Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Celebrity status

We don't watch a lot of television around here. Or listen to commercial radio.

We're movie fans, but as a family we're still in G and PG mode for the most part. 

Because of all this, Cooper struggled some with an assignment tonight. His Spanish teacher asked all students to bring in photos of six celebrities.

He couldn't really think of any. I could have suggested some, but tomorrow he has to describe these people, using the Spanish language, and my random assemblage of celebrities would do him no good.

Here are the six he decided on. Truly, one of the geekiest celebrity lists around (said with the most loving tone possible and full agreement from Coop).

The Beatles
Bill Gates

Bill Nye the Science Guy

Rick Riordan

Mr. Bean

Martin Luther King Jr.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Buried under a happy avalance of activities

From today's Briefing:

This is one of those weeks in which almost every child activity collides.

We’ve got a track meet back-to-back with a band concert.

We’ve got a Girl Scout outing and a Boy Scout dinner.

We’ve got eight Destination Imagination meetings between two children, both of whom will perform at the regional tournament next weekend.

Somewhere in the middle of all that, they will read, finish worksheets and study for tests.

All I’ve got to do is get everyone where they need to be at the right time. And make sure that the correct paraphernalia is packed in the car. And figure out how to fit in dinner around so many activities.

I’m inclined to grumble about it. Until I do some math.

Five years from now Cooper will be completing his senior year of high school. Six years from now he’ll be in college, and the collision of his academic life and extracurricular life won’t really be my concern.

The three of us have less than six years to eat dinners together every night — at least every night that isn’t interrupted by social, academic or athletic obligations.

Less than six years of comparing and aligning daily calendars. Only six more guaranteed identical spring breaks.

All those years of tough stages — the toddling years, the potty-training years, the adjust-to-following- rules-at-school years — seemed to move in slow motion. Yet now those moments seem painfully fleeting, and I wonder if I truly enjoyed them the way I should have, even though at the time I reminded myself to slow down and enjoy the moment.

So now I’m taking deep breaths instead of uttering complaints. I’m embracing the collisions instead of fighting them. And we’re trying to revel in the pauses.

When there’s a break in the schedule, we don’t let it lie. We seize it and walk to the park, grateful for sunshine and warmth after a long winter. We claim comfy spots in the family room and watch ice skaters from Sochi or episodes of Gilligan’s Island.

We talk about what happened during the day. About third-grade freeze tag and seventh-grade practical jokes. About lines of symmetry and the structure of cells.

In the middle of all that commotion, I try to remember to soak in details about life with an 8-year-old girl and a 12-year-old boy. The songs they hum without thinking (“Do You Want to Build a Snowman” and “Lean On Me”). The way their backpacks seem to explode within 15 seconds of walking in the door. The reliable request, almost always in unison and almost always half an hour before dinner, “Can I have a snack?”

I’m working on remembering now because I know that in six years, this house will be much quieter, with just me and Katie. And four years after that, just me.

I don’t want to wake up one day in 2024, surrounded by quiet and stillness and a little less clutter, and regret these days. I don’t want to think to myself, “Those were the good old days, and you complained through half of them.”

This week, and perhaps every week for the next five years, I’m arming myself with an extra daily dose of caffeine, some shortcut meals and a positive attitude. I want to remember these moments — these busy, hectic, vivacious moments — with joy free from remorse.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at tyradamm@gmail.com.

Thursday, February 20, 2014


An essay by Katie, corrected only for spelling:

Far far away live a family in McKinney, Texas. They live together and I love them. My cousins live there. Being with my cousins is one of the best things I can imagine!

I rarely see my crazy but kind cousins. I love to go to exciting places like the State Capitol building. We go to Austin, Texas, every year with them. I love having sleepovers with Molli and Brooke. I could be with them all day and play, watch movies, and hug. We always have fun together.

My cousins are always kind and there for me. They make me feel a lot better! We always play fun games that are exciting. They are the best cousins they can be.

I can't wait to see my cousins again! Who knows what we'll do? We'll definitely have fun! That's how amazing it is to be with my cousins!

Katie and her cousins (and Cooper, too!)


An essay by Katie, corrected only for spelling:

(I even retained the serial comma, which pains me.)

I think art is the most important subject in school. With art you can share your feelings without saying them. You can also draw, paint, and more. 

You can do anything you like and have a lot of fun. Art can inspire other people like you and then they might be an artist, too! Look at other artists. You can be like them as well!

You can be an artist too and share your talent with the world. That's something I can do for the world. That is why I think art is the most important.

Selections from a recent extra-credit poster by Katie on Jane Goodall, including haiku and drawing.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Kids can create magic if you step back and let go

From today's Briefing:

According to recent online quizzes, I am similar to Hermione from Harry Potter, I should have gone to Stanford University, I should live in Los Angeles, and my ideal career choice is a writer.
Also: I am a helicopter parent.
No way. That silly little online quiz with answer choices that don’t even apply to me has got to be wrong. Right?
Now, I am in no way a 1970s-style mom. We wear seatbelts and bike helmets, for goodness’ sake. But I let the kids play outside unattended. (Though they are never out past dark, and I always know where they are, and there are limits and boundaries in place.)
Cooper completed a huge science fair project with two friends with very little input from me. (Though I did ask more than once to edit their work and was slightly disappointed when no one took me up on the offer.)
Over time, I have become skilled in the art of dropping children off at birthday parties and meetings. (Though I will never drop off a Damm child at a skating party. We aren’t skilled in the art of skating.)
I like to think of myself not as a helicopter parent but as a keenly interested parent ready to swoop in only when necessary.
Honestly, I don’t have time to be too helicopter-y.
Last Saturday, we had a long list of chores with absolutely not enough available hours, forcing me to divide and conquer.
The front yard was in serious need of pruning, with perennials that had lost their beauty in the first freeze of the season. Too many fallen leaves littered the backyard. Light bulbs needed replacing. Papers needed filing.
We started as a team in the front yard, with me hacking at dormant plants and Cooper and Katie scooping up and bagging debris.
But oh, they were slow at the scooping and bagging. My instinct was to join in — swoop in, if you will — to get us moving to the next project. I fought the urge to swoop, though, and left them in the front yard so I could move on to the backyard.
When I checked again, they were still working. I tackled bills.
Finally, they were done. There was barely a twig to be found.
By Monday night, we were out of project mode and into school-week survival mode. I was preparing dinner. Cooper was studying Spanish. Katie had finished her homework and was antsy for activity.
“You could plan your Valentine box,” I suggested.
A few minutes later, she showed me a sketch of her plans. “I don’t want it to be the plain old shoe box with paper on it.”
Clearly not. Because this drawing was a tree with branches and a giant owl on the side.
“Can I start making it now?”
“After dinner,” I told her.
While I was rinsing dishes, folding laundry and answering emails, Katie worked. She gathered a shoebox, a brown grocery bag, pieces of felt, glue and tissue paper. She drew and cut and glued with no supervision, no input, no advice.
Before bedtime, she had created a box very similar to her sketch. The only help I offered — well, insisted upon — was handling the utility knife to slice a big round oval in the trunk of the tree.
Her Valentine box is nothing like I would have suggested or created. It is so much better. It is so very Katie.
It is an excellent reminder of the power of stepping back, of letting go, of refusing to swoop in — unless knives are involved.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at tyradamm@gmail.com.