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