Sunday, January 26, 2014

Before church this morning

Friday, January 24, 2014

A little bit of responsibility can go a long way

From today's Briefing:

When I was young, I was responsible for packing my own school lunch.
My meal was usually a sandwich and an apple. No big investment of time, no fuss. The work in no way scarred me for life.
And yet here I am, in charge of a 12-year-old and 8-year-old who have never once packed their own lunch.
I reason that it’s part of my job to make sure they’re well-fed, and they need to focus on getting ready for school in the mornings. And, I admit, I take pride in packing healthy lunches that represent all the food groups.
But how are they going to learn if they don’t do the work themselves? How will they perfect the just-right ratio of peanut butter to jam if they don’t experiment with different amounts? How will they know to put the apple and milk at the bottom of the lunch container, instead of the top, so that the sandwich doesn’t get squished?
Common sense and all kinds of reading tell me that to raise children into self-reliant adults, I need to let them actually be independent in childhood. And I try, I really do. But I often catch myself doing when I should be teaching or letting go.
Perhaps my biggest weakness is financial.
In some circles, Cooper and Katie would no doubt seem spoiled. They have everything they need and much of what they want.
They own more jackets and shoes than absolutely necessary. Their combined treasury of board games and Legos is slightly embarrassing. We could open a small neighborhood library with all the books.
Yet relative to many families in our community, they live frugally, which lulls me into thinking I’m leading them in the right direction.
We have one, slightly old video game system for which we haven’t purchased a new disc in two years. They own no flashy labels. We partially rely on public and school libraries to feed our book addiction.
They rarely ask for anything when we’re out — perhaps because they don’t need anything and because they’ve learned that I’m impervious to “I want that” pleas.
I don’t think that I overspend, but I definitely do all the spending.
Cooper and Katie don’t have an allowance. If a child wants a recently published book, I often buy it. If someone is going camping, I write a check to cover expenses.
When we’re on vacation, I offer to buy one reasonably priced souvenir per child. At church, I take bills out of my wallet so that my children can give an offering.
(In my defense, I do require that they pay for anything they’ve lost or damaged that they want replaced. Left and lost your jump rope in the gym? You can buy a new one for $6.)
What I should do is follow all the financial experts’ advice and provide a weekly allowance, giving my children the freedom to manage their own spending, savings and giving. How else will they fully appreciate the value of money?
If the month includes a camping trip, an invitation to Main Event, publication of a new hardback and release of a long-awaited movie, but you have enough cash to pay for only two of those, how do you decide how to spend your money?
So far my children haven’t had to consider the question. I make the decisions for them, securing all the control and relinquishing no responsibility.
Part of my hesitation in adopting an allowance system lies in knowing that I need to fully embrace it. There’s no point in establishing a whole new economy in our home if I’m going to bail out bankrupt children. So I’m working on defining terms and expectations — for Cooper, Katie and me.
One day in this home, children will prepare their own lunches — at least some of the time — and they will collect, save, spend and give their own money. And then we’ll leap the next hurdle on this marathon toward independence.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Friday, January 10, 2014

Dyslexia won't tamp love of reading

From today's Briefing:

We are a reading family. Each one of us, at any given time, is in the middle of two or three books.
Over winter break, I read historical fiction and short stories. Cooper polished off three novels, all with some sort of fantasy or science fiction element. Katie immersed herself in realistic fiction with a smattering of fantasy.
We are also a dyslexic family.
Cooper was diagnosed three years ago, in the middle of fourth grade, after years of unknowingly compensating.
And now Katie has the same learning disability, discovered in the middle of third grade, after years of unknowingly compensating.
When Cooper qualified for dyslexia services at our elementary school, I said, “Well, Katie won’t have this problem. She’s already reading well.”
Oh, naïve me.
Katie’s dyslexia is similar to her brother’s, actually. She has trouble with spelling and difficulty with decoding — the process of being able to piece together letter sounds to read words.
And, just like her brother, she’s totally comfortable with her new label.
“I don’t care who knows I have dyslexia,” she says. “It’s who I am.”
She’s fortunate to have had an excellent role model in Cooper, who rarely grumbled about the 2-year-long daily dyslexia pullout program and its extra homework. He doesn’t use the learning disability as a crutch, but rather an acknowledgment that some academic tasks are more difficult for him than his peers.
I am working on claiming her carefree attitude. Part of my hesitation is rooted in guilt that I didn’t pick up on her challenges earlier.
I’ve always given myself a pass on Cooper’s dyslexia. He’s the first child, and I had nothing to compare his progress to.
I had followed all the advice I’d read that said not to worry if your child starts to read a little later than others. I didn’t understand the connection between his difficulty in memorizing spelling words and a possible learning disability.
I’m feeling less generous with myself over the second child. What’s the point of life experience if you don’t learn from it? How could I not see the same struggles?
Life experience is the rest of what worries me.
We are fortunate to have access to excellent intervention, strategies and even classroom accommodations if necessary. But there’s no denying that academic life is a little more difficult when you’re carrying the weight of a learning disability.
If a “typical” child can complete a homework assignment in 30 minutes, a child in this house might require an hour or more.
Memorizing and recalling multiplication facts might be simple for some children. It’s torturous for mine.
Most teachers are patient and understanding of students whose brains work differently than expected. A small minority, though, are less flexible.
So, while I’m sincerely thankful for the diagnosis and the resources available, I’m realistic about potential struggles ahead.
Fortunately for Katie, I’m already broken in. I know the lingo. I know my way around Section 504 meetings and documents — the federal protection of certain rights to people with disabilities.
Cooper and I have learned to navigate the system, adjusting each year to new courses, teachers and expectations. We’re honing our advocacy skills.
I may not have caught Katie’s learning disability as early as I should have, but I’m prepared for the rest of the journey. And that’s where I’m finding the strength to turn my attitude around.
We are a reading family.
We are a dyslexic family.
We are a strong, ready-to-battle-the-challenges family.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

So many good words

One of the many great blessings of my new job is working with others who love language and words -- and who love sharing that passion with others.

This week I've discovered two pieces I especially admire.

The first was recommended by Kelli, our hard-working, word-loving librarian.

Phileas's Fortune: A Story About Self-Expression

The story is about an odd world in which words must be purchased. Phileas has no money, so he must forage for words. He saves four special words to spend on a friend, and he receives a special gift in return.


The second is a poem, mined by Jana, who has been invaluable this year in teaching me as much as possible about teaching language arts.

My Grandmother Had One Good Coat

a black wool one with black buttons
shiny as patent leather shoes
and a smooth furry collar
just as black
she wore this only
to the doctor or to church
one late afternoon
I came home from school feeling sorry
for an old woman living beneath the
elevated train below the station
who sat taunting passersby
on their way to work and to school
she sat coatless on a cardboard box
hiding her pain
behind curses and scowls
she could have been
my own grandmother
and the thought of my own
grandmother homeless
in the cold with no place
to pray and be warm
made me sad and depressed
when she asked me what was wrong
and I told her without hesitation
she went into her closet
and handed me her black dress coat
and said here put it in a shopping
bag you’ll find one in the broom closet
I don’t use it that much anyway.
~ Tony Medina

Sunday, January 05, 2014

On logic and calm

Cooper chose logic as his word for 2014.


"So that I'll make good decisions all year, based on logic, because with logic you can usually find the solution."

Katie chose calm for her word for 2014.


"I don't want to be as wild and crazy. I want to take deep breaths and just do what I need to do."

Calm KT & logical Coop

Before church this bitter, windy morning

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Three words

Cooper, Katie & Tyra today at the Heart of Dallas Bowl, where UNT beat UNLV, 36-14

I started 2013 with joy in mind. (You can read my column about it here.)

Cooper and Katie chose to join me with the one word idea. Presenting our one words for 2014 …

Cooper: Logic
Katie: Calm
Tyra: Embrace

I chose embrace with these thoughts: I want to be content without being complacent. I want to enjoy what I have without seeking what I don't need. I want to embrace who we are as a family and as individuals. I hope to embrace new ideas and experiences as they arrive. I hope to be enthusiastically welcoming to others in our home, in the classroom, in our community, at church.

Later this week: Cooper and Katie will explain their choices.

Happy 2014!