Saturday, December 26, 2015

We are rich with the most important gifts

From today's Briefing:

On the last day of school before winter break, I assigned homework to my fourth-graders. I printed their tasks on the whiteboard:
Read every day.
Enjoy family.
Be thankful.
Share joy.
The assignment came with a little speech.
“You’ll be gone for 16 days. We’ve worked hard this year on your reading skills. I don’t want your brain to turn to mush while we’re apart, so please read a little every day. Even if you’re reading junky books, read something.
“Spend time with your family members and let them know you’re happy to be with them.
“I want you to think about everything you have before you receive presents and be thankful. Each of us has everything we need, and a lot of us have a lot of what we want. I hope you are as happy the day before you receive gifts as you are the day after.
“And I hope that you’ll find ways to share your joy with the people around you.”
I’m not sure how much they heard (we were, after all, hours from two weeks of freedom) or how diligently they’ve been working on their assign- ments this week. I may have lost a few with that reading assignment first thing. None of them could have been too surprised by the list, though. It mirrors my everyday teaching.
We’re in the middle of Little House in the Big Woods, the first novel in the Laura Ingalls Wilder series. As I read aloud, I stop often to ask questions (“What can you infer …”) and answer questions (“What does that mean?”).
I also pause to emphasize differences between our 21st-century suburban lives and the lives of 19th-century pioneers.
Our food almost always comes from a grocery store or restaurant. Their food came from the fields and woods.
Our clothes almost always come from a store — or online equivalent. Their clothes were almost always handmade.
We are constantly entertained, with media streaming in our homes, on our phones. Their entertainment was Pa playing the fiddle when he wasn’t too tired from working all day.
One of the most obvious differences is Christmas now and Christmas then.
In the novel, Laura receives more gifts than any other child on Christmas morning: red mittens, a peppermint stick and a rag doll. The handmade doll replaces her previous doll, a corncob by the name of Susan.
I stop reading in the middle of the Christmas chapter and let it all sink in. All the cousins received two simple gifts. They need mittens for the harsh winters. A stick of candy is a luxury.
And little Laura? She’s rendered speechless when she receives a doll made of cloth and yarn.
There are days as a teacher and a parent that I wish we could regain that wonder found in basic, simple pleasures. I don’t want my students or my own two children to feel guilty for the luxuries we enjoy. I do want us all to recognize how fortunate we are.
No matter what was under the tree or in stockings Friday, no matter which of our wishes were fulfilled, we’re already rich with the most important gifts. We have clean drinking water. We have access to healthy food. We live in safe communities. Education is available to all.
We’ve got countless reasons to be thankful and joyful, no matter the day of the year.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Monday, December 14, 2015

Holiday errands lead to sweet memories

From Saturday's Briefing:

A luxury I’ve learned to allow myself is a scheduled day off before Christmas so I can finish the errands that inevitably pop up.
As I made my list this week and planned stops strategically, I thought of the old days, when I was a work-from-home mom with younger children and a more flexible schedule. Did I fully appreciate my life back then?
On my day off this week, after I delivered my children to their schools, I sat at a coffee shop for a full hour, visiting with a friend. We drank from real cups. We had a real conversation, making up for the quick texts we usually exchange.
I was able to shop at Trader Joe’s without jostling crowds. The lack of shoppers afforded me time to study the shelves, to investigate the latest ways cookie butter is being employed. There was no wait for a cashier, and no one standing behind me, anxious to move on.
Every other store was the same way. I found nearby parking spots. Merchandise was well stocked. Sales staff members, often harried by weekend crowds, were jovial. Pleasantries were exchanged all over the place.
Meanwhile, my to-do list was being whittled with ease. Bank deposit? Check! Gift cards for teachers? Check! Wrapping paper on sale? Check!
And then it all came to a grinding halt.
I dared to enter an arts and crafts store at noon — the time when working people manage to squeeze in an errand or two instead of eating a proper lunch.
Aisles were clogged. Spirits were low. I felt a little weak. (Perhaps because I hadn’t yet stopped for a proper lunch.)
I took my place in a winding queue sandwiched between registers and bins of stuff. Ribbons, costume jewelry, note cards, liquid soap, gummy bears the size of a newborn baby. Along the bottommost shelf were piles of small stuffed animals.
“I want this one!” squealed a tiny but strong voice behind me.
“We can put it on your Christmas list,” Tiny’s mom replied.
“Yes, ma’am. That would make me happy!”
There was the briefest pause and then, “I want this one, too!”
“We can put it on your Christmas list,” her mom said.
“Oh! Look at this one! I want this one!”
“We can put it on your Christmas list,” the world’s most patient mom repeated.
The line inched forward, getting all of us a little closer to the register and offering Tiny easy access to more fuzzy animals, all of which she desperately wanted. As soon as she’d pick up one big-eyed critter, she’d spot another she loved, discard the first and embrace the second.
At last, mom declared, “I will put the entire line of Ty Beanie Boos on your list. Every single one ever made. But we are not buying one now.”
I giggled to myself. I wanted to hug the mom. (I refrained.) And I remembered the “old days.”
Yes, I had a more flexible schedule, but I was also in charge of my own tiny, strong-willed people all day long. We didn’t complete errands with ease. Schedules were dictated by meals, nap times and, in the most treacherous of weeks, potty training. Damm children were responsible for tantrums of varying degrees all over town.
Did I enjoy every single moment? Nope. Was it a luxury to spend so much time with my children when they were very young? Absolutely.
I paid for my craft supplies. I walked to the minivan. I thought about Tiny and her mom.
I irrationally wanted time to slow down for them, for all of us parents who can’t believe how quickly these babes of ours grow and go to school and create wish lists that no longer include stuffed animals.
I re-entered the mundane. Dry cleaning dropped off? Check. Quick lunch? Check. Christmas card list compiled? Check.
Big hugs for my big people the moment they got home? Without a doubt.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Notecards for Christmas

Our church is again participating in Advent Conspiracy -- an effort to deepen the understanding of the days and weeks leading to Christmas, as we wait the good news of the birth of Jesus. There are four main tenets to the conspiracy: Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More, Love All.

Katie has embraced Advent Conspiracy for a few years now. She has sold bags of puff balls and jingle bells, homemade hot cocoa mix, and handmade bookmarks

This year she created three pieces of art that our church is using for the campaign. 

She chose her favorite piece, which represents ways in which we can help our neighbors, for fold-over notecards.

Each bundle of notecards includes this message from Katie about where the money will go.
She is selling bundles of five notecards for a minimum donation of $5. All the money that she earns will go to a dedicated fund at our church. Katie wants the money to go directly to children in need -- for either food or education. The money will be available to use in 2016 for children in need in the community.

If you would like a set (or more!) of the notecards, you can email me at

Thank you for considering! 

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Holiday memories shine brighter than any tree

From today's Briefing:

Red and green boxes tower, cluttering the entryway and dining room. A ladder stands at the ready. The three of us step back and stare at the re-assembled artificial tree.
“It looks great!” Katie gushes.
“It’s ready to go,” Cooper agrees.
I shake my head. At least two sections of attached lights refuse to glow.
I ask Cooper to unplug and replug the lights. We jiggle strands. We examine tiny white bulbs.
No change. Sections of the tree remain dark.
I remember that a few of years ago I bought one of those “As Seen on TV” devices — a plastic tool that promises to fix most Christmas lights. Katie finds it in a kitchen drawer.
The printed instructions are long since gone, but we find a link online and reacquaint ourselves with the questionable process.
Then we discover that the tool runs on teeny-tiny batteries, and the batteries are corroded.
So we abandon the partially lit, undecorated tree. We leave Christmas carols playing in the family room and dash to the grocery store.
Cooper hunts down the specialty batteries. Katie selects her favorite flavor of eggnog. I choose some hot cocoa.
In no time we’re back at home. Seasonal beverages will have to wait. I want those lights to shine.
We replace the batteries. We follow every single step of the magical light fixer-upper.
Nothing but darkness remains in the middle.
My shoulders sag. We can’t move forward with beads and ornaments and ribbon until the lights work. I start running through scenarios in my head.
Cooper gently touches my arm.
“It’s OK, Momma, without those lights,” he says. “That’s not what the season is about.”
Sometimes it’s difficult to discern sincere Cooper from sarcastic Cooper, but today there was no question.
I hand the light fixer back to Katie to return to the drawer. I pour cups of eggnog and cocoa for the kids. I drape strands of pearl and crystal beads on the tree, moving the stepladder around, asking for advice on placement, doing my best to ignore the darkened bulbs.
I open the first box of ornaments, and one at a time we begin to hang them on the tree. We share stories and memories about most of them.
The cowboy and cowgirl from the summer we spent a week at a dude ranch. The tin robot from the year that tiny Cooper wore robot pajamas almost every night. The purple narwhal from an art fair in Boston the year that Katie dressed as a narwhal for Halloween.
The cross from Katie’s baptism. The angel my mom made years before she died. The ceramic plaque that says “Believe.”
One by one we unpack symbols of the reason for the season in our house — hope, love, joy, peace and belief in a child sent from heaven to save humanity.
When I admire our finished tree, I no longer see dim sections. Instead, I’m reminded of my son’s sweet words and the memories stored up in that tree and the hope that my family relies on every day. My eyes and heart are drawn to the light that dispels darkness.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Monday, November 16, 2015

Many reasons to give thanks

From Saturday's Briefing:

We’re nestled in that tiny space in the calendar that allows us time to express gratitude before the rush of Christmas sweeps us into a frenzy.

Sure, we might occasionally purchase a gift or two, RSVP for a couple of parties and start mentally decorating the mantle, but for right now, we’re officially in Thanksgiving mode. It’s the briefest season of the year.

I love ornament exchanges and secret Santas, Nutcracker performances and gaudy light displays. I watch my share of Christmas specials and listen to holiday tunes nonstop in December. Yet I always feel rushed getting there.

This year feels slightly different. At the beginning of 2015, I challenged myself to make every day a sort of thanksgiving. I committed to posting on Instagram one image a day that would illustrate what I’m thankful for. Unlike my past attempts at gratitude journals, which I would earnestly start and then unceremoniously ditch, this project actually stuck.

For 317 days so far, I have posted a photo plus a note of thanks for all the social media world (or at least my small circle of friends) to see.

What am I thankful for? According to my posts:

Good news from the doctor. Plumbing leak repair. An old collection of recipes.

My job. Good books. Sunrises.

Free Slurpees in July. A bouquet of flowers from a student. Our public library.

Even more than good news, food, gifts and special places, though, I am thankful for people.

More than 100 posts of 317 have reflected thankfulness for family members, friends, neighbors, co-workers, a barista, even a backpack salesman.

On the last day of spring break, I wrote about Cooper and Katie: “Thankful for these two intrepid travelers. The three of us have forged many adventures together, and with each trip, they show strength, flexibility, resourcefulness and resiliency.”

At the end of the school year, I wrote: “Thankful for the chance to hug Beverly, one of the most important people in my family's life. She has nurtured all three of us, through Steve’s illness and death and through our grief. She believed in my dream to become a teacher and took a chance on hiring me. When I think of her impact on just the three of us and then multiply it by thousands of families, well, I get overwhelmed. She’s nearing retirement, and no educator I know has earned it more.”

This fall: “Thankful for Erin, who has cut my hair for six years, who listens to my stories, who offers a well of empathy, who always makes me laugh and who makes me feel beautiful.”

Not far behind all those people is a pile of thanks for experiences. Movie nights at home, a day on the beach, evening walks on the greenbelt, track meets, band concerts.

From a weekend when Cooper was away camping: “Thankful for small adventures. After church and Sunday school I asked Katie, ‘Should we go home or go on an adventure?’ She leaped at the latter, so we headed to the Dallas Museum of Art for some creating and analyzing. Then I introduced my vegetarian daughter to the Old East Dallas standby Kalachandji's, a veggie buffet in the Hare Krishna temple.”

From a recent day trip to Arlington: “Thankful for short lines, cool breezes, fun friends, mushroom hats and a Pink Thing at Six Flags.”

From our recent Six Flags trip
On even the crummiest of days, I’ve found reasons to give thanks.

A full pantry. A friend who comes to the rescue. A bubble bath.

My list of blessings is longer than I can count. I’ve got everything I need and a whole lot of what I want.

I plan to keep stretching out Thanksgiving, sprinkling it on every day of the year. Perhaps it will prove to be the perfect antidote to the joyful yet manic Christmas season.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Before church this morning

This was taken about 30 minutes before Katie fled the sanctuary and threw up all over the bathroom floor. Twice. Some days don't work out as you'd like or as you'd planned.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Weathered hands hold lifetime of memories

From today's Briefing:

Every now and then, I glance at my hands in alarm. Where did all these veins and ligaments come from? Why didn’t that scar from Christmas 2009 heal? For real, are these actually my hands?
Yes, these are my 43-year-old freckled, slightly lined hands. And oh, the stories they could tell.
Tales of calluses from the monkey bars and from those uneven bars on 1970s playgrounds — the kind from which girls would flip and hang like opossums.
Tales of learning to type on a manual typewriter, the kind that required superhuman strength from the pinky fingers to force the number 1 and the letter P to strike.
Tales of holding my babies for the first time, of swaddling and diapering, bathing and feeding, cradling and snuggling.
Those babies keep getting bigger, and though my hands are still required, the jobs have evolved.
Right now, my hands are a little beaten up from my amateur sewing skills. Katie, who has never fully embraced store-bought costumes, has designed for Halloween this year an out-of-this-world ensemble. She is a cow in space.
This bovine space traveler getup consists of white sweatpants and sweatshirt covered in black spots and a black cap sporting a host of wires that support painted Styrofoam planets and the sun.
Katie did most of the work — planning, painting, cutting, pinning. She’s not yet comfortable with sewing by hand, so that work belongs to me and my now-needle-worn fingers. The final effect — Holstein meets the Milky Way — is totally worth it.
My weathered hands will come in handy again Saturday as I follow my cosmic calf through the neighborhood. Inevitably during trick-or- treating, a handmade accessory pops off, and a quick rescue is required. (Last year’s narwhal tusk necessitated frequent adjustments.)
I’m not complaining one iota about the sewing or the anticipation of on-the-spot fixes. In fact, I’m soaking it up in light of another turn of events: My older child is, for the first time ever, not dressing up at all.
I remember my teenager as a wiggly bear, a toddling crab, a speedy Buzz Lightyear, a magical Harry Potter, a disarming mummy, a bearded wizard, a spindly scarecrow, an alarmingly overgrown monkey.
I recall holding Cooper’s dimpled hand as we walked house to house, reminding him to say “please” and “thank you,” urging him to take only one or two pieces. I remember swiping a fun-size Snickers bar or two from his overflowing pumpkin pail.
This year he’s just one of us, planning to visit with friends, hand out candy to pint-sized ninjas and princesses, maybe swipe a Snickers or two from his sister’s bounty. That’s what happens, I suppose, when you’re 6-2 and closer to college than elementary school. You’re not exactly grown up, and you’re definitely not a little kid.
His hands are still smooth, though.
Those hands have their own tales. Of practicing clarinet, pitching tents and kayaking the Atchafalaya Basin. Of texting, cycling and lighting candles on the church altar.
For a couple of years, predictably and understandably, he wouldn’t let me hold his hand in public. Yet somewhere in the transition from little kid to teen, he started offering his hand again.
His hand wrapped around mine — that’s worth celebrating, no matter how stark the contrast, no matter how foreign my aging hand looks. We’ve both got a whole slew of stories left to discover and tell. I’ll accept every wrinkle and imperfection along the way.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Monday, October 19, 2015

Parent-teacher conferences are no reason to fret

From Saturday's Briefing:
Nestled between the anticipation of the first day of school and the joy of Thanksgiving break is a less celebrated phenomenon: parent- teacher conference season.
I’ve been attending such conferences since Cooper was a baby and his child care center summoned me to review a checklist of age-appropriate behavior. Now, as an elementary school teacher in my third year, I’m also conducting such meetings. It’s not easy for either side.
As a parent, it’s difficult to sit before another adult, the one who sees your child more often than you do most days, and hear strengths and weaknesses boiled down to a few phrases. It’s hard to see the essence of your child, the person you worry about and care about and love most of all, boiled down to a reading level and a math assessment and a couple of quotes.
As a teacher, it’s difficult to truly know a student after only seven weeks of school. At the same time, it’s difficult to fully describe the child in only 15 or 20 minutes.
During Cooper’s first-ever conference, more than 13 years ago, the teacher told me she was concerned that my son had no fear of strangers. “He will smile at everyone,” she intoned. “He will wave at everyone.”
Her stoic pause and intense eye contact told me that I, too, should be worried, but I couldn’t understand why. I was on edge the rest of the meeting, unable to focus on all the boxes with checkmarks, instead internally fretting over my firstborn’s lack of discernment.
It’s been like that ever since — well-meaning teachers, excellent teachers, reporting data that attempt to define my children.
Can they sit on their pockets during calendar time? Can they sit in a chair for a lesson? Can they stand in line without talking?
Can they identify letters and sounds? Write letters? Write a complete sentence? Write a complete paragraph? Can they count? Add one-digit numbers? Subtract? Solve multistep word problems? Solve division problems using area models?
It’s all important, yes, but it doesn’t add up to the total child. All that data doesn’t reflect the heart and spirit of a person. It doesn’t necessarily reveal resiliency or a delightful sense of humor or a healthy dose of whimsy. A 20-minute conference can’t begin to capture the soul.
Knowing all of that makes it even more challenging to be the one responsible for collecting data and anecdotal notes, for reporting the academic, social and emotional essence of a child.
When I see a mom wrestling her fingers or biting the inside of her lip, I want to reach across the desk and hold her hands. I want to say, “Let go of your worries. Nothing I can say about how your child performs at school changes who you are as a mom or how fiercely you love that baby. I’m offering only a tiny window into your whole child’s world.”
I don’t say all that. Instead, I say things like, “I love having your child in my class,” and, “Your child is a valuable member of our classroom family.” And then we look at reading data and writing goals and math assessments — because that’s what school is about.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Working yourself out of the mom job

From today's Briefing:
Sometimes you’re so entrenched in the work of parenting that you forget you’re working yourself out of the job.
I’ll always be a mom, of course, but every night that I tuck in my children, I’m one night closer to being out of the raising-children business. With my babies now 339 months and 124 months (otherwise known as 14 and 10), I’m well past the midpoint of the heavy lifting of child rearing.
It’s been years since I stocked no-tears shampoo in the bathroom cabinet. Sippy cups are long gone. I have no idea about the latest technology in disposable diapers or baby wipe warmers (are those even still popular?) or jogging strollers.
Yet I’m still firmly rooted in the business of raising my children, so much so that it’s easy to forget that the days are waning.
Most schooldays, Cooper beats me home. He rides his bike from school and settles in to his homework routine. By the time I walk in the back door, he’s at the kitchen table, studying classical civilizations or irregular Spanish verbs or mitochondria.
Before I can even set my purse on the barstool, he asks, “Momma, how was your day?”
Not, “Momma, I’m hungry.” Or, “Hey, I need to tell you something.” Nope, he welcomes me home with maturity that sometimes takes me off guard — until I remember he’s four years from college. My time as his everyday mentor is running low. We’ve got more — so much more — to cover, but that daily greeting reminds me he’s moving in the right direction.
Now there’s evidence that he’s starting to realize what exactly he’s moving toward. He’s increasingly aware of the world beyond our sheltered home.
I’ve had a little hip pain — nothing serious but enough to make me grumble a couple of times.
“Why don’t you go to the doctor?” my reasonable son asked this week.
I think it’s muscular, I answered, and I want to work on some stretches on my own before I go to the doctor and incur who-knows-how-much in expenses.
“Don’t we have insurance?” Cooper asked.
Yes, I explained, but we have a high deductible, which means I pay 100 percent of costs for everything until we hit a certain amount, and then we pay a percentage of the costs.
“And we don’t want to hit the deductible,” I told him, “because that means one of us has had an accident or needs surgery or something catastrophic has happened.”
I told him how much premiums cost each month and how many hours I work to earn that money, and then I threw in a few estimates for office visits and diagnostic tests. I explained that we, of course, seek treatment when we need it, but it’s also important to be a wise consumer.
He was silent for a moment. Then he crossed the room, wrapped his arms around me and said, “It’s hard to be an adult.”
I hugged him right back, silently agreeing and soaking up the gesture of empathy.
He broke free and looked me in the eye. “So, how long can I stay on your insurance?”
Wise question, young man. You’ve got another 12 years if you need it. Soak it up. That time’s guaranteed to fly by.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Monday, September 21, 2015

Climb that tree, baby bear

From Saturday's Briefing:

A line of children and their people wiggles around the museum building. We’re all waiting for the doors to open for a wildly popular temporary exhibit in Washington, D.C.

Cooper, Katie and I find our spot behind a mom and her two sons. Her boys spy nearby trees, ask permission to climb and sprint away.

Katie watches the scene unfold. She sees the boys kick off their Crocs, peel off their socks and scramble up the trunk like bear cubs. She pleads, “Can I go climb a tree?”

“Well, no, you’re not, um, exactly known for your tree-climbing skills,” I answer apologetically, suspecting that I am crushing her spirit even as the words come out of my mouth.

What I was really thinking: I’m afraid you’ll scrape your knee or your elbows. I’m afraid you’ll fall and break a bone. We have a flight back home in six hours, and we have school tomorrow. I don’t want to risk it.

Hope drains from Katie’s face. Her shoulders slump. She asks again, using only one word. “Please?”

I look at the bear cubs, one nestled in the crook of a branch, the other climbing still higher. I look at their momma bear, who is so casual about her climbers that she’s not even looking in their direction.

She’s checking her watch, perhaps wondering how much longer she’ll have to stand in line next to an overprotective mom.

In those next seconds, I consider the tension that’s present every single day in the life of a parent: balancing the instinct to protect with the necessity to let go. I consider the actual likelihood of my 10-year-old requiring a trip to the emergency room.

I relent.

“Go climb,” I say. “Be careful!”

Katie zooms to the far corner of the museum grounds. She’s chosen the tree with the lowest branches, the one she’s most likely to conquer.

I keep our place in line and crane my neck to watch my own wannabe cub.

Her sneakers are too slick to offer traction on the trunk, so she kicks them off. Socks are next.

She tries again. And again. And again. Other children leave the line and start trying to climb, too.
There’s an ad hoc meeting under the branches, with lots of motioning and examining and pointing. They’re hatching strategy.

At last, Katie looks close. She’s wrapped her arms around the bottom branch. Her feet have found footing on the bark. But she lacks the upper-body strength to move any more. She hangs from the branch like a sloth — a freckled, bespectacled, giggly sloth.

She drops to the ground. She walks around the tree. She returns to the branch. She tries again. She resumes the sloth position.

Cooper tries to boost her up. She still struggles. She shoos him away. She settles back into sloth mode.

The line awakens. Parents begin to wave their children back and hoist bags on shoulders. The doors will open soon.

Katie abandons her sloth tree and runs barefoot across the lawn. She sits on the square of concrete at my feet to put on socks and shoes. I notice a few minor scratches on her knees. Her hair is disheveled. There’s some dirt on her shirt.

“I almost did it!” she gushes. “I almost climbed that tree!”

She stands up just in time to shuffle into the museum, wearing the most joyful smile — a reminder that I need to resist my predilection for worst-case scenarios.

I need to embrace acceptable risks more often. I need to keep in check my overprotective tendencies — a difficult task for this momma bear.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Monday, August 24, 2015

My promises to you before high school

From Saturday's Briefing:

Dear child starting high school on Monday,
Though I don’t know how it’s possible, as I still remember exactly what you were wearing the day you started kindergarten, I have a few promises to make.
I will not to compare you to others.
You’re entering a world in which your value seems determined by measurement against peers.
Your class rank will be calculated twice a year until you graduate. The number is significant to universities. It may affect some scholarship applications. But your number, whatever it may be, doesn’t define you.
You will compete for a ranked chair in band. Your chair may dictate which part you play and where you physically sit, but that number, whatever it may be, doesn’t define you. Your value is exponentially greater than can be calculated by your grades or your ability to play clarinet or how fast you run. Institutions and strangers may base their opinion of you on numbers and rank, but my love for you will never rise or fall based on points.
I expect you to do your best.
You are your greatest competitor. I won’t compare you to your peers, but I do expect you to work hard, to be kind, to push yourself. I expect you to steadily improve and to seek innovation.
Compete with yourself, dear child. Check your work. Don’t skimp when studying for an exam. Try to write every essay a little better than the last.
I will help you less often than I think you need and more often than you think you need.
I’ve spent the past 14 years helping you become independent. You are capable of preparing meals, cleaning the kitchen and transforming dirty laundry into clean, dry, folded clothes. You can change light bulbs, repair small electronics and follow written instructions for any number of systems. The more often you practice those skills at home, the more confidently you’ll handle real-life duties in college and beyond.
Yet, despite your good intentions, and in light of occasionally misplaced bravado, you still need my help. We still have four years before you leave, and I’ll keep teaching and supervising and gradually releasing until then.
I will ask questions.
Who are you texting? Who are you meeting? Who are you eating lunch with? Where are you going? When will you be home? How did you make this decision? Have you finished your homework? Did you review your notes? Are you prepared for tomorrow?
How are you feeling? How can I help?
The questions won’t stop, and I look forward to your answers.
I will give you space.
I don’t want to smother or hover. You need space to plan, to make decisions, to deliver on promises — and then celebrate your successes and learn from your mistakes.
You need to advocate for yourself. You need to solve problems by yourself.
You need to know that I believe in you and that you are capable. Healthy space gives you room to stretch and grow.
I will maintain boundaries and enforce consequences.
You’re on the road to adulthood, but you’re not there yet. I’m your mom first and your friend second.
When you break a rule, you’ll experience the natural consequences plus whatever additional discipline I decide is appropriate. I promise to be fair and consistent.
I will forgive. You are 14. You are human. You are going to make mistakes.
I will forgive lapses in judgment and rough manners. I will forgive broken curfews and messy rooms. I will forgive forgotten chores and unwarranted sulking.
I am 43. I am human. I am going to make mistakes.
I hope you’ll forgive mine, as well.
Love, Momma
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email

Monday, August 10, 2015

Not too eager for summer's end

From Saturday's Briefing:

No matter how you feel about summer break, no doubt you’re aware that its days are numbered.
These waning days are at the top of the conversation- starter list, closely followed by shared disgust with oppressive, three-digit heat. No matter where you are — be it Target, Kroger, a public library or front sidewalk — someone’s got an opinion.
The receptionist at the pediatric dentist asked me this week, “Are you ready for school to start?” The telltale weary look in her eye and the tone in her voice indicated that she, no doubt, had been ready for the break to end in July.
The young people at my house seem ready, too.
Actually, Cooper sort of feels like school has already started. It’s the summer before his freshman year, and, like generations of band members preceding him, he’s learning songs and drills just in time for football season. On top of that, he’s waking early every morning to run in advance of cross-country season.
That means that Katie and I are often home alone, which means Katie either talks to me nonstop — she’s never had trouble expressing herself — or she invents her own projects. (Sometimes she manages to do both at the same time.)
This week, for example, she placed on the sofa a giant stuffed animal, fastened a pillowcase around its neck, stuck a cardboard crown on its head, gave it a handmade scepter and named it “Sir Cluck.”
Sir Cluck’s reign was short-lived yet memorable, which is how I feel about summer — a little too brief and packed with moments we won’t forget.
This summer we drank from a waterfall on the side of the road near British Columbia. The water tasted liked snow.
We cruised through Glacier Bay National Park and witnessed a piece of ice crash into the ocean.
We sang and danced at Vacation Bible School.
We nurtured basil in a giant planter and snipped leaves for pastas and salads.
We watched Back to the Future and The Truman Show.
We devoured a generous number of snow cones and popsicles.
Crammed in the middle of all those memories are the everyday moments we’re likely to (or would like to) forget — squabbles over whose turn it is to fold towels or utterances of “I’m bored” or reruns of Jesse. So many reruns of Jesse.
Those are the kind of moments that tend to push mommas over the edge, that make us count down to the first day of school and its accompanying return to routine and reasonable bedtimes.
I’m not counting down yet, though. I know that these leisurely seasons won’t last forever.
One day we won’t know all the latest VBS songs by heart. We’ll have difficulty finding one week that we can all go out of town together. There won’t be piles of stuffed animals all over the house. Sir Cluck’s legacy will have faded.
By the first day of school, I’ll be ready for the first day of school. Until then, I’m not wishing away these remaining moments.
The neighborhood pool beckons. Some snow cones are calling our names. A movie or two begs to be watched.
These days are numbered. I want to make them count.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at
Last Thursday, leaving the mall, after a movie, snacks and being silly