Monday, December 29, 2014

Kids need our support on the sidelines

From Saturday's Briefing:

During the most stressful moments of my most stressful jobs, no one in charge has yelled at me. In the middle of grown-up chaos, no one has hollered directions or detailed what I was doing wrong or demanded that I do something differently.
In 1990, when the scanners stopped working at Target on the Saturday before Christmas and all the cashiers had to type UPC codes from every single item while customer lines snaked through the store, no supervisor barked at us to type faster.
Over the many years that I designed news pages or edited ever-changing stories on tight deadlines, no one sat nearby, screaming at me to move a photo or revise a paragraph or write a headline.
These days, when I’m working one-on-one with a student who struggles to decipher a multisyllabic word or discern an author’s purpose in a given text, no one heckles or jeers from a corner of the classroom.
Yet at almost every youth sporting event I attend — games that, let’s face it, have very little long-term impact — parents are hollering at their kids (and sometimes even other people’s children).
You’ve heard the words: Move! Run! Get him! Stop her! Move faster! Run faster! Play smarter!
Why are we yelling at our kids? What do we expect to accomplish? How are we helping when we criticize loudly from the sidelines?
Cooper’s indoor soccer team lost last Sunday. The winning team’s goalkeeper worked hard, letting only one shot through. That was one too many for the young man’s dad.
Dad stood up and waved with exasperation. “Use your arms!” he bellowed in a huff — a dramatic plea that in no way could be mistaken for support or comfort.
It’s the same tone I hear from a few parents at every cross-country meet — angry messages of speeding up, of refusing to slow down, of beating the guy two paces ahead.
There’s a fine line between supporting and yelling. When Cooper sprints by during a meet, I’m deliberate in choosing my tone for “Go, Coop!” I’m hoping for joyful and encouraging, not disparaging and grumpy. I make an effort to smile, just in case he glances in my direction.
I’m hoping he knows I’m ready to cheer for him no matter his pace or his finish.
And all the while, I’m reminding myself that his performance — no matter how stellar or lackluster — is not a reflection of me.
His speed on the course is a reflection of how he performs in that moment, of how often he has trained, of how hard he’s pushed his body, of how well he’s hydrated during a full day of school, of his ability to recover should he slip and fall, of whether he gets elbowed by another runner, and of his reaction to the day’s weather conditions.
His placement at the finish line is his alone. The results of one race or game don’t define him, and they certainly don’t define me.
What does define him? His effort and attitude. His reaction to winning and his reaction to losing. How he treats teammates and competitors, coaches and referees. His progress and growth, even in tiny increments.
How will he make progress? By practicing. By making mistakes and accepting responsibility. By studying missteps and correcting them. By placing appropriate priority on a game.
A whole bunch of yelling and stomping and irritated, heavy sighing will only hold him back — and define me in all the wrong ways.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Bringing the '70s roots to parenting today

From today's Briefing:

I’m a conflicted child of the 1970s.
I eschew bellbottoms, yet I embrace a fine paisley print.
Avocado green is all wrong, yet harvest gold is perfectly acceptable.
No, thank you, Black Sabbath, Rush and Deep Purple. Yes, please, Allman Brothers, Queen and Fleetwood Mac.
Total disregard for child safety is troubling, yet a little loosey-goosey parenting is refreshing. Perhaps even necessary.
I rode in the bed of pickups. I didn’t wear a seatbelt in a car until 1985, when a state law forced me to. I first doffed a bicycle helmet when I was an adult.
I was thrown off merry-go-rounds and blistered on scorching metal slides. I swam at public pools crowded with kids and supervised by only a couple of teenage lifeguards — every single time without a drop of sunscreen protecting my fair, freckled skin.
Truly, we 40-somethings are fortunate to be alive.
How do we celebrate? By smothering our own children. By stepping in so often that we shield them from real life. By depriving them opportunities to learn how to survive.
I’m working on revisiting my ’70s roots, albeit with a 21st-century mind-set.
I credit the Boy Scouts for largely reshaping my parenting style.
About once a month, my son packs gear for a weekend away. He’s completely in charge of the whole camping-prep affair. If he forgets to pack socks or underwear, sunscreen or bug repellant, I’m not rescuing him.
After all, it’s Boy Scouts, not Mom Scouts. Cooper can survive two days without toothpaste or a hat. If he really needs something, he can barter with other Scouts, and perhaps he’s more likely to remember it next time. Maybe.
He starts fires and wields knives. He cooks and cleans. He builds shelters using grass, twigs and branches. All without the benefit — or hindrance — of my supervision. It’s been good training for him and even better training for me.
Tuesday afternoon, I was in my classroom, frantically answering emails and prepping for Wednesday in an effort to get out the door in time to pick up Cooper from his school and deliver him to a different school for a tennis match.
My phone rings.
“Hey, Momma. A friend’s dad can drive me to Wakeland. I’ll get there faster. Is that OK?”
Without hesitation, I said yes and wished him good luck. Only after the phone call did I realize that I didn’t even ask who the friend is or what the dad’s name is or does he drive a reliable car with seat belts.
Hours later, I parked at the courts to retrieve my son. He had won both matches — without me there to holler his name or clap real loud or repeatedly take his photo. In fact, there were very few parents there. Most just drop off and pick up, Cooper tells me, as visibility is sketchy, depending on which court you’re assigned, and no one really knows who will play when.
A sporting event without an entourage of paparazzi parents? It was almost like we’d stepped back in time.
Now, let’s be honest. I’m never going to be a full-on 1970s mom. I’ll insist on sunscreen every time we go to the neighborhood pool, and no, I’m not going to just drop off. Every single night, I’ll ask if homework is complete and most nights, I’ll spot-check assignments. I plan to take photos at most parties, performances and games.
Yet just this week, at the middle school winter band concert, I left my phone and camera in my purse. I didn’t record a single note of music. I listened, with my hands free and my mind clear. It was groovy. Can you dig it?
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Monday, December 08, 2014

Want to (help) buy a water buffalo?

Drawing by Katie
Katie's dream is to buy a water buffalo through Heifer International. The animal would be given to a family in need, to help with farming and food.

Our church's Christmas mission this year is to buy as many animals as possible. It's a happy collision of Katie's passions -- her love for church, her love for all the world's people and her love for Heifer, an organization we've supported since 2011.

"I think it’s important to help people who don’t have what we have," Katie wrote last week. "I already have everything I need and a lot of what I want. Other people don’t even have what they need, and I think that’s much more important than my wants."

A water buffalo is valuable and therefore pricey -- $250. As she's done in years past, she has launched a plan to raise money for the Christmas project.

Katie is selling bookmarks, one side with a drawing she created for the project (stained glass with three animals) and the other with a poem she recently wrote (see below). Each bookmark is $1.

She's already collected $40 from a kind church member and friend. She's working on creating 200 bookmarks, with the goal of selling every single one and having $240.

Please email if you'd like to buy a bookmark or two!


World, a place needing a together
World, barely enough dreaming
World, a never-ending war
World, a message with no meaning

Love, an open door
Love, just you and me
Love, unites our spirits
Love, blessed harmony

Happiness, a little light in the storm
Happiness, the wag of a tail
Happiness, finding there is no need to lurk
Happiness, walking down life's trail

Peace, is never enough
Peace, the shake of a hand
Peace, has barely started
Peace, a graceful land

-- Kathryn Sibley Damm

Monday, December 01, 2014

When magic and honesty collide

From Saturday's Briefing:

We have exactly 12 minutes until we need to back out of the driveway. My hair is dry, but my makeup is only partially applied, and I don’t yet have shoes on my feet.

I’m poised to apply lip gloss when our whole world changes, as Katie stomps in with a demand.

“Tell me the truth about Santa.”

Have I mentioned that I haven’t yet had even a sip of coffee?

“What do you mean, ‘Tell me the truth about Santa’?”

(The absence of caffeine does not dull my well-honed parental stalling tactics.)

“I mean, is he real?” asks my determined 9-year-old.

“What do you mean, ‘Is he real’?”

(The clock is ticking. I’m running out of time to get ready and time to delay the inevitable.)

“I mean, does Santa really go to every house on Christmas Eve and deliver presents?”

Tears are pooling in her eyes, and I’m praying to keep my own at bay.

“Well, Santa needs some helpers to get all that work done.”

We stare at each other. I’m afraid to breathe. I’m afraid to give more details. I’m afraid that I’m going to be late to work.

“Do parents give the presents?”

“Do you really want to know?”





“Yes, parents usually give the presents. Not always, but usually.”

We stare at each other a little longer. She doesn’t speak. I break the silence.

“But I believe in the magic of Santa and the spirit of Santa.”

She walks away.

I rush to get on lip gloss and shoes. I brew a cup of coffee, toast some bread, let the dog out and in one more time, load the car with graded papers and lunch.

We don’t speak of Santa again until later in the afternoon.

“Katie, do you want to talk about Santa?”


The silence continues for weeks. I assume she’s in deep denial, and I have no desire to pull my baby out of it.

We’re on the road, driving to visit Grandma and Papa for lunch. She pipes up from the back.

“What about the Elf on the Shelf? Is he real?”

We walk into the house.

“What do you mean, ‘Is he real?’ We see Little Red Charlie at our house every year. Of course he’s real.”

“No. I mean does Little Red Charlie have magic?”

“I have no idea if he has magic.”

“Do you pick him up and move him around the house?”


“You want to know if I pick him up and move him around the house every night?”

“Yes. That’s what I want to know.”



She offers no words, but her eyes reveal disappointment. Perhaps a hint of distrust.

Later that night, I broach the subject again.

“Do you think Little Red Charlie should visit again this year?”

She shrugs.

Cooper can take it no longer.

“Of course he should visit!” my tenderhearted 13-year-old exclaims.

Cooper is well read and blessed with a sharp, logical mind. He’s also visited the same Santa — our Santa — since 2001. He dares not to speak of folks who might help Santa or elves. He loves the magic of Christmas, choosing to bask in the moments rather than analyze their source.

Tell me the truth. Is there a chance that his sister will eventually adopt the same cheerful attitude? That the whole house will once again believe in the magic of Santa? Really. I want to know.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Before Sunday School this morning

(And after an indoor soccer game for Cooper. Don't get me started on Sunday morning games.)

Monday, November 17, 2014

Years passed allow time for reflection

From Saturday's Briefing:

It’s been almost 29 years since I last walked the halls of Perry Middle School, a campus that even back then was considered ancient.

Of course, when you’re 13, most everything seems ancient.

On Saturday, I’m driving my own middle-school child to Perry for All-Region Band tryouts, and as I’m apt to do, I’m certain to tell him a few stories.

Like about my first week at the school. I transferred in the middle of eighth grade, in the middle of a family crisis. I was slightly traumatized and terribly shy.

My U.S. history teacher didn’t go out of her way to help me fit in. She sat me in the front of the room, far apart from every other desk. I couldn’t bear to look up and around the room, into the eyes of people who I was certain would all be staring back at me, so I stared at my shoes with fierce intensity.

Karen Jackson befriended me in that class. Years later, we would reminisce about how we first met — friendly Karen and me, “the girl who stared at her shoes.”

Karen and I have been friends ever since. She rescued me many times. We’re separated by a few states, but our connection is strong.

I might tell my son about the spring dance. Not long after I arrived, a calendar came home with a note about a semi- formal. I wanted to fit in. My stepmother began creating a tea-length emerald green dress with an off-the-shoulder ruffle.

It was gorgeous.

The night of the dance, my naturally curly hair was even poufier with the help of hot rollers and a curling iron and some Aqua Net.

It was, perhaps, gorgeous for the era.

I walked into the dance. Lights were dim. Wham was blasting through the speakers. Clusters of young teens danced and talked and ran around.

They were all — every single one of them — wearing Hawaiian shirts or Jams shorts or, at the very least, leis. Except me, the new girl, in the homemade dress and white pumps from Kinney Shoes.

There’s a world of difference between semiformal and luau. We had either misread the calendar or missed a theme change somewhere along the way.

I escaped quickly to the bathroom, which provided no refuge at all. I was now trapped in a tiny room with only girls, all of whom had a front-row seat to my misery.

One girl said aloud, to no one in particular and therefore the entire congregation, “How sad.”

I escaped that scene to my small circle of friends on the dance floor.

Among them was Melissa Tarun, dressed appropriately for the occasion and, more important, armed with compassion and loyalty. She didn’t shrink away from her overdressed friend.

For three decades, she’s been clothed in best-friend- worthy qualities. My children call her “Aunt Melissa.” Whether I’ve got horrible news or big celebrations, she’s at the top of my list to call.

What I really want to tell Cooper as we drive to my old middle school this morning is that the choices we make when we’re young can have long-reaching effects. That there is incredible power in saying hello first, in standing in solidarity with a friend who feels alienated.

I want him to know that three decades later, what I remember most about some tough years are the people who made life smoother. I want him to know that the best gifts, the most memorable gifts, are moments of kindness and compassion, of love and acceptance.

I’ll likely keep silent on how fast his next 29 years will flash by. Some lessons must be lived to be learned.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Saturday, November 01, 2014

When faced with a challenge, just take the next step

From today's Briefing:

I stand just inside a temporary fence. My head turns constantly, gaze moving between the time clock on the right and the runners on the left.
At last I see him, my 6-foot son, sprinting around the corner.
I holler, “Go, Cooper,” unsure if he’ll hear me above the din of other fans and the amplified announcer. I aim my camera in his direction, unsure if I can capture him as he speeds by.
His lanky legs lead him past the finish line, and I hustle to catch up, to find him in the crowd of runners and supporters.
He’s too winded to talk much. “I need to sit down,” he says between gulps of water.
So we rest, and I wait for Cooper’s breathing to regulate before I ask about details from the 5K course.
He ran faster than he’s ever run a race before. He doesn’t yet know his time, but he’s guessing it’s less than 22 minutes.
A few minutes later, we return to the fences, this time to search for Katie. This is her second 5K, and she’s set a goal to finish in less than 40 minutes.
Now there are two of us anxiously oscillating between the clock and the corner. Mom and brother in search of sister.
At last we spy her, flapping ponytail, red cheeks, determined stare.
Before I can shout, “Go, Katie,” she shouts at us. “I lost a shoe!”
She zooms past, one shoe on and one shoe off. The finish line beckons. She is seconds from 40. Seconds from her goal.
We are reunited — even trickier now than when Cooper crossed — and begin to search for the lost shoe. She thought it flew off somewhere around the corner, but there are no orphaned shoes on the course.
We walk again toward the finish line. A teenager approaches, running, shoe in hand.
“I think this is yours.” Foot and shoe are reunited.
Katie traditionally allows little to get in the way of talking. Running three miles certainly won’t stop her from spilling details.
“How did you lose your shoe?” I ask.
She explains that when she turned the corner and saw the finish line, she started running faster and ran right out of her shoe.
We find water for Katie. We all sample some free mini muffins.
Cooper walks to a tent to check his official time. He comes back with the news: 21:20. Weeks of practice have paid off. He shaved three minutes off his previous best. His time was low enough to earn him a medal in his age group.
We wait for the awards ceremony, take lots of photos, then walk to the minivan — one child with a medal around his neck, the other with a giant smile on her face.
“Do you know how I reached my goal?” Katie asks. “I set little goals for myself. I’d tell myself to run to the next sign or run to the next lamppost. Then I would do it, and then I’d make a new little goal.”
Wise words that I stored away. Just in time.
The days following the race were tough. My little world was thrown slightly akimbo by a few extra helpings of stress. There were moments when I felt a little lost.
And then my daughter’s words found me.
Set small goals. Focus less on the big picture and more on what’s right in front of you. Don’t worry about how you’re going to get from today to tomorrow.
Instead, place your energy on getting through the next 10 minutes. And then another 10.
Keep moving forward, even if you lose a little something on the way. Chances are, you’ll recover at the end, and that end represents a new beginning.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at
Cooper and Katie at the 2014 Gary Burns Fun Run

Monday, October 20, 2014

Pedaling forward is a lifelong process

From Saturday's Briefing:

I’m forever pushing children out of their comfort zones.
If one of my students prefers to read only graphic novels, I cajole him to try a science fiction novel. If another is buried in realistic fiction, I convince her to try biography.
Just when a fourth-grader thinks his essay is perfect, I challenge him to make five more words even stronger.
If I teach it, I need to live it, no matter how painful. Every now and then, I push myself beyond comfort.
For example, a week ago I slipped a handmade pink tutu over blue jeans and shimmied in front of 500 people while lip-synching Taylor Swift.
This totally out-of-character performance was made possible only because I was one of a menagerie of dancing teachers at our school assembly. I find strength in numbers when pushing my limits.
My brief stage appearance was painless. My next venture, not so much.
Sunday nights at the Damm house are routinely routine. Cooper practices clarinet. Katie practices violin. I cook dinner and prep food for lunches for the rest of the week.
Last Sunday night was out of the ordinary. I shed domesticity for an evening out with some usually mild-mannered mom friends. We climbed into strangers’ cars, headed for Dallas and spent the night pedaling through Uptown.
Because some in the group planned to drink adult beverages and because we are hyper-vigilant mommas, we chose to hire out the driving. We used our smartphones to hail not taxicabs, but rides from everyday drivers willing to share their cars for a fee.
We spilled out of three random sedans and gawked at our next mode of transportation: a giant cart equipped with barstools and bicycle pedals. It’s called the Buzz Bike.
The cart is piloted by an experienced driver who has control of steering and the brakes. The power is provided by the people sitting on the barstools.
We stowed our purses, the pilot described our roles, and in no time we were inching north on McKinney Avenue. Just as quickly, I could feel some leg muscles that hadn’t been stretched in a long while. Pedaling a giant, truck-sized cart takes more strength than I’d imagined.
Discomfort was easily ignored, though, with all the singing, laughing and waving to curious folks on the side of the road.
We took a break on the route, stopping for chips and salsa (cycling works up an appetite) and water (who could handle anything stronger with all that work?). We climbed aboard again, ready to face two challenges: a steep decline that would send us flying and an equally steep incline that would leave us gasping.
Our party perched atop the first hill, unable to see the bottom. The traffic light turned green and we started to pedal, fueled by a well-timed “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” blaring through the speakers.
Cyndi Lauper’s words were eventually drowned by our screams — part exhilaration, part fear of rear-ending the Mustang directly in front of our lumbering contraption.
We stopped just in time.
We enjoyed a couple of flat blocks, then we faced the biggest challenge of the night: the hill of Allen Street. We’d heard stories of previous groups that couldn’t pedal all the way up — that had to dismount and push the oversized bike.
Our competitive spirits kicked in. We would not become a cautionary tale.
One of the fittest friends in the group pedaled like an Ironman triathlete while commanding us to follow suit. We focused. We dug in. We biked up that cursed hill in two minutes flat.
There was nothing comfortable about it.
But I needed that night out with friends, a few hours away from responsibilities and planning. I needed to step out of my routine, to wave at strangers, to sing ’80s pop with wild abandon.
My sore quads are a small souvenir of the night. Longer lasting is the reminder that we all need to stretch a little.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at
The whole gang, celebrating Julianne's 40th birthday (after we survived the treacherous hills)

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Before church this morning

Not shown: Katie's new braces on the bottom teeth and expander on top, both of which are causing extreme discomfort

Monday, October 06, 2014

Finding ways to celebrate without sweets

From Saturday's Briefing:

I know comfort food because of Gramma.
Having a rough day? A Big Red and Blue Bell float will fix you right up.
Celebrating some good news? We’ll stop at the convenience store for a popsicle or Drumstick.
In the middle of a family reunion? How about a slice of Mrs. Smith’s apple pie?
Gramma has been gone almost a decade now, but I’m a keeper of the flame, a firm believer in the family tradition of soothing and praising with treats.
You didn’t win the election? Frozen yogurt with toppings will cheer you up. You earned a place on the team? We’ll stop for a chocolate shake. You and your friends completed a monstrous project? How about some brownies?
My children have been absolutely agreeable with this candy-coated legacy. We don’t eat fast food. I don’t keep many sweets in the house. Why not fully embrace a system that guarantees treats every few weeks?
I’ll tell you why not. Because your 9-year-old vegetarian daughter gave up most desserts for her New Year’s resolution and, unlike 99 percent of everyone you know, she’s actually kept hers.
For almost a whole year now, she’s passed up celebratory treats and consolation desserts. My family tradition has been challenged. My go-to comfort choices have been shelved.
Not that I’m complaining.
It’s healthy in more ways than one to ditch food as a balm or a reward. Food is supposed to be fuel, and we should consume only as much as we truly need. (I’m pretty terrible at following this advice.)
Drowning our sorrows in rocky road doesn’t really solve anything. And there’s absolutely no relevant connection between, say, making the A honor roll and downing a Slurpee.
Besides all of that, does every piece of encouraging news warrant a reward?
Does every disappointing tidbit deserve a consolation prize?
Katie’s lifestyle change has made the answers obvious.
Not only does she not need a cookie for good news, but she also doesn’t need anything beyond the natural consequences of the good news. Same for the setbacks. The absence of comfort food has forced genuine conversations of heartfelt praise and pep talks. Every time I think, “We should celebrate with [fill in the blank],” I am forced to stop and regard my own motivations, to consider the intrinsic value of winning or losing, of reaching your goals or falling short.
Still, Katie is only 9, and there are events that demand some sort of celebration. (Or moments that not even the tightest hugs and most sincere words can make better.)
So I’ve asked for a Katie-approved list of possible treats. Her suggestions include:
  • New book
  • Squares of felt from the craft store
  • Extra minutes of nighttime Harry Potter read-aloud
  • New markers
  • New paint
  • Movie night at home
  • Time at the playground
  • Episode of Gilligan’s Island
  • New rosin for violin bow
  • Homemade Chex mix (“As long as it’s not burned,” she added without a trace of judgment and, yet, no doubt recalling my last batch.)

Free-spirited, creative, poetic Gramma (who cooked a mean batch of Chex mix) would no doubt approve.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Saturday, October 04, 2014

From my phone

Noe and Katie, after half time of the Frisco vs. Centennial football game -- out on a school night!
Cooper, after playing on the field at the Frisco High game
Katie and Cooper at the Frisco High game
Tyra and Katie at the Lone Star Storytelling Festival field trip
Veggies, before they were roasted, for a pasta dish
Katie, after a haircut with the fabulous Erin
Katie on career day, part of College Week, at Hosp

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Teen tuneup for mom mode

From Saturday's Briefing:

Clues that your child is less than a year from high school:
Some weeknights, you struggle to stay awake long enough to see your child to bed.
Some weekends, you struggle to stay awake long enough to see your child come home.
You pray that years of modeled behavior, subtle hints and outright lectures have actually stuck.
You realize that everyone who warned you was right: The middle-school years fly by.
Cooper has finished two years, and soon — in what will no doubt feel like two months’ time — he’ll be headed to high school. All signs indicate that eighth grade is a transition year not just for students, but for parents, too.
He’s often awake past 10 or 11 p.m., completing homework, managing projects and studying for tests. I try mightily to stay up with him, to be available for questions, to offer moral support or to turn off his bedroom light. But there have already been a couple of evenings when he’s the last human awake in the house.
Two of his classes are heavy hitters — high school courses a year early, with grades that will kick off his official GPA. While I appreciate that students have an opportunity to get ahead and clear their high school schedules for even more complex classes, I struggle with the pressure 13-year-olds face in worrying about GPA. And I sort of dread what a full load of high school classes will look like.
With greater responsibility comes greater freedom, including later “curfew,” if you can call it that when parents are doing all the driving.
After long weeknights, I’m usually desperate for a lazy, early Friday night. The eighth-grade social scene is in full swing, though. I’m thankful for two- parent families, who almost always volunteer to take the late driving shifts for me. At least I can doze on the sofa while waiting for my teenager to come home — and little sister can keep her bedtime.
Last Friday night, as I drove Cooper to a high school football game, I felt a wave of alarm. Had I properly prepared him for whatever scenes might unfold? Would there be a fistfight under the stands? A group of ruffians smoking in the bathroom? (Was I expecting American Graffiti to break out?)
I couldn’t keep silent the building admonitions.
“Watch out for trouble. You can’t drink any alcohol or try any drugs. I mean, I know you wouldn’t and we’ve talked about all this before, but it’s my job to tell you these kinds of things all the time. Seriously. Don’t. If I text you, you have to text me back. Do you have your phone? Do you have cash? Is it safe in your wallet? You have to stay with your group the entire time. And have fun!”
Whew. Mom mode needs some fine-tuning. But the whole teenager thing happened so fast.
If you’re parent to an infant or toddler, you might start rolling your eyes now, but it’s absolutely true: Each year moves faster than the year before.
Each year is filled with more — more papers to write, more band concerts, more group projects and more word problems with increasing complexity.
And those tall people who were not long ago your preschoolers are gone more often — going in early for tutorials or sectionals, staying late for meetings or challenge matches on the tennis court.
As their lives fill with more, and you spend fewer moments together, time has the illusion of speeding up, like someone hit fast-forward on your very existence.
We’re not given the luxury of hitting stop or even pause. We’ve simply got to keep up — as long as we can stay awake — and relish the moments we can share.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

From my phone

Katie and Mr. Else, Hosp Elementary dedication
Noe and Katie, after Katie's storytelling performance at Barnes & Noble

Cooper and Katie, lunch, Three Squares

Tyra, Mrs. Woodson and Cooper, at the Hosp Elementary dedication

Tyra and Katie, college hat day

Sunday, September 07, 2014

From my phone

Tiny "Teach" sign created for me by Katie

Cupcakes decorated by Katie after a quick lesson from Aunt Melissa

Katie's first-ever published photo, in Pockets magazine. (She even earned $10!)

Cooper left for Order of the Arrow Fall Fellowship just a few minutes after Aunt Melissa arrived for the weekend.

Monday, September 01, 2014

From my phone

Katie's getting excited about this year's Storytelling Festival.

First day of school groupie 

Part of a song Katie composed in the shower

Coop loved the hot tub at our Beavers Bend cabin this weekend.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Lessons from home form solid learning foundation

From Saturday's Briefing:

This is the absolute best season for list-makers.
Backpacks, lunch boxes, new shoes.
Single serving chocolate milks, juice boxes, cheese sticks.
Wide-rule, 200-page, red spiral notebook with pockets.
Proof of residency, student physical, PTA directory order.
So many lists! So many potential checkmarks! (So much money!)
After a year of teaching and a summer of prepping for my second year, I have a few additions to the traditional back-to-school lists. (In no way does one year of teaching make me an expert. But it has heightened my awareness of what I can do at home for my own children.)
Background knowledge: Learning is a lot easier when you have a basic understanding to build upon. Some background knowledge comes from classroom lessons in prior months and years. Some comes from independent reading and curiosity. And parents can play a big role in building background knowledge by continually exposing their children to ideas and experiences.
Last year, when teaching key events of the American Revolution to fifth-graders, children who were often most engaged were those who already had an interest in war and those who had visited Boston or read previously about the colonies breaking from British rule.
You don’t have to travel or spend lots of money to help build your child’s background knowledge. You can read books and watch documentaries together, go on nature walks, visit museums, plant seeds and then watch vegetables grow — all while talking, asking questions and seeking answers together.
Rich vocabulary: Students are often challenged to use context clues and inference skills to understand difficult vocabulary words while reading. That’s a simpler task if the context clues are easy to understand, which is made possible by a strong vocabulary.
That means, again, that there should be lots of talking at home. Don’t shy from employing resplendent words — and defining them. Download a word-of-the-day app and challenge family members to learn along with you. If you’re reading aloud, pause at difficult words and talk about them.
Reluctance to rescue: If your child leaves his homework at home, try with all your might to let it stay at home. Don’t drive the forgotten assignment to school. Let your child live through the natural consequence of forgetting.
He may have to work a little harder during the school day or even lose some points on the assignment. But he will be more likely to remember to pack the homework next time if you refuse to rescue.
The same applies to snacks, lunches, water bottles, jackets, musical instruments and stuffed animals on stuffed-animal day.
Positive attitude: Grumpiness and optimism are equally contagious. Those mornings at home when I’m feeling frantic, no doubt my own children feel a little stressed. And then I feel awful for dampening the moods of the entire house. It’s a gloomy cycle.
Bubbly mornings, though — they’re the best. There’s little to no discord. We listen to music as we eat breakfast. We laugh on the drive to school. We each enter our classrooms with smiles to share and confidence to spare — even if we left a lunchbox on the counter at home.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. She can be reached at

Sunday, August 17, 2014

One reason I'm thankful for blogging

Last Saturday we were finishing our weeklong vacation. We drove back from Kennebunkport, Maine, to Boston, waiting for our 7:20 p.m. flight. We spent most of the day wandering the streets of downtown Boston.

Our first stop: the ducklings in the Public Garden. (The bronze statues were installed in 1987 as a tribute to Make Way for Ducklings, the classic 1941 picture book by Robert McCloskey.)

In May 2006, we spent a few days in the Boston area. Our family was complete then -- Steve, me, 4-year-old Cooper and not-yet-1 Katie. We spent some of a day wandering the streets of downtown Boston. And we visited the ducklings.

In 2006, Cooper climbed on a duck and we took a photo. And we placed Katie on a duck and took a photo. But in 2014, I couldn't remember exactly which ducks.

So, last Saturday, in the middle of the Public Garden, I pulled up our family blog and found a post about our Boston trip. I couldn't find Cooper on a duck, but I did find baby Katie on a duck. Using the photo as a guide, Katie found the same duck and sat on it again. More than eight years later.

This time without Steve. That's worth an entire post by itself. I'm weeping now, just thinking of our 2006 experience and last week's.


Soon I'll write about the missing Steve piece. Until then, here is tiny Katie and a little bigger Katie -- on the same duckling.

May 2006
August 2014

Before church this (very rainy) morning

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Let's bring the vacation vibe back home

Goose Rocks Beach, Kennebunkport, Maine
From today's Briefing:

We’re wrapping up the best week of the year — our summer week away.
I love everything about this week. Navigating unfamiliar roads. Discovering new-to-us restaurants. Experiencing in person what I’ve only read about before.
Most of all, I love escaping our daily routine.
In the past week we have not once run errands to the bank, pharmacy or dry cleaner. No one has been ferried to and from a music lesson. No one has practiced an instrument. No one has attended a meeting.
In the absence of busyness, I’ve been more acutely focused on our little family — not just the logistics of us but the actual us.
I’ve been reminded of Cooper’s deep well of patience and tolerance. Every day of vacation, we’ve been at the beach. And every day, he draws tiny fans who admire his ability to dig giant holes and tunnels in the sand. My six-foot 13-year-old answers question after question.
“How long have you been digging? Why is there water down there? Why is that tunnel not falling? How old are you? Where do you live? Can I help?”
He always lets them help.
I’ve seen how confident Katie has become. Some of our adventures have presented opportunities for climbing. Katie hasn’t been scared of a single tumble of rocks. She considers all the pathways then forges ahead, leaping when necessary.
She’ll eventually turn and find that I’m still standing, still staring, still not certain that I’ll cross without falling. She leaves no man or woman behind.
“Put your foot here, Momma,” she coaches. “You can do it!”
All three of us are reminded of how very little we actually need.
The cottage we’re renting is dated yet comfortable, with huge windows facing a river. It’s significantly smaller than our Frisco house, and it holds a lot less stuff.
We’ve not once felt deprived. In fact, there’s freedom in managing less of everything.
Here’s the challenge: When this blessed week is over — it’s always over too quickly — and we’re back at home, 1,900 miles from our cozy cottage, how can we better escape the busyness?
It’s an essential question, especially with two weeks left before school begins again. How do we keep connected when we’re running in different directions? What can we prune from the busyness so that we’ve got some protected downtime?
Our family calendar is already filling with dates — band orientation, curriculum night, Scouting events. We’re only weeks away from homework, guided reading and sectionals.
Already the most protected time of day is dinnertime. On school nights, we eat dinner together at home — even if that means eating at 4:45 to make a meeting on time. It’s the one guaranteed daily moment for catch-up, reflection and venting.
Can we be bold enough to say no to some expected events — and do so without guilt? Can we skip a meeting or two? Politely decline a party invitation?
It’s easy to say yes now, but in real life, we get sucked right back in. We live 51 weeks at a hectic pace, knowing that at week 52, sometime in the heat of summer, we’ll escape and reset before leaping back in.
The three of us are leaving Maine a little more relaxed, a little more freckled and a little more inclined to carve out some lazy Saturday mornings at home — no beach necessary.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at
Katie, Cooper and Tyra aboard the Pineapple