Sunday, January 27, 2013

Magic of the Moment

Katie earned two Awards of Excellence in this year's PTA Reflections contest, themed "The Magic of the Moment."
Katie, after Friday's assembly
Katie in November, with her pastel drawing "First Look of Life," drawn from a photo of Steve holding newborn Baby Katie


The Magic of the Beach
By Kathryn Damm

When I am at the beach, I feel the soft, smooth sand.
It feels so light on my toes. It feels just grand.

When I am at the beach, I see the waves crash.
They look so splendid when they splash.

When I am at the beach, I smell the strong sunscreen.
People, towels and umbrellas are part of the scene.

When I am at the beach, I taste delicious ice cream.
It seems like I’m in a dream.

When I am at the beach, I hear the seagulls squawking.
The birds sound like they’re almost talking.

When I am at the beach, it really is quite fun
Because I love to sit in the sun.

Before church this morning

Friday, January 25, 2013

Fostering honesty still the best path with kids

From today's Briefing:

Last week we learned officially that Lance Armstrong lied about doping and that a Notre Dame football player’s dead “girlfriend” was an elaborate hoax.

These are awfully big lies, on a grand stage, with enormous consequences.

Armstrong’s case, especially, offers an excellent illustration of the eventual cost of deceit.

This week, I spoke with Dr. Wendy Middlemiss, associate professor in the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of North Texas and mom of a 15-year-old son, about teaching children the value of honesty.

“Honesty is hard,” Middlemiss says. “It has to be rewarded. It’s important to help kids understand that it’s one of the fibers of a community. And we need to be kind in how we say things.”

Here are excerpts from our conversation.

Do you believe that honesty is still an important value in America? I do. I think it is an essential value for any society.

Lying is something that happens as children grow up. We finally learn around age 5, 6, 7 that other people don’t know what we know, what we think. That’s when little children start lying about things like, “Did you eat the last cookie?”

We experiment with saying no because it’s so much easier. If you don’t know the answer, then maybe you’ll believe it. It’s easier to lie because what they did will get them in trouble. But the cost of lying is very high.

Adolescents tend to tell stories. It’s lying in many ways. It’s usually stories that are similar to the football player at Notre Dame.

Adolescents are beginning to define themselves, putting all of the pieces of their history together so that it paints a picture. Very often, they’ll say things that aren’t true.

For most adolescents, it’s not meant to be harmful. It’s part of the process of identifying who they are. It’s important for adults to point out that it’s very damaging.

What are appropriate consequences for lying? With any sort of punishment, it’s best to go back to what that cost is and what you’ve lost in lying.

If you lied to me about brushing your teeth, and part of what you’ve been able to do is have your own routine to go to bed, to brush your teeth, and you haven’t done it, I can’t trust you anymore. Now you have to do it at my convenience. This is what you’ve lost.

It’s the same for teens. You’re losing trust. You can say, “If I can’t trust you to take a shower, wash your hair and brush your teeth, then how am I ever going to trust you to take my car to the drugstore and pick up vitamins and come back? I have to trust everything you say.”

What are some effective ways for parents to model honesty? We need to be honest. Sometimes that means acknowledging something about us that we don’t want to. If we’re driving and we yell at another driver, we have to acknowledge, “I shouldn’t have done that; that wasn’t helpful.”

We might practice with our children how to be honest and be nice. Teach your child to say something not dishonest but also not hurtful.

We have to be honest with our children. I might say to my son, “I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you. Can you repeat what you said?” We have to show them how to be honest and respectful. He will see that I could have pretended I listened, but I wouldn’t have known what he said. Model the benefits of being honest.

Are there acceptable exceptions? Are there times when it’s OK to lie? I’m sure that there are. But I don’t think that’s where you want to start.

That’s going to be a real adolescent question. “Do you think I should have just told her that her outfit looked awful? I could tell her that. That is the truth. Is it necessary for me to be truthful then? Can I say something else?”

There’s a difference from being deceitful for your own gain.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Friday, January 18, 2013

Sports can sometimes be so serious that we lose out on fun

From today's Briefing:

One of the joys of living in a community that caters to families is that there are ample opportunities for lessons and competition related to arts, sports, science and more.
Here in Frisco — and in many other communities — we take the business of raising our children seriously. Sometimes we’re so serious, in fact, that we suck the joy right out, filling the void with frustration and anger.
Take, for example, soccer.
Cooper plays on a recreational team, part of a group of sixth-grade boys who have played together since preschool.
Three of the dads volunteer as coaches. Expenses are minimal. Uniforms aren’t fancy. We don’t cross city lines to play or spend our weekends at cutthroat tournaments.
There aren’t many rec teams left by sixth grade. Most of the kids who still play are on club or select teams that require tryouts, hefty fees, paid coaches and multiple practices each week.
The kids on those select teams work hard to meet high expectations set by themselves, their parents and the team. They are passionately focused on skills and techniques. Their families sacrifice time and resources to support them.
It’s not the choice that our family has pursued, but it’s the right choice for many families.
Usually, rec teams play only rec teams, and select teams play only select.
In the winter, though, when soccer is almost exclusively indoors and the stakes are lower, teams mix it up. The select teams keep playing to stay sharp. Our ragtag team plays because the boys love to play together.
We ragtag parents know that because we’ve chosen to live in a competitive community that values kids — sometimes to an extreme — and because our sons don’t play at the same level as most of the other boys, there’s a high probability that our team is going to lose.
We don’t want to lose. We don’t tell the boys that we think they’ll lose. We are supportive. We are engaged from the first kickoff to the final buzzer. We applaud and holler for every block and every shot.
When a ref makes a questionable call, we grumble. When our sons score, we go a little crazy.
Last Sunday night, our boys played a particularly strong team. Their bench was deep. Every player was solid. Some of their parents wore team jerseys.
Their boys scored some beautiful goals shot from seemingly impossible angles with admirable precision.
Halfway through the second half, the select team was winning, 8-0. No one in that indoor arena doubted who would win.
Still, our rec boys didn’t give up. They were anxious to score at least once and to defend their goal.
Who else didn’t give up? The other team’s coach.
This man maintained his intensity and fine-tuned screaming skills for the duration. He coached until the very end as if this match would determine the World Cup lineup.
Sixth-grader misses a shot on goal? Yell at him. Another teammate passes the ball when you wanted him to dribble? Yell at him. Allow the rec team to finally score one goal? Yell even louder.
He couldn’t scream loud enough to drown out our celebratory whoops.
That goal was our only score. Our opponents scored a couple more times. They earned their win and bragging rights.
Would they have won with a quieter, less angry second-half coach? Almost without a doubt. I suspect that team will never know, though. Because raising kids and pushing them to win, to be the best, is serious business around these parts.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Friday, January 11, 2013

Mom may help prepare, but son takes the plunge

From today's Briefing:

Being a mom to an 11-year-old requires a constant readjustment of roles.
Sometimes I’m as hands-off as possible. Other moments require intense supervision. In the middle is a whole bunch of squishy gray.
Some of the hands-off parenting is forced, such as when Cooper is camping with Boy Scouts. Cooper and I have a little joke: “It’s called Boy Scouts, not Mom Scouts.”
It’s my way of reminding him that he needs to be responsible for tracking his requirements for rank advancement and merit badges or for gathering supplies and packing for a weekend away.
And it’s his way of reminding me that when he’s out camping, he lives by slightly different rules than when he’s at home.
The most recent trip was a four-day winter camp in East Texas. The troop left while there was still snow on the ground from Christmas Day.
Cooper’s footlocker contained plenty of cold-weather gear — gloves, hand warmers, hats, thick socks — and a pair of swim trunks.
Winter camp includes a polar bear swim — an opportunity for boys and Scout leaders to jump in a cold lake, swim out a few yards and back, then boast about surviving.
I’d cautioned Cooper that if he chose to be a polar bear, he’d probably be cold for the rest of the day, as there’d be no hot shower to recover in, no true shelter from the elements.
But it’s not Mom Scouts, so I didn’t forbid him. Instead I worried long-distance for four days about him staying free from frostbite.
Cooper did jump in the lake at 6 one morning, when the air temperature was 21 degrees and the lake about 35 degrees. He describes not being able to breathe well or feel his fingers afterward. But he survived, and I did, too.
Still, he needs me plenty.
He’s only halfway through sixth grade, and already we’re plotting strategy for college. Cooper wants to be an engineer, and one of his college choices is Texas A&M University.
Automatic admission currently requires that a student be in the top 10 percent of his graduating class.
So, why are we planning now? Because some seventh- and eighth-grade classes can earn high school credit. And with the credit comes grades that count toward a high school GPA. And with that comes the concern that the study skills and abilities of a middle-school student will potentially drag down a GPA.
The benefit of early coursework could outweigh the risks. If Cooper is ready for the challenge, he’ll be freeing up his high school schedule for specialized coursework in technology and engineering.
Is the prospect of getting ahead worth it, even if he might earn a low A or a B in middle school — a grade that could doom his chances of being one of the top 50 or so kids in his graduating class?
As we ponder that question, just weeks from seventh-grade registration, I’ve got bigger questions. Why is it all so complicated? Why should an 11-year-old be concerned with how he’ll get into a university? Why should the mom of an 11-year-old be so worried?
In the past week, I’ve described to Cooper the process of applying to universities. I’ve told him I will support his choices and help in whatever way I can. I’ve told him how much work will be required to get into A&M. I’ve told him that there are plenty of excellent engineering programs across the country and that he has plenty of time to decide what’s best for him.
And I’ve told him that I love him and love being his mom, no matter how much supervision is required. We’re in this survival thing together.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Friday, January 04, 2013

Freedom to wander, play just as important as rest

From today's Briefing (with photos from the day here):

Sunday is anything but a day of rest.
A typical example: We leave the house by 8 a.m., sometimes a little earlier if my Sunday school class has requested doughnuts.
We attend worship service from 8:30 until 9:30. The kids go to their Sunday school classes, and I head for the youth room, where I help lead discussion with middle-school students.
From 11 a.m. until 12:15 p.m., we have time for lunch, but not enough time to drive all the way home, so we eat out.
We return to church in time for Cooper’s piano lesson.
We finally get home, but we don’t linger for long.
I drive Katie to a nearby home for Destination Imagination practice. Not long after, I drop Cooper off at another church, this time for a Boy Scouts meeting. If I have a list and am especially focused, I can grocery shop, unload food at home and return to Katie’s practice by 3:30.
We have exactly one hour before Cooper’s meeting is done, and then we’re home for good — barring an indoor soccer game or cotillion meeting — by 4:45 p.m., which affords time for homework finishing, dinner preparing, eating, bedtime reading and, finally, sleeping.
It’s a crazy day, yes, and it would seem prudent to trim an activity or two. But at this point I’ve written off the whole day. I know what to expect, and I know how to order the rest of our week (as much as is in my control) to accommodate the schedule.
One of the greatest gifts of the holiday season is a break from routine. Meetings and practices are mercifully put on hold. When presented with a Sunday afternoon completely free of obligation, our family had two choices: go home and rest or get out and explore.
We all voted for adventure.
We ate lunch in Oak Cliff and admired glitzy Christmas decorations downtown. Then we sought refuge from the city at one of our all-time favorite museums, the Nasher Sculpture Center.
We wandered the garden, spending time with My Curves Are Not MadBronze Crowd and Night. We sat. We listened to water. Some of us even danced a little.
After spending time with the old, we set out for something new. We walked a couple of blocks north to experience Klyde Warren Park for the first time. We played pingpong (and discovered that it’s much easier as an indoor, wind-free game). Katie hugged a few trees — specifically the ones outfitted with trunk sweaters and hand-knit snails and birds.
Cooper and Katie played a mostly friendly game of chess (he won, but just barely) while I read the newspaper.
They refused to let their church clothes get in the way of climbing, running, spinning and jumping on the playground. (I did forewarn, “Do not go near the spray park.”)
As we meandered across the park, I marveled at our leisurely pace, our wide-open schedule that demanded absolutely nothing.
I made a silent promise to ditch obligations — sooner not later — so that we could wander again without a constant eye on the clock. That freedom from rigid expectation can be just as precious as rest.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at