Monday, February 23, 2015

Living proof

From Saturday's Briefing:

The sun has set. The wind chill is 43 degrees, but from atop the metal bleachers, I swear it feels like 33.
Katie and I are huddled together, struggling to wiggle our fingers and toes.
“You’re a good sister,” I tell Katie.
“I’ve never been this cold,” she says through chattering teeth.
When we arrived to watch Cooper’s first race, the sun was shining. No gloves or scarves or hats were required. Now, four hours later, I stare longingly at families — forecast-checking kinds of families — draped in sturdy quilts and down jackets.
At last, we hear the starter gun we’ve been waiting for. We watch a cluster of boys thin out into one lane. I keep my eye on the tallest boy, my boy, and each time he passes the stands — four times for this race — I holler, “Go, Cooper!”
He finishes in fifth place. Katie and I scramble down the bleachers and wait just outside the track fence — both to congratulate him and to hasten our departure.
We arrive home, and a different type of race begins. The kids need to unpack backpacks and lunch boxes, shower, eat, complete homework. I need to fold clean laundry, wash dishes, answer emails and read over lesson plans for the next day.
In the middle of that frenzy, I consider my current level of mom guilt — that emotional weight I carry as provider, nurturer and guardian of two humans.
I should have been more prepared for the weather, with more blankets and outerwear.
I should have insisted that Katie study spelling words while we sat for hours. I should have folded that basket of clothes last night. I should have taken care of the dishes before work this morning.
My mom list of “should haves” is long. I’ve built up years of missed opportunities. Of moments when I should have stepped in and others when I should have stepped back. Conversations when I could have been more patient, more hopeful, more trusting.
Yet worse than carrying around self-inflicted guilt is letting that guilt take control. So I try to shake it off (a phrase I can no longer say without hearing Taylor Swift in my head). I try to offer myself grace — and then try to accept it — but I’m not always convincing.
And then, in the midst of all that rushed school-night busy-ness, I rediscover an antidote to mom guilt: my own children.
Cooper was studying for a test on The Count of Monte Cristo when Katie walked through the kitchen for her nighttime cup of water.
“Good job tonight, Coop.”
A few minutes later — and an hour later than usual — she was climbing into bed. Cooper walked by her room.
“Love you, Katie!”
“Love you more!”
And just like that: poof! My mom guilt vanished — at least for the night.
My occasional lack of planning and my temporary oversights are insignificant compared to what matters most: a home that offers shelter from the cold. A home in which each person is valued. A home where each person is loved beyond measure.
I pray that my children continue to praise each other, that they’ll lavish each other with kind words and that they’ll forgive each other’s mistakes. Mine, too.
And I pray that when my “should haves” list gets too long, I’m able to remember that my “did it right” list is perhaps even longer.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at
Cooper, in between races, last Wednesday

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Not a shield but a guide

From todays' Briefing:

Moments of clarity are unpredictable.
Both children are away, one at a science competition, the other at a friend’s house working on an art project. I’m cleaning out the refrigerator and washing dishes in preparation for my weekly grocery trip.
That’s when it hit me, when my role as a parent became completely unambiguous.
My epiphany in the midst of the mundane: My job is not to shield them from pain and discomfort but to guide them so they can cope with pain and discomfort.
That’s not easy for a bubble-wrap momma like me.
In my earliest mom years, my goal was to completely protect Cooper and then Katie from any and all trouble. No sickness, no turmoil, no dysfunction. No raised voices, no processed foods, no violent images.
I thank God for that foundation.
When Cooper was 6 and Katie was 2, their daddy was diagnosed with incurable cancer. My illusion of control was stripped away. Trouble that I could never imagine showed up, uninvited, and moved right on in.
Ever since then, we’ve been coping.
In the middle of my Saturday chores, I was wondering about each child. How was Cooper’s presentation? After reviewing other projects, did he expect that he and his group would win an award? What if he wins and I’m not there to congratulate him? What if he doesn’t win and I’m not there to console him?
How was Katie’s project? Was her vision (as usual, grandiose) coming to life? Was she working well with her friend? Was she being bossy?
So many questions. All answered by a much bigger, more important question: Am I equipping my children to adapt?
I’m trying mightily, but it’s a tough job.
Katie did, in fact, struggle with the art project. We had barely climbed into the minivan after leaving her friend’s house when she burst into tears.
“The archway we made isn’t as good as I expected,” she sobbed. “It barely stands up. It doesn’t look good. We didn’t get enough done.”
(The archway is made of aluminum cans and packing tape, with a cardboard box base. It’s a fine piece of architecture, created by two creative 9-year-old girls with high expectations.)
I let her cry. I ask a few questions. She acknowledges that she’s tired and volunteers to lie down for a little rest.
Meanwhile, I check Cooper’s competition online and notice that the awards ceremony is being live-streamed at this very moment.
I stare at my laptop, watching groups accept accolades for months of innovative, hard work. I’m afraid to walk away, just in case.
At last, my lanky son and his two buddies bound through the lecture hall and onto the stage to accept congratulations for “excellence in systems integration.”
Cooper’s smile reveals that he’s totally surviving without me in the room.
He won’t always win a special award. There will be moments when, despite diligence and extreme effort, he won’t be first or best. There will be moments when, in the words of his sister, life “isn’t as good as I expected.”
Of course, I want my children to steer clear of trouble, to stay healthy, to be rewarded for hard work.
More than that, though, I want them to find joy in tough circumstances. I want them to know when it’s time to rest. I want them to win — and lose — with grace. I want them to revel in the sunshine — and be prepared for the storms.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at