Sunday, April 27, 2014

After church this morning

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Photo is a precious reminder

From today's Briefing:

Happy new year! Well, happy new year for me. I’m now 42 and one day.
My middle-age birthdays tend to steer me toward introspection with a healthy dash of gratitude, all wrapped up in joy.
Joy because I’m celebrating another year not promised. Because I get to continue to be mom to Cooper and Katie. Because when I consider all that I’ve learned in the past 12 months and all that’s still out there to experience, I can’t help but feel a little giddy.
Introspection kicked in early this week, when dear friends found and shared a photo of baby Katie and her daddy — my late husband, Steve.
The image was snapped at a bowling alley birthday party. Katie is nestled in an infant carrier, covered in a floral receiving blanket, grasping Steve’s right index finger with her tiny hand and staring at his face.
Steve, in turn, is totally focused on Katie. His profile is turned away from the camera, but you can still glimpse his smile and unadulterated delight in his chubby-cheeked daughter.
I love these little post-Steve discoveries, for me and for Cooper and Katie. The photo offers tangible proof of Steve’s devotion. And yet, the great thing about their dad is that we don’t really need a photo. We carry with us — all the time — all the love Steve poured out. And he didn’t even make it to 41.
The photo is remarkable to me now because it’s a snapshot of our everyday lives before cancer and death. Steve wasn’t posing. He was just caught in the act of doting.
How many of my everyday moments would be so flattering? Am I kind to strangers? Do all — or even most — of my interactions reflect the care and affection I feel toward my colleagues and students? Do the people I love the most know truly how much I love them?
I’m afraid the answer isn’t yes often enough. The good news, though, is I have the gift of today and tomorrow. There aren’t do-overs, but I get fresh chances with each new day of my 43rd year.
What does that look like? I’ve started a list.
Less multitasking when I’m with people. Resisting the urge to check my iPhone every few minutes. Being fully engaged in conversations.
Editing words and tone before I speak. Choosing sincerity over sarcasm more often. Lavishing my children and my students with encouragement.
Expressing thankfulness. Sharing more. Judging less.
It’s an ambitious list. Results may be sketchy.
Yet I can’t wait to get started — because I get to be 42, because I’m thankful for the years I’ve had, and because I might have another 42 years in me. I don’t want to waste a moment.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

What's the answer? A little creativity

From Saturday's Briefing:

Children all over Texas have just finished a round of stand- ardized tests that hold them accountable for finding the best answers to math and reading questions.

While there’s currently healthy debate about how many tests are appropriate, how effective they are, how much they cost and how much weight they carry, there’s no question that in real life, there are moments when finding the best answer is necessary.

At the same time, there are plenty of moments when there’s no one best answer, when a person’s value isn’t measured by A, B, C or D. There are plenty of moments when we need to innovate, manipulate, rethink and create.

I’ve tried to encourage a healthy balance with Cooper and Katie, emphasizing the importance of the right answer when necessary (even if it takes dozens of tries to get there) and the importance of seeking questions and situations with multiple answers — none of them wrong.

With that in mind, I quizzed some of my mom friends — creative women who’ve already raised their children as well as those who are still in the middle of the joyful mess. Of course, there is no one “right” answer for nurturing creativity.

Here is a glimpse at some of what works in our homes.

1 Less structure: Kids who have every afternoon booked with tutoring, lessons, practices, games and meetings have less time to explore the world on their own.

Katrina says, “Let kids roam ‘free range’ outside.” Another mom shares, “When you schedule every minute of every day for kids, there isn’t a lot if room for exploring ideas or creating.”

At Angela’s house, her two children “get lots of unstructured time after school and on breaks, where they have to rely on their imagination to play together.”

2 Less mass media: Be willing to take away screens and force your kids to interact with the real world.

“I enforce boredom, meaning I make them take down time,” says Tracey. “No screens. They are allowed to read, or draw, or go outside, but that’s about it. That’s when I see them get creative.”

3 Access to supplies: Keep the house stocked with tools that encourage creativity — blocks, paints, clay, piles of wood, paper, pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks, empty cardboard tubes, scissors and glue.

“We always had plenty of art supplies around and allowed my kids both the time and place to create when they wanted,” Ami says.

Melissa encourages a range of media to play with — art supplies, open-ended and pretend-play toys, books, blank notebooks and music.

4 Embrace the mess and the mistakes: Creating isn’t neat work. Don’t be afraid of clutter, spills or errors.

“Creativity can be messy,” Renee says. “Nurturing creativity requires that I hold my children with an open hand, encourage them to take risks, and provide support when they fail.”

Jenny adds, “A ‘failure’ isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It opens up the door for looking for better or different ways to solve a problem or learn something new. We tend to only celebrate victory, but honestly some of the best or most lasting lessons are learned through difficulty.”

5 Embrace their passions: Allow them to pursue their interests and provide extra support when you can.

“When they want to try something new, I support them,” Angela says.

Suzy finds lessons that match her daughter’s interest in art, music, singing and dance. Most are for a fee, of course, but there are free options (such as studio time at the Dallas Museum of Art, Saturday mornings at Guitar Center and monthly events at the Nasher Sculpture Center).

Liz takes cues from her daughter. “I just give her the space when I can to follow whatever inspires her and march to the beat of her own drummer.”

6 Give creative gifts: For birthdays and holidays, consider gifts that encourage participation, engagement and problem-solving.

Every year for Christmas, Patti would give her daughter, Sarah, a game board and pieces but no rules. Sarah could then create her own games. She’d give her son, Wesley, a cookbook.

Melissa believes in “experience” gifts — a date to paint ceramics or an afternoon of ice skating.

Many moms mentioned books, books and more books. Buy as many as you can. Borrow as many as you can. Read them aloud for story time. Read them aloud while the kids are playing quietly. Give them time to read on their own.

Liz listens to her daughter’s requests. “If she sees an everyday object (paper towel roll, empty box, etc.) and wants it for a project, I almost always indulge it. She often asks for string, and one day when she was home she built an entire spiderweb across the entryway to the dining room.”

7 Don’t give too much: Allow children the opportunity to create their own playthings.

“Tonight I got my reflexes checked with a toothbrush, and that was all Laney’s idea,” Emily says. “I think it’s important to leave play up to their imagination and not give our kids every possible real-life prop, even though all those dramatic play kits sure are cute.”

Kristin agrees: “Can’t find something that is exactly what we are looking for to house Lego or doll accessories, decorate our room or costume our dog? Let’s figure out what materials we might have around the house to make it.”

8 Ask and encourage questions: Ask children open-ended, what-if questions, and invite them to do the same.

Laura says, “When we talk about things — what they learned in school that day, something we see during the day, something we hear — I ask them why they think something is the way it is, how things could be different or problems could be solved or managed.”

9 Get outside: Open up their world by sharing nature and multiple styles of expression.

Sharon, now a grandmother, is a big believer in the great outdoors. “‘No kid left inside’ is the motto.”

Ami remembers, “When we were out in the world, I always pointed out the beautiful clouds, colors in the sky, flowers, structures, things of beauty that I admired.”

10 Let go: Relinquish control of what they’re wearing. Don’t dictate what they’re playing.

“I think the greatest thing I can do to nurture creativity in my children is to be aware of my tendency to desire that they do what I think they should do,” Renee says.

Emily’s stance: “You want to wear a Christmas shirt in March? Go for it.”

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at