Sunday, March 30, 2014

Before church this morning

Monday, March 24, 2014

Life is not always picture perfect

From Saturday's Briefing:

The past school year has been a huge, mostly happy adjustment in our home.
In August, I began a new career as a fifth-grade teacher, a move that required sacrifices from all three of us in the house. In the year before, I spent most of my free time preparing — taking online classes, reading, writing essays and studying for the state exam.
It was time that I normally would have spent with Cooper and Katie. On some of my most time-crunched days, I would apologize with the promise that the rewards would be worth it — a week off at Thanksgiving, two at Christmas, another at spring break and almost all of summer. And, I would sometimes add, I planned on absolutely loving my job as a teacher.
So far, the plan has worked out beautifully. Mostly.
We’ve already enjoyed those four promised weeks together. Summer’s not far away. And I absolutely love teaching.
No doubt, though, there have been some hiccups along the way.
Those four weeks off throughout the year come at a price. The weeks that I am working are intense— eight, nine or 10 hours at school plus planning and grading at night and on weekends.
That full-time job often collides with my other full-time job as mom and manager of our home. As much as I had hoped to hold on to my usual standards, there’s been some slippage here and there around the house.
Margie the dog desperately needs a haircut.
There are precariously tall piles of paperwork that need to be filed.
It’s clearly Easter season, but there’s still a giant snowflake decorating the kitchen chandelier, and I noticed this week that Christmas cards are still hanging in a small hallway.
Perhaps most telling: Cooper went to school Tuesday wearing a Muppet T-shirt of his own choosing. It wasn’t until late afternoon, after we both were home from school, that I remembered that Tuesday was picture day.
My seventh-grader has never once in all of his years of preschool, elementary school and middle school — until Tuesday — worn a T-shirt on picture day. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)
Standard attire has always been a collared shirt — even for the spring photos that usually feature goofy poses and fussy backgrounds, the kind of photos we never buy.
Even though I read the reminder emails, I failed to type “picture day” on my Google calendar, thus allowing the whole idea to fall out of my head.
Cooper and I laughed about the Muppet shirt, and, perhaps in an effort to make me feel better about forgetting, he told me that most boys were wearing T-shirts, “Only the girls were dressed up, wearing makeup and stuff.”
He then re-created the goofy pose, made all the more ridiculous by his mocking smile and rolling eyes.
And with that, I let it go.
I long ago gave up the idea of being a “perfect” mom, trading it for the idea of doing my best — not someone else’s idea of best. In the past year, I’ve been refining that idea even more, working toward my best but forgiving myself more easily when I fall short.
That includes taking care of the biggest priorities first, fitting in the rest when I can and letting go of the stuff that doesn’t really matter.
Margie finally has an appointment with the groomer today.
I’ll whittle away at the piles as needed.
Sometime this weekend, we’ll take down the snowflake and Christmas cards and decorate with Easter eggs and rabbits.
And perhaps this time I’ll actually order the spring photos and keep the image as a souvenir of my first year of teaching, the year that I continued to learn to let go — and to laugh more often.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Monday, March 10, 2014

Tournament's reward is the journey

From Saturday's Briefing:

Every Thursday night since September, Katie has been practicing with a small group of third-graders in preparation for the regional Destination Imagination tournament.
They selected their challenge, created a problem and solution, wrote a 15-minute script and whittled it to eight, crafted costumes and props, and rehearsed dialogue and a song over and over and over again.
Last Saturday, the teammates and their adult handlers arrived at the tournament site, as prepared as they’d ever be. They performed an Instant Challenge (impromptu problem), waited two hours, then performed their skits.
In no time flat, they’d reached the end.
Or, as Katie said as she settled into a lounge chair outside the competition room, “You practice and practice for months, and then you perform for a couple of minutes, and it's over.”
It’s an understandable point of view, especially for a goal-oriented 8-year-old (who is the daughter of a goal-oriented 41-year-old).
Sometimes, we’re so focused on the destination that when we’ve finally reached it, we minimize the journey.
We forget that eight minutes of a performance represents new friendships and refined skills of compromise, mistakes and forgiveness. We forget essential lessons on time management and priorities, on sticking to your guns and letting things go.
Looking back at the path is especially important when you’ve reached the destination — and it turns out to be less than you expected.
Katie’s team didn’t earn a medal.
They worked hard, but their final product wasn’t as clever or polished as their competitors.
Not everyone can win first, second or third. When you compete, you take the risk of not being the best in that category on that particular day. But it’s a risk with a guaranteed reward — you might win first, second or third. And if you don’t, well, that’s when you start reviewing the path that got you there.
A couple of years ago, Cooper was starting to feel overwhelmed by the competition around him — Boy Scouts who were eager to reach rank before anyone else, kids at recess who played cutthroat soccer.
Around the same time, I discovered a quote in the Wm. Paul Young novel Cross Roads: “Life was never meant to be about comparing or competing.”
I copied the words on a small piece of paper and left it at his place at the breakfast table. We talked about the quote and its countercultural message. Then the scrap of paper disappeared. I discovered it later, taped to Cooper’s bedroom mirror.
The words are still there.
Cooper is in the middle of his first track and field season. He’s been running long distances — the 2,400 meters and the 1,600. He’s fast but not the fastest.
So far, he hasn’t cracked the top three.
Yet he leaves each meet — each four-hour meet in a mercurial Texas winter — with a huge grin and energy to spare.
On our long, dark walks to the car, Cooper regales us with tales of shenanigans in the infield. He relives the moment he passed another seventh- grader on the track and the split second when a different runner passed him.
Katie asks, “Did you hear me screaming for you when you ran by?”
His answer is always yes. (How could he miss it?)
I ask, “Did you have fun?”
His answer is always yes.
He doesn’t let his time on a 1-mile run define him. He doesn’t view a single race as the end.
Each race is simply a step in a long path. To where? Who knows. For now he’s content to enjoy the journey.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Kathryn the poet

The Frisco Public Library is sponsoring a poetry contest that we keep forgetting about. The entries are due tomorrow.

The weather is crummy so we're "stuck" inside. (I'm actually pleased to have an afternoon at home.) 

Katie is in extreme I-must-create-something-right-now mode. That forced me to I remember the contest, so I suggested that she write a poem or two.

She wrote five in about 30 minutes. 

"I want to use 'Kathryn' instead of 'Katie' because it sounds more professional."

By Kathryn Damm

In bed I lie
Fire crackles near
Cocoa at my side
Everlasting white


By Kathryn Damm

Black and white
In the night

Green glowing eyes
Nocturnal spies

Swiftly they fly
Then perch on a tree nearby


By Kathryn Damm

Fans chant
Players pant
One to one


By Kathryn Damm

Lights dim
Screen bright
Popcorn small
Lots of light


By Kathryn Damm

Birds sweetly sing
Eggs make a tiny crack
Mother birds proud of chicks
Happy spring!

Before church this morning