Monday, December 29, 2014

Kids need our support on the sidelines

From Saturday's Briefing:

During the most stressful moments of my most stressful jobs, no one in charge has yelled at me. In the middle of grown-up chaos, no one has hollered directions or detailed what I was doing wrong or demanded that I do something differently.
In 1990, when the scanners stopped working at Target on the Saturday before Christmas and all the cashiers had to type UPC codes from every single item while customer lines snaked through the store, no supervisor barked at us to type faster.
Over the many years that I designed news pages or edited ever-changing stories on tight deadlines, no one sat nearby, screaming at me to move a photo or revise a paragraph or write a headline.
These days, when I’m working one-on-one with a student who struggles to decipher a multisyllabic word or discern an author’s purpose in a given text, no one heckles or jeers from a corner of the classroom.
Yet at almost every youth sporting event I attend — games that, let’s face it, have very little long-term impact — parents are hollering at their kids (and sometimes even other people’s children).
You’ve heard the words: Move! Run! Get him! Stop her! Move faster! Run faster! Play smarter!
Why are we yelling at our kids? What do we expect to accomplish? How are we helping when we criticize loudly from the sidelines?
Cooper’s indoor soccer team lost last Sunday. The winning team’s goalkeeper worked hard, letting only one shot through. That was one too many for the young man’s dad.
Dad stood up and waved with exasperation. “Use your arms!” he bellowed in a huff — a dramatic plea that in no way could be mistaken for support or comfort.
It’s the same tone I hear from a few parents at every cross-country meet — angry messages of speeding up, of refusing to slow down, of beating the guy two paces ahead.
There’s a fine line between supporting and yelling. When Cooper sprints by during a meet, I’m deliberate in choosing my tone for “Go, Coop!” I’m hoping for joyful and encouraging, not disparaging and grumpy. I make an effort to smile, just in case he glances in my direction.
I’m hoping he knows I’m ready to cheer for him no matter his pace or his finish.
And all the while, I’m reminding myself that his performance — no matter how stellar or lackluster — is not a reflection of me.
His speed on the course is a reflection of how he performs in that moment, of how often he has trained, of how hard he’s pushed his body, of how well he’s hydrated during a full day of school, of his ability to recover should he slip and fall, of whether he gets elbowed by another runner, and of his reaction to the day’s weather conditions.
His placement at the finish line is his alone. The results of one race or game don’t define him, and they certainly don’t define me.
What does define him? His effort and attitude. His reaction to winning and his reaction to losing. How he treats teammates and competitors, coaches and referees. His progress and growth, even in tiny increments.
How will he make progress? By practicing. By making mistakes and accepting responsibility. By studying missteps and correcting them. By placing appropriate priority on a game.
A whole bunch of yelling and stomping and irritated, heavy sighing will only hold him back — and define me in all the wrong ways.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Bringing the '70s roots to parenting today

From today's Briefing:

I’m a conflicted child of the 1970s.
I eschew bellbottoms, yet I embrace a fine paisley print.
Avocado green is all wrong, yet harvest gold is perfectly acceptable.
No, thank you, Black Sabbath, Rush and Deep Purple. Yes, please, Allman Brothers, Queen and Fleetwood Mac.
Total disregard for child safety is troubling, yet a little loosey-goosey parenting is refreshing. Perhaps even necessary.
I rode in the bed of pickups. I didn’t wear a seatbelt in a car until 1985, when a state law forced me to. I first doffed a bicycle helmet when I was an adult.
I was thrown off merry-go-rounds and blistered on scorching metal slides. I swam at public pools crowded with kids and supervised by only a couple of teenage lifeguards — every single time without a drop of sunscreen protecting my fair, freckled skin.
Truly, we 40-somethings are fortunate to be alive.
How do we celebrate? By smothering our own children. By stepping in so often that we shield them from real life. By depriving them opportunities to learn how to survive.
I’m working on revisiting my ’70s roots, albeit with a 21st-century mind-set.
I credit the Boy Scouts for largely reshaping my parenting style.
About once a month, my son packs gear for a weekend away. He’s completely in charge of the whole camping-prep affair. If he forgets to pack socks or underwear, sunscreen or bug repellant, I’m not rescuing him.
After all, it’s Boy Scouts, not Mom Scouts. Cooper can survive two days without toothpaste or a hat. If he really needs something, he can barter with other Scouts, and perhaps he’s more likely to remember it next time. Maybe.
He starts fires and wields knives. He cooks and cleans. He builds shelters using grass, twigs and branches. All without the benefit — or hindrance — of my supervision. It’s been good training for him and even better training for me.
Tuesday afternoon, I was in my classroom, frantically answering emails and prepping for Wednesday in an effort to get out the door in time to pick up Cooper from his school and deliver him to a different school for a tennis match.
My phone rings.
“Hey, Momma. A friend’s dad can drive me to Wakeland. I’ll get there faster. Is that OK?”
Without hesitation, I said yes and wished him good luck. Only after the phone call did I realize that I didn’t even ask who the friend is or what the dad’s name is or does he drive a reliable car with seat belts.
Hours later, I parked at the courts to retrieve my son. He had won both matches — without me there to holler his name or clap real loud or repeatedly take his photo. In fact, there were very few parents there. Most just drop off and pick up, Cooper tells me, as visibility is sketchy, depending on which court you’re assigned, and no one really knows who will play when.
A sporting event without an entourage of paparazzi parents? It was almost like we’d stepped back in time.
Now, let’s be honest. I’m never going to be a full-on 1970s mom. I’ll insist on sunscreen every time we go to the neighborhood pool, and no, I’m not going to just drop off. Every single night, I’ll ask if homework is complete and most nights, I’ll spot-check assignments. I plan to take photos at most parties, performances and games.
Yet just this week, at the middle school winter band concert, I left my phone and camera in my purse. I didn’t record a single note of music. I listened, with my hands free and my mind clear. It was groovy. Can you dig it?
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Monday, December 08, 2014

Want to (help) buy a water buffalo?

Drawing by Katie
Katie's dream is to buy a water buffalo through Heifer International. The animal would be given to a family in need, to help with farming and food.

Our church's Christmas mission this year is to buy as many animals as possible. It's a happy collision of Katie's passions -- her love for church, her love for all the world's people and her love for Heifer, an organization we've supported since 2011.

"I think it’s important to help people who don’t have what we have," Katie wrote last week. "I already have everything I need and a lot of what I want. Other people don’t even have what they need, and I think that’s much more important than my wants."

A water buffalo is valuable and therefore pricey -- $250. As she's done in years past, she has launched a plan to raise money for the Christmas project.

Katie is selling bookmarks, one side with a drawing she created for the project (stained glass with three animals) and the other with a poem she recently wrote (see below). Each bookmark is $1.

She's already collected $40 from a kind church member and friend. She's working on creating 200 bookmarks, with the goal of selling every single one and having $240.

Please email if you'd like to buy a bookmark or two!


World, a place needing a together
World, barely enough dreaming
World, a never-ending war
World, a message with no meaning

Love, an open door
Love, just you and me
Love, unites our spirits
Love, blessed harmony

Happiness, a little light in the storm
Happiness, the wag of a tail
Happiness, finding there is no need to lurk
Happiness, walking down life's trail

Peace, is never enough
Peace, the shake of a hand
Peace, has barely started
Peace, a graceful land

-- Kathryn Sibley Damm

Monday, December 01, 2014

When magic and honesty collide

From Saturday's Briefing:

We have exactly 12 minutes until we need to back out of the driveway. My hair is dry, but my makeup is only partially applied, and I don’t yet have shoes on my feet.

I’m poised to apply lip gloss when our whole world changes, as Katie stomps in with a demand.

“Tell me the truth about Santa.”

Have I mentioned that I haven’t yet had even a sip of coffee?

“What do you mean, ‘Tell me the truth about Santa’?”

(The absence of caffeine does not dull my well-honed parental stalling tactics.)

“I mean, is he real?” asks my determined 9-year-old.

“What do you mean, ‘Is he real’?”

(The clock is ticking. I’m running out of time to get ready and time to delay the inevitable.)

“I mean, does Santa really go to every house on Christmas Eve and deliver presents?”

Tears are pooling in her eyes, and I’m praying to keep my own at bay.

“Well, Santa needs some helpers to get all that work done.”

We stare at each other. I’m afraid to breathe. I’m afraid to give more details. I’m afraid that I’m going to be late to work.

“Do parents give the presents?”

“Do you really want to know?”





“Yes, parents usually give the presents. Not always, but usually.”

We stare at each other a little longer. She doesn’t speak. I break the silence.

“But I believe in the magic of Santa and the spirit of Santa.”

She walks away.

I rush to get on lip gloss and shoes. I brew a cup of coffee, toast some bread, let the dog out and in one more time, load the car with graded papers and lunch.

We don’t speak of Santa again until later in the afternoon.

“Katie, do you want to talk about Santa?”


The silence continues for weeks. I assume she’s in deep denial, and I have no desire to pull my baby out of it.

We’re on the road, driving to visit Grandma and Papa for lunch. She pipes up from the back.

“What about the Elf on the Shelf? Is he real?”

We walk into the house.

“What do you mean, ‘Is he real?’ We see Little Red Charlie at our house every year. Of course he’s real.”

“No. I mean does Little Red Charlie have magic?”

“I have no idea if he has magic.”

“Do you pick him up and move him around the house?”


“You want to know if I pick him up and move him around the house every night?”

“Yes. That’s what I want to know.”



She offers no words, but her eyes reveal disappointment. Perhaps a hint of distrust.

Later that night, I broach the subject again.

“Do you think Little Red Charlie should visit again this year?”

She shrugs.

Cooper can take it no longer.

“Of course he should visit!” my tenderhearted 13-year-old exclaims.

Cooper is well read and blessed with a sharp, logical mind. He’s also visited the same Santa — our Santa — since 2001. He dares not to speak of folks who might help Santa or elves. He loves the magic of Christmas, choosing to bask in the moments rather than analyze their source.

Tell me the truth. Is there a chance that his sister will eventually adopt the same cheerful attitude? That the whole house will once again believe in the magic of Santa? Really. I want to know.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at