a little. There will be plenty of two steps forward, one step back moments before we reach the driving years. By the time he’s 16, I’m hoping to be comfortable with (or at least not terrified by) my firstborn navigating the mean streets of Frisco.
After everyone else is asleep at the Houston house, Jayshree and I always stay up late to visit. Conversation invariably turns to the past (dramatic high school memories, where-are-they-now updates) and parenting.
Long gone are the days of car seats and timeouts. On this visit, we talked about the balance between high expectations for your child and letting your child make his own decisions.
Is it appropriate to punish your child for a grade below potential? Or is the low grade itself enough of a consequence?
We talked about the difference between offering opportunities and forcing participation. We lamented overbearing, helicopter parents while acknowledging some of the same traits in ourselves.
And we talked about college. Devan is just two years from high school graduation — a fact I find hard to believe even with all the evidence before me. This summer, between basketball camps and volunteer work, he’ll study for the PSAT (something his mom and I did together). Campus visits aren’t far behind.
We discussed the increasingly competitive admissions process of big schools, plus lesser-known colleges that offer a more personal experience. We debated the power of a liberal arts degree, the futility of a business degree.
Leaving Houston was difficult, knowing that the next time I see Devan, he’ll have discarded more remnants of childhood. Next time, I’ll catch even more glimpses of the man he’s becoming, the kind of friend he’ll be for years to come.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. She can be reached at

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

No Slip 'n Slide

You may recall that last year on the last day of school Katie fell on a friend's Slip 'n Slide and broke her collarbone. (Need a refresher? Click here.)

She is determined to avoid the same fate this year.

She added to the hallway calendar the international symbol for "no Slip 'n Slide." (As if we needed a reminder.)