Sunday, May 18, 2014

Before church this morning

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Learn to embrace the chaotic month of May

From today's Briefing:

It’s the middle of May. No mom needs a calendar to know this. She only needs a calendar to keep straight all of the stuff going on, including the stuff she’s going to miss because there’s too much going on.
Sure signs it’s the middle of May:
You take a brief moment of stolen time to look at Pinterest for ideas for end-of-the-year teacher gifts. After getting lost in a sea of impossible cuteness, you wake up to the realization that you’re never going to weave burlap or hand-stamp cards or glue crayons around a pencil holder or create a personalized ruler wreath. So you vow to pick up a few gift cards the next time you drive through Starbucks.
The kitchen table no longer affords space for eating. It’s covered with glue sticks, scraps of paper, random bits of cotton balls and ribbon. Somewhere, you’re certain, is the pair of scissors no one can find. Piled on top of that mess every afternoon are tattered, barely-held-together binders that you bought back in August. The binders for which you paid extra because they promised to be extra durable. The binders lied.
All the people in your house start to go to bed a little later than normal, as if they’re conditioning their bodies for the free-for-all that is summer break. Along with this, they all start to sleep in a little later in the mornings, creating increasing chaos as the last day of school draws nearer.
You’re washing, drying, folding and putting away twice as many clothes and towels than usual. Your people are still wearing school clothes and athletic clothes, plus they’re swimming as often as possible, creating piles of chlorine-soaked swimsuits and beach towels. They’re also dressing up for final recitals and end-of-year parties.
Your car/SUV/minivan becomes your family’s second home, offering shelter to and from games, programs, events, parties and spontaneous trips to the frozen yogurt shop. You fully expect that one day, perhaps in mid-June, you’ll clean out the vehicle and unload the springtime assemblage of books, flyers, graded papers, receipts, sunscreen bottles and granola bar wrappers.
Speaking of frozen yogurt, you might convince yourself that a tiny tub of frozen yogurt plus toppings is the equivalent of a healthy dinner, especially when fresh fruit is piled on top. (Ignore the bits of waffle cone.)
You temporarily forget your rocky relationship with Pinterest and scour the site for potluck ideas. You stare at beautifully lit photos of individual seven-layer Mexican dip, antipasto on a stick and dessert kebabs.
A few minutes later, you snap out of the DIY daze. You admit that you lack the patience for making 36 individual servings of anything. You chuck those ideas and buy pita chips, prepared hummus and olives and throw it all on a platter. Or maybe you purchase a package of cookies from the grocery store bakery, and serve straight from the plastic box.
There’s at least one event that you forget. Or an appointment for which you’re inexcusably late. Or there’s a Saturday afternoon that you mistakenly double-book, and now you’re desperate to figure out how to leave one event early and arrive beyond- fashionably late at the other.
You long for mid-June, when little is expected. When there’s no homework to check, no forms to initial. When you’re not packing lunches. When you’re not policing bedtimes.
Of course, by mid-July, you’ll be wishing for mid-August, when it all begins again. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. For now, let’s embrace mid-May and all its frenetic, celebratory, mad-dash glory. And let’s pencil in a nap for when it’s all over.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Monday, May 05, 2014

Giving kids space can lead to confidence

From Saturday's Briefing:

So much of parenting is balancing theory with reality.
Within weeks of verifying I was pregnant with our first child, I gathered every book deemed relevant and acceptable. I set aside novels for nonfiction, and I dived into pregnancy and baby-care manuals.
I formulated all kinds of plans for the birth, for feeding and sleeping, and for introducing music and books at a young age.
From that very first birthday, theory was thrown out in favor of reality. Cooper was more than 9 pounds when he was born, and his birth required two anesthesiologists and multiple use of forceps — never a part of our plan.
Ever since, I’ve been balancing as all parents do — making decisions with background knowledge and adjusting as dictated by real-time conditions, whims and moods.
I know without a doubt that my children are totally capable of doing their own schoolwork and projects without my advice or assistance. I know that when they do the work by themselves, they gain confidence and build their sense of self-worth.
I know that teachers want to see what their students know, not what their students’ parents know.
And yet, in reality, sometimes it’s difficult to step away, to stay quiet when there’s errant punctuation or a forgotten digit. It’s easy to rationalize that stepping in with advice or strong suggestions is simply a sign of support. It’s more difficult to evaluate my motives and words, to stop myself from stepping in where I’m neither needed nor invited.
Katie has completed two orbital studies this year (a fancy way of saying extra-credit projects). Her first study focused on anthropologist Jane Goodall, and I mostly stayed clear.
She gathered books, read selections on her own and wrote her own report. When she was considering how to put her poster together, though, I tossed aside worries about interference and chimed in.
I “consulted” on the layout and design. I offered advice on where to place her headline, drawing and facts. There was what I considered an awkward gap, so I suggested she write a poem about Goodall to fill it in.
She took and followed all of my unsolicited advice without complaint. The final poster was tasteful and polished.
But what message did I send? Were my suggestions subtly telling Katie that her ideas, her creativity, her work wasn’t good enough?
On the next project, I assumed a role of complete silence.
Katie chose to study the Canada lynx. Again, she conducted her own research.
She wrote and edited her own paper (punctuated by a plea for humans to take care of the earth and animals like the lynx).
This time, the presentation was 100 percent her own. I saw nothing — not a rough draft or a sketch of the diorama — until she was finished. Not once did she seek my help or ask for my approval. She didn’t run out of her room and ask, “Do you like this?” or “Do you think this is OK?”
She gathered everything she needed from odds and ends around the house and her vast collection of art supplies.
She laid white paper on the bottom of a shoebox to re-create snow, then added a few paper snowballs here and there. She used blue clay and strips of pink paper to represent a northern sky at sunset. Green clay became an evergreen tree.
She sculpted the lynx from white clay mixed with gray. The giant wild cat was stalking a snowshoe hare fashioned from Styrofoam.
Now this was the work — the slightly messy, completely authentic work — of an 8-year-old.
As she gingerly carried the diorama to the car Tuesday morning, she told me, “I like my work on the lynx a little better than on Jane Goodall.”
In theory, those are the words I’ll remember for every other assignment that comes home. I’ll work on making it reality.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Friday, May 02, 2014

Magic Porridge Pot

Katie is trying out again for the Lone Star Storytelling Festival.

This time last year, she recorded "The Three Billy Goats Gruff," and was selected as one of 12 student tellers for the festival.

(The 2013 audition video is here.)

Today she recorded "The Magic Porridge Pot." (Click here for the 2014 audition video.)

We're hoping she makes the cut again this year!