Friday, July 26, 2013

Rites of passage don't always go smoothly

From today's Briefing:

Out of nowhere, my needle-averse child asked to get her ears pierced.

The signs were all there, I suppose. Every few weeks, I’d hear about another friend with pierced ears. She started taking more interest in my earrings. She received a doll for her birthday with pierced ears.

Still, I was taken aback when Katie said she would willingly allow someone to poke holes in her ears.

This is the child who melts down at the mention of a doctor’s visit because of the slight chance that shots might be involved. The child who requires sedation for basic dental work. The same child who screamed so loudly for so long during allergy testing that the veteran nurse opted to stop testing halfway through.

I didn’t try to dissuade her from the piercing, but I did encourage her to talk to friends about the experience. All of them insisted that it didn’t hurt.

Sunday afternoon we arrived at the mall. We found the accessories shop. Katie selected a pair of sparkly blue starter earrings. She climbed into the tall chair, her back to the window that faces heavy mall traffic.

The ear-piercing specialist assembled tools. The meltdown began.

“Oh, I really want to do this,” Katie said as she cried, “but I’m really freaked out.”

The young woman began working to soothe my frightened child.

“It won’t hurt. It just stings a little.” That didn’t help at all.

“Let me explain what’s going to happen.” Her explanation escalated the meltdown.

“What is your favorite animal?”

“A [sob] baby [sob] harp [sob] seal.”

“I don’t even know what that is. Do you like puppies?”

Katie nodded.

The young woman left and returned, this time with another employee and a handful of small stuffed animals from stock in the back — an octopus, turtle and puppy. Alas, no baby harp seal.

The idea: Katie would clutch these treasures to take her mind off the impending piercing. The reality: Not even the world’s cutest, fluffiest critter would convince her to relax.

Every now and then I would offer phrases like, “You’re very brave” and “You don’t have to do this. I mean, I support you if you want to, but you don’t have to.” I offered to hold her hands. I offered to sing and dance (and I am good at neither). I promised a treat — any treat — if she would allow the piercing to happen.

I did not mention the folks on the other side of the window, who were stopping to stare and point and talk about freaked-out Katie.

After about 20 minutes of crying, screaming, cajoling and negotiating, Katie finally relented.

I moved out of the way. The earring specialists moved in. Katie relaxed her shoulders slightly.

One piercer to the other: “One, two, three.”


Scream. Lots of screams. More crying.

But the tiny gemstone daisies were in place.

I stopped holding my breath. I told Katie that she is beautiful and brave. I took a photo. I took a couple more, hoping for one in which she wasn’t screaming.

We paid for the half hour of torture, left the shop and headed for a smoothie stand to celebrate.

Katie says she made the right choice. She’s been found a few times this week in front of the mirror, admiring the sparkle. She’s diligent about applying solution to her ears and twisting the posts three times daily.

Every now and then, out of nowhere, she’ll say, “I can’t believe I have earrings.”

Neither can I, child.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Before the drama begins

Many tearful minutes later

Friday, July 19, 2013

Camp prep is more than a packing list

From today's Briefing:

The Damm house has been planning for summer camp since, well, last summer.
We’re the sort who like to dream aloud about adventures — a great cure for occasional doldrums. And I’m the sort who overcomes worry about worst-case scenarios by plotting for multiple contingencies.
Cooper, a longtime Scout, is skilled at taking care of himself away from home. Perhaps not with the same hygienic standards I’d prefer, but nothing that gets in the way of survival. Give him a list, and he’ll gather and pack everything on his own.
Katie, though, has never been away from family for more than a night or two. Prepping her for a week away has required strategic planning.
Early in the process, she learned how to wash, condition and brush her long hair without assistance. After she mastered these skills, she focused on fixing her hair. Her go-to ’do is a low ponytail, slightly askew.
She has also mastered wiggling into and taking off a one-piece swimsuit — when wet. Any girl will agree that’s no easy feat.
Throughout spring, she brainstormed outfit ideas for theme nights — a sequined T-shirt and feather boa for movie mania night, a turquoise T-shirt covered in shells for under-the-sea night, an assemblage of green gear for luck o’ the Irish night.
Ensembles were individually packed in gallon-size plastic bags and placed in her trunk in calendar order.
We’ve devised strategies for homesickness. Her plan for staving off crying spells:
1. Take deep breaths.
2. Hug my stuffed animal.
3. Look at photos of family members.
4. Write letters to Mom.
5. Think of all the fun I’m missing if I’m crying instead of playing.
Finally, after seasons of anticipation, we arrived at camp Sunday afternoon.
Katie claimed the top bunk in her cabin — huge on her priority list — and gentlemanly Cooper bounded up the wooden ladder to make her bed.
We walked with her to the pool, where she passed a requisite swimming test. She wouldn’t allow us to walk back with her, insisting that she find her cabin without help.
We hung back a few yards, stopping when she stopped, which was often on account of all the pinecones on the ground, just begging to be scooped up and added to her collection.
Katie meandered right by her cabin, prompting Cooper to run ahead and steer her in the right direction.
After she changed out of her wet swimsuit — no help required — we visited the camp store, so she could investigate snack options and plot purchases for the week.
Then it was time to say goodbye.
“You don’t need to walk me to my cabin,” my 8-year-old said. “We can say goodbye here.”
We hugged. I took a photo. She skipped away. I stood still to watch her cross the wooden bridge leading back to her cabin. I waved in case she turned her head in my direction.
No tears from Katie. No tears from me. I hadn’t planned on that.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at
Katie on Sunday, driving in to Pine Cove Towers

Sunday, July 14, 2013


I've written before about the many similarities between Katie and Gramma Kathryn, for whom Katie is named.

This morning at church, we sang "How Great Thou Art" -- not a song we sing often.

About two lines into the song, Katie had tears in her eyes and grasped me. She whispered that she felt didn't feel well but didn't know why.

I placed my left arm around her shoulder, and we continued to sing.

Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee;
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee:
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!

When the hymn was finished, all was well.

I suspect why she became emotional during the song. The hymn was one of Gramma Kathryn's favorites. 

Somehow, I believe, Kathryn's spirit has some sway with dear Katie.


Column from February 2010:

When Steve and I named our daughter after my maternal grandmother, we had no idea how fitting the gesture would be.
Just days before Gramma passed away, a sonogram showed that our second child was a girl. And then we started calling her Baby Katie - short for Kathryn.
I wasn't able to tell Gramma Kathryn about our expected girl, and even if I had, she wouldn't have really understood. She was in the final stages of Alzheimer's disease - cruel and merciful at the same time.
Five months later, little Kathryn was born. Ever since, she's shown signs that she's a kindred spirit with the elder Kathryn.
How to describe them both? Effusive. Eccentric. Opinionated. Confident. Poetic.
Gramma loved brightly colored, comfortable clothes. Ditto for Katie. Gramma was warm natured, refusing heavy blankets and eschewing hot weather. Her great granddaughter is the same. They share an appreciation for natural beauty and tiny details.
Gramma wrote poetry for years - first rhyming and then nonrhyming. She was published in multiple journals and was active in her town's poetry circle.
Katie, though not yet 5, often speaks with an innate lyrical quality.
"I have many hearts," she once mused. "Red for love and yellow for sunshine."
This week I gave her a green cup of juice and her brother a yellow cup.
"Why did you give me the green?" she asked.
"Because it's the color of grass and trees," I answered.
"Why not yellow, the color of the sun and bees?" was her quick reply.
Gramma welcomed philosophical discussions, just like Katie. Granted, Katie has a lot to philosophize about. Her sweet daddy was diagnosed with brain cancer when she was 2 and a half. He died not long after she turned 4.
When my aunt drove away last Friday after a weeklong visit, Katie waved big from the driveway and hollered, "I'm going to miss you as much as Daddy lived!"
She talks about our substantial loss daily. This weekend was especially poignant. She created a Valentine's card for Steve and talked and sang about him even more than usual.
"Valentine's Day is all about sharing and caring and loving," she said. "And what's most important is that Daddy is in heaven and still loves us."
She has big thoughts about souls. Her current theory is that just before people die, their spirits move out and get ready to move into a baby. When she weaves these ideas, mixing her fanciful thoughts with our faith's theology, I just listen, careful to not get in the way.
Next week Gramma's poetry group is going to honor her and other dead poets with a memorial reading. My aunt has suggested that they include "I Shall Return," a favorite Kathryn Thomas creation.
Should I not chance
to pass this way again
hold tight to every shred
of beauty here,
hide them away
to bring to light
some future year.
Great Pinnacles
of stone and strength
rise from canyon floors
like ageless ghosts
against the sky.
Far below where squirrel
and chipmunk play
a river winds
and liquid eyes
reflect this day.
O could that I recall
these things I see
as does that stream, with
equal depth and clarity.
I'll bury deep within
each wondrous thing
then I'll know forever
my soul shall sing.
Rereading Gramma's words this week brought me great comfort and gave me a new way to describe how the elder Kathryn is entwined with the younger - their souls sing together.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. E-mail her at

Before church this morning

Friday, July 12, 2013

Time and love are the longest-lasting gifts

From today's Briefing:

My sister and I spent many summer days and nights at our grandparents’ home.
The morning routine included word games and card games with Gramma. We’d wrap up midday in time forThe Young and the Restless and Days of Our Lives, with lunch prepared during commercials.
Early afternoon was naptime. Well, naptime for Gramma. My sister and I would read, rifle through photo albums, forage for snacks, occasionally venture outside to brave bugs and the Central Texas heat.
We’d resume games in the late afternoon. Maybe work on a craft project.
As afternoon shifted to early evening, Melane and I would change from play clothes into swimsuits, wrap our bodies in towels, and perch on the sofa at the front of the house.
Grandpa would walk in the door, weary from a day of managing the parts department at a car dealership in town. He would say hello to Gramma, fix himself a drink, then climb back in the pickup to drive his granddaughters to the community swimming pool.
My sister and I would practice underwater somersaults and handstands, play Marco Polo and sing all the words to “Jack & Diane.” Grandpa would sit under an umbrella, read, sip his adult beverage and return our enthusiastic waves.
He’d eventually wave us out of the water to return home, where dinner and Wheel of Fortune awaited.
I’m certain that we thanked them often for the meals and outings. I’m also certain that we didn’t fully appreciate what their time meant until we became adults and then parents.
Gramma drew from a deep well of patience to explain the intricacies of Scrabble and Skip-Bo and then play those games over and over with young children.
Grandpa sacrificed deserved air-conditioned rest at the end of the day, instead sitting in brutal heat, surrounded by a bunch of loud kids.
We were showered with love, in the form of triple-word squares and sun-drenched afternoons, homemade fried chicken and listening ears. We could measure the love in time and effort and tender care. There was no extra money for lavish gifts — and we didn’t suffer a smidge.
How do my children know that I love them? I tell them so every day, but words are hollow without action.
It’s easy to trick myself into believing that they can measure love in the value of Christmas and birthday gifts (bigger is better, right?). My budget won’t allow for reckless spending, though, and my warm memories remind me they don’t need it.
Maybe they know they’re loved because they wake up to breakfast every morning or because we forge adventures around town on the weekends. Because we read books together at bedtime or because most Fridays end with movies in the family room.
As they become adults, I hope that they’ll know they are loved because they grew up in a home with rules and structure — and a whole bunch of grace. I hope they recall home as the place they were safe and accepted without reservation.
I hope they remember evenings at the neighborhood pool and homemade (not fancy) dinners at home — and that they re-create the same for their own children.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

12 and 8

Ann, a colleague and friend from The Dallas Morning News, is taking a photography course, and she asked if she could take photos of Cooper and Katie for one of her assignments.

We met last night at a park near the house. Cooper and Katie were at ease with Ann right away, and in no time they were acting silly and posing. (Well, that was mostly Katie.)

A few of the photos from the evening of 12-year-old Cooper and 8-year-old Katie:

Happy birthday, Cooper!

For the first time ever, I didn't get to see Cooper on his birthday. He was away at Boy Scout camp, having great adventures at Slippery Falls Scout Ranch near Tishomingo, Okla.

I briefly considered getting up at 4 a.m. and driving north to storm his tent to take the traditional "wake up on your birthday" photo. But, alas, turning 12 comes with deserved independence. And I need my sleep.

So, a Scout mom who almost always volunteers to go on camping trips agreed to take a photo of Cooper on July 3.

July 3, 2013: 12-year-old Cooper
While at camp, he completed four merit badges: fishing, canoeing, pottery and veterinary science. He came home with one or two bug bites (though no ticks or leeches, he was proud to say), a couple of bruises and great memories.

Happy birthday, dear Cooper D!

Friday, July 05, 2013

Laundry brings up issues of relinquishing control

From today's Briefing:

As school was ending, I boldly declared that this season would be known as the Summer of Laundry Skills.
Before school begins again, I want Cooper and Katie fully trained on the laundry process — sorting, washing, drying, folding, putting away. (We’ll save ironing for a little later.)
One month in, I’m realizing that I should have called it the Summer That Mom Might Learn to Relinquish Control.
I’ve been doing laundry since I was 12 — the same age as Cooper.
My earliest laundry skills were honed at a Laundromat. My mom was a housekeeper at the time, which meant she dirtied a lot of towels, which meant we might spend an entire Saturday afternoon manning machines.
I learned what needed bleach, when to pour in fabric softener, how much could be shoved into a dryer before compromising drying time.
As I got older and was responsible for buying my own clothes, I started taking a much more personal interest in laundry and which items needed to be washed separately or hung dry or laid flat. (There’s no quicker way to learn about the perils inherent in new red pants than to wash a pair with a new white T-shirt.)
After years of deciphering tags and fabrics, I find myself in a battle, one that comes up again and again in the parenting years: letting go vs. holding on.
Why is it difficult to let go?
In this case, because it’s faster and easier to do it myself. Because all the rules are in my head. Because I don’t want to explain all the quirks. Because I think I’ll make fewer mistakes.
Of course, a lot more harm could come from shielding my children from the harsh realities of chores.
I don’t believe in pushing adult concerns into childhood, but there are basic life skills that they need to learn — and I don’t intend to spend the summer before college offering a crash course in all housekeeping matters. When they set the table, put away clean dishes, water plants, take out the trash and wipe down counters, they are contributing to the (sort of) smooth operation of our home. They experience what it means to be a member of a team working toward a common goal — a pleasant place to live.
And even though it takes me longer to explain the intricacies of sorting dirty laundry than to actually do the sorting, if I keep it all to myself, I’m depriving my kids of the satisfaction that comes from learning and mastering tasks.
Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, my go-to expert on child care and development, has a series of videos on WebMD. In one of the interviews, he addresses the issue of chores, saying that parents should start assigning them at age 2 or younger. And he acknowledges that not enough families are doing so.
“I do think that parents are trying to protect their children now,” Brazelton says. “Probably because they feel so stressed, they want to protect their children from stress. … We cannot promise our kids a safe world. So what can we give them instead? We can give them resilience. We can give them a feeling of ‘I know how to do things and I can do them.’ And those kids will be ready for whatever they have to face.”
This is not only the Summer of Laundry Skills and the Summer That Mom Might Learn to Relinquish Control. It’s the Summer of Resilience. We can all use a dose of that.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at