Sunday, April 28, 2013

Before Sunday school this morning

Friday, April 26, 2013

Learning with your child is a big parenting perk

From today's Briefing:

One of the great perks of parenthood is drawing from the innate enthusiasm of children.

I’ve driven into downtown Dallas thousands of times. I’m a little numb to the experience. But every time we journey as a family from the north into downtown, Cooper and Katie find details worthy of exclamation. The arena! The tall green building! Reunion Tower!

Another perk: learning details about the world that you somehow missed — or possibly forgot — during childhood.

When, say, Cooper is immersed in a self-taught study of Greek gods or the Civil War, I get to hear all about it.

Katie’s been on a zoology kick for a couple of years now, so the whole house knows about dolphins and harp seals, wild turkeys and porcupines. We’ve watched every episode of Wild Kratts multiple times.
Imagine, then, the enthusiasm level attached to an overnight stay at the Dallas Zoo.

We! Were! Super! Excited!

I help lead Katie’s Girl Scout troop, which, in this case, means that I helped convince all the other Brownie mommas to spend the night removed from the comforts of home. In a giant room with a concrete floor. Not far from wild animals.

The field trip was a success, save the lack of restful sleep. (The word sleepover has always been a misnomer.)

Our suburban crew started the adventure in the reptile house. Before we entered, though, we heard the unmistakable roar of lions.

A serenade, our zookeeper called it. Then he shared the most comforting news of the night: There are “Code Red” animals that are doubly locked away after hours. That roar would be our only sign of the most dangerous zoo residents.

We relied on flashlights to check out a healthy collection of venomous snakes. We learned the difference between a deadly coral snake (red touch yellow, kill a fellow) and a harmless milk snake (red touch black, friend of Jack).

We stared in awe at Butter, an albino, yellow and white, 20-foot reticulated python. Butter was safely contained behind glass, but we learned that the 200-pound snake likes exercise and gets to slither freely on the floor — the very floor on which we stood — in the mornings before patrons arrive.

Our tour continued, offering hands-on interaction with dead animals in the form of wallets and jackets, shoes and doodads — a lesson designed to encourage protection of endangered species. We handled a few live animals, too, gingerly petting a snake (a fraction of Butter’s size), a lizard and an opossum (much cuter than I’d expected).

Our zookeeper-led discussions covered habitat, adaptation, natural predators, diet and more. Did you know that flamingos mate for life? That the okapi wasn’t recognized as a distinct species outside of its native Africa until the early 1900s? That the blue-tongued skink tries to trick predators into thinking it’s a death adder snake?

After so much learning and exploring and some campfire s’mores, the group was more than ready to settle into sleeping bags and inflatable mattresses. By midnight, we were in bed, if not exactly asleep.

The next morning included breakfast (mercifully with some coffee for moms) and more touring and animal watching before we shoved our gear into minivans and SUVs for the drive home.

Katie was too tired on the trek north to say much about the flashy Omni Hotel or the waterfall billboard. She did say, before “resting” her eyes, “Momma, thank you for zoo sleepover. I’ll never forget it.”

That’s one of the other great perks of parenthood: creating memories with your child that you’ll both remember forever.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Katie on a butterfly bench at the Dallas Zoo (photos by Julianne Amezcua)

Brave Girl Scout leader

Friday, April 19, 2013

Rely on the strength of love during hard times

From today's Briefing:

I’ve had one of those crummy weeks, the kind that might convince a person to grump about like Eeyore, muttering, “Woe is me.”
The minivan required four new tires.
I’m walking around on an achy right leg, cause yet undetermined.
And I came home from work Monday to find water dripping from the kitchen ceiling. We apparently need a new evaporator for the air conditioner.
By the time I reached Katie’s dance studio Monday evening, I was droopy, dejected and on the verge of despair. I unraveled my gloomy tales in front of a small audience of sympathetic friends, all the while imagining how pathetic I must sound, complaining about minor troubles just hours after the Boston Marathon bombings.
Did my friends chide me for moping? Nope. They listened. They hugged me. They never once diminished my sadness. They surrounded me with love.
Love. That’s almost always the answer, I learn again and again.
Incredibly, our love is limitless.
Social media is overflowing this week with stories of unabashed love in Boston. True heroes running toward danger. Able strangers lifting and carrying the wounded to safety. Daddies protecting their babies.
Those images were still fresh Wednesday night, when tiny West, Texas, was devastated by an earth- shattering explosion at a fertilizer plant. And, once again, heroes stepped in to make sense of the chaos, to comfort the afflicted.
When people around us are suffering, we instinctively extend our love.
It’s the kind of love that we all have inside us, that we can lavish on the people around us, in the middle of crisis or in the middle of a common Friday afternoon.
We can pray for kind souls to surround those survivors and grieving families. We can donate money to relief funds. We can donate blood here, in honor of a victim there.
We can model peace for our children.
We can also seek to comfort the people who surround us, because every single one of us is in the middle of some kind of struggle.
We all benefit from kind words and unexpected grace. And at the very same time we receive such gifts, we can extend them. We’ll never, ever run out of gentle words, and we have the ability to share them with as many people as we can find.
Our world is imperfect. Bad things are going to happen. We continue to discover that our allegedly safe places aren’t guaranteed refuges from danger. A movie theater. An elementary school building. The finish line at a marathon.
No matter how many good choices you make, no matter how young or old you are, there’s no guarantee of safety from natural disaster or illness, from freak accidents or the cruel whims of damaged people.
Love will not resurrect third-grader Martin Richard, killed by the breathtaking violence of Monday’s bombs. But love can help to sustain his family and friends. Kind acts and words can soothe a tiny portion of their pain.
In the face of the kind of tragedy we can’t explain, the sort that leaves us grappling for words and grasping for answers, we can rely on the steady power of love. Love that moves us to share food, water and shelter, that pushes us out of comfort zones, that diminishes our differences, that celebrates our unity, that salves the jagged edges of sorrow.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Carlos Arrendondo (in the hat) helps Jeff Bauman in the moments after the Boston bombings.
(Photo: Charles Krupa/Associated Press)

Friday, April 12, 2013

Journey back to school

From today's Briefing:

A surefire way to feel middle- aged: Drive a minivan from the suburbs to your alma mater to request your college transcript from a student who probably wasn’t born yet when you graduated.
Further proof of my middle-aged-ness: While I wandered the campus for the first time in 20 years, I was composing words of advice for my children.
Dear Cooper and Katie,
I’m not consumed with regrets. My past is littered with mistakes, but those missteps are part of an ongoing journey that has placed me in this community, in this house, as your mom. This is exactly where I want to be, and you are whom I want to be with.
For most of my college years, I was a messy mess. I can’t go back to fix that now, but I can share some of my mistakes — and hope that you might avoid similar troubles.
My school wasn’t my first choice, but it was the one I could afford. Instead of embracing the experience, I was sometimes a little grumpy. I wish I had arrived at every class with the cheerful spirit that you both have when you leave for school each morning.
If you spy my grades from those years, you’ll see that I didn’t always do my best. I slept through more lectures than I can count. (I don’t recommend 8 a.m. classes in giant lecture halls — too easy to blend in, then zone out, if you’re exhausted.)
I struggled with balance — academic life, personal life, work.
I ate terribly. My go-to staples were Diet Coke (up to six cans a day) and Little Debbie snack cakes (the kind I refuse to buy for you now). I was thin but unhealthy. I lacked energy and a decent immune system.
But it wasn’t all a disaster. When I consider what went well, there are some discernible patterns.
Sometimes I took risks, enrolling in classes outside my comfort zone. I tried accounting, just to see if I’d missed my calling as a financial wizard.
I was not a star accounting student, but I gained an understanding of debits, credits, depreciation and other concepts that are helpful in adult life. And I’ve never since questioned if I should have enrolled in business school instead of journalism school.
One of my four P.E. classes was ballet. I hadn’t taken ballet since first grade. I was uncomfortable wearing a leotard and leaping across the studio around people I didn’t know. By the end of the semester, I’d discovered confidence I sorely needed.
My passion then, as it is now, was reading and writing. I had always loved newspapers, but college is where I fell in love with the work of putting a newspaper together.
Once I found a group of people with a similar passion, I started to enjoy school more. We shared a devotion to journalism, but we represented diverse backgrounds, beliefs and values. We argued and learned to compromise.
We were a ragtag team that supported one another — a glimpse for me of how adults create sustaining circles of friendship.
Your own transition from childhood to adulthood is just a few years away. I promise to support you in taking risks (well, you know, reasonable risks — not the illicit drug-use kind) and to allow you space to discover your passions. I promise to encourage you when classes or relationships get tough. I promise that I will never stop emphasizing the importance of a healthy diet.
And I promise to do my best to remember that I can’t fix my past mistakes through you. Your college years will be your journey, not mine. I just look forward to discovering with you where your paths lead.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

NT Daily staff photo, still on the newsroom wall
(I'm on the second row from the bottom, far right.)

Monday, April 08, 2013

A few moments

We've been watching Michigan basketball the past couple of weeks and look forward to the NCAA Championship game tonight, when the Wolverines play Louisville. Go Blue! (I wish Steve could tell the kids about 1989, when Michigan last won the championship. I'll do my best to tell his tale, but I'm never as good.)

Last weekend I was in The NT Daily office for the first time since I graduated 20 (!) years ago. I've loved newspapers since age 4, but this is where I fell in love with the work of newspapers. My first position on the paper was City Editor, summer 1991.

I love Katie's toothless smile.
Katie is going to Girl Scout Twilight camp this June. She and some other Brownie friends will spend evenings by the lake, culminating in a sleepover night. On the form I noted, "Katie doesn't LOVE being hot. =)" I thought they should know.
Cooper spent the night away from home Friday, as part of his Confirmation class retreat. Margie spent most of the night at the front door waiting for him. She does this when he's camping with Scouts, too.
Katie is progressing well in violin lessons. She started in January with our friend Tammy. She's now playing short songs with the bow. She takes practice very seriously.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Bench outtakes

Every Sunday that we go to church and/or Sunday school, I take a photo of Cooper and Katie on Steve's bench.

Actually, I take multiple photos. I'm not a professional photographer. I use a point-and-shoot camera. My framing is often askew. The sun is often "in the way." Katie's hair sometimes flies in Cooper's face. One child might be wide awake while the other is still sleepy. One child might think that other child's grip is too tight around his or her shoulders.

There are many variables.

Here are just a few recent photos that didn't make my final edit.

Sometimes a child or two is rolling his or her eyes at the photographer's antics.
Sometimes one child is laughing and the other is closing his eyes defensively because of windy hair.
Sometimes both Cooper & Katie have their eyes closed. Then we realize the effect of the position of the sun and turn around.
And sometimes it appears that one child is about to bite another. Not that that would ever happen.

After lunch this afternoon

Friday, April 05, 2013

Author offers community of encouragement

From today's Briefing:


How influential is writer Glennon Doyle Melton? One day in March, she asked blog followers to help secure enough money to place a homeless pregnant teen in a restorative home for two years.

They needed to raise $83,000 in 48 hours, with no single donation exceeding $25. The goal was met in less than six hours.

The Florida-based Melton — mom to three and an openly recovering bulimic and alcoholic — founded the blog, an online community where she shares experiences in parenting and where readers, known as Monkees, offer one another encouragement. (No cruelty allowed.)

Her book, Carry On, Warrior, was released this week. She will sign copies of her book on April 10 at 7 p.m. at A Real Bookstore in Fairview.

We spoke by phone this week. Here are excerpts.

What is the significance of your book’s title?
As parents, we hear over and over again, “Seize the day … it goes by so fast.” You always get the message that you’re supposed to enjoy every moment.

It is extremely hard work. Being a parent, really getting through anything in life — we are warriors, dealing with all the challenges that come our way.

You write often about letting go of the idea of perfection. Why do moms, especially, have such high expectations of themselves and their children? 
In the media there’s a lot of pictures of motherhood — magazine pictures of what it looks like to breastfeed, TV shows where the moms seem to be levelheaded all the time. A lot of the messages are completely different than what we really experience.

Our parents got the same messages, and they sort of acted for us. We become parents, we think, “My mom enjoyed every minute, why don’t I?”

I spend half of my day, every day, reading letters from women — literally hundreds a week. I know it’s not easy for anybody.

You place significance on recognizing “great moments” — not creating an entire “great day.” Why do you emphasize the moments?
I don’t know how anyone could do that any other way. Kids are completely unpredictable.

We’re having the best moment ever at dinner. Two freaking seconds later, in the middle of this moment, one person spills their milk, someone starts screaming. I take a picture in my mind of two or three awesome moments. That’s the best I can do.

How do your Christian beliefs shape your parenting?
They shape everything. I believe in grace completely. I lived a pretty crazy life. The idea of grace for me, all the time, and for everybody else, all the time, is just a helpful way to live. I don’t have to figure out who is deserving of grace and kindness. It’s really pretty simple — grace and love. Those two things are hard enough.

You write that you started your blog as a healing process from bulimia and addiction. How has writing helped?
So many people have a hiding place. Life is pretty hard. We find a place to hide; for me it was addiction. … It was a safe place. No one could touch me there. Writing is how I make sure I don’t go back into hiding. You get all of your darkness out. It’s not so scary when you get it out. It’s just being human. Whenever I start to feel uncomfortable about anything, I write it out.

How long have you been sober?
Ten years and eight months. I quit drinking and binging and purging on the same day — when I found I was pregnant with my oldest. It was a forced coming out of hiding. I really didn’t have a choice.

What do you love about parenting?
It just helps me become a better person. I don’t think I knew who I wanted to be until I knew what I wanted my kids to be.

I want them to be comfortable in their own skin, accept themselves, listen to their hearts, take risks, follow their dreams. They helped me figure out who I want to be.

What do you struggle with as a parent?
I honestly can’t believe how impatient I am. I can think all day while my kids are at school about how much I love them and how fun I’ll be when they get home. And then, I swear, 12 minutes after they get home … when they start telling me a story, I feel like someone is taking me hostage. I feel like a need a tranquilizer.

I struggle with patience and focus, relaxing enough into their little world to just be. I find myself rushing with my children — and we don’t have anywhere to go. I’m telling them to hurry, and I realize we’re just going to the grocery store.

You have a strong connection with your readers. How have you nurtured that sense of community?
I love them so much. I know them. They are me. I’m them. We’re all facing similar challenges, joy and grief, great losses, some triumph. When you get really down deep to the feelings we all have, those are all the same. When we go to that deep level, we all realize how the same we all are.