Monday, February 22, 2016

There's more to life than the race

From Saturday's Briefing:
Baby Noah
The most blissful five minutes of this whole week happened in the middle of a crowded barbecue restaurant.
I got to snuggle a tiny, 2-month-old boy. I admired his sleepy smile. I rubbed his fuzzy head. I inhaled his pure baby scent. Then I reluctantly returned Noah to his momma, a friend and colleague, while offering to quit my job and stay home to take care of him forever.
Oh, babies, you melt me. You start out so itty-bitty and lumpy, with elastic expressions and adorable cries and pure hearts.
And then you grow up so fast, like you’re in some kind of race. 
Can we call timeout? Or at least slow the pace a little bit?
My own babies are no longer babies to anyone but me. This week we’re signing a schedule card for sophomore year of high school for one child, and next week we’re approving middle school courses for the other. Elementary school days are numbered (less than 70!) in this house. 
My babies have been racing for years, long before I totally recognized the track. 
They compete in a race created by adults, who talk about balance and the joy of learning while maintaining paradigms that encourage fierce competition and value high scores over evidence of individual progress.
When I was cuddling little Noah this week, I wasn’t thinking about which pre-AP classes he’ll take in middle school or his high school degree plan or his potential class rank. 
I marveled at how much he is already loved unconditionally by his mom and dad, his two big sisters, his grandparents. He isn’t encumbered by expectations, unreasonable or otherwise. His existence alone garners him love beyond measure.
At what point in a child’s life do we shift from complete wonderment and adoration to high expectations? It varies from family to family, but by kindergarten in Texas schools, there’s little room for anything else. 
According to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills standards, kindergarten students are expected to discuss the theme of a well-known fairytale or folktale, identify techniques used in media, identify three-dimensional solids in the real world, identify ways to earn income, and explain how authority figures make and enforce rules. (These are only a handful among hundreds of expected skills spelled out in a 28-page document available online.)
Once we get them started on the race, we don’t seem to be able to pull them off the track. Instead, we increase the rigor. We set the standards higher. We keep them awake a little later each school year to finish homework. (At this rate, by senior year, my children may get no sleep at all.)
We tell them that they are unique individuals who should try their best, yet we create lists that number them, with infinitesimal decimal places separating them. We praise them for besting other children — or criticize them for being beat.
What do we value when we hold a newborn baby? 
Hope. Potential. New beginnings. Light. Love.
What do we teach them we value as they grow up?
Not near enough of hope or potential or new beginnings or light or love. 
The good news: It’s never too late to have your heart melted by your babies — no matter how old they may be. They’re no longer teeny-tiny, they express their own opinions, they make mistakes big and small. And they deserve love and adoration merely because they exist.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Interview with Mr. Else

My principal is interviewing staff members for his weekly newsletter. This week he interviewed me. Click here for the podcast.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Adjusting my 'mom filter'

From today's Briefing:

When you become a mom, you acquire the mom filter. It changes how you see and hear almost everything.
Every mom calibrates her own filter. What worries one momma may not faze another, and what troubles you today seemingly didn’t exist yesterday. 
The mom filter accentuates sharp corners on coffee tables and uncovered electrical outlets — until one day you realize that you no longer have toddlers and that furniture is no longer hazardous. The mom filter might hone in on nutritional value. (How can one tiny container of yogurt harbor so many grams of sugar?) The mom filter might ruin any chances that you will ever again buy a single article of white clothing.
And the mom filter might change forever how you watch your favorite old movies.
Take, for example, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, which, incredibly, was released 30 years ago. I have no idea how many times I’ve watched the John Hughes classic, but I can sing or hum along with every song from the film and recite almost all of the dialogue.
You would think that with my countless viewings and strong memory of the script, I would have recalled that the movie is rated PG-13 for a reason.
We watched the movie at home last weekend — me, my 14-year-old son and my 10-year-old daughter. I warned Katie that there might be just a little offensive language, but we could ignore it and focus on the fun plot.
Good gracious, my mom filter was on high alert about two minutes in. I lost track of how often Cooper turned to look at me with raised eyebrows, as if to say, “I can’t believe you’re letting me watch this, much less my little sister.”
Some of it went over her head. Other phrases made her raise her own eyebrows. Every now and then I’d interject with an “Oh, boy, he’s not speaking nicely” or “Wow, that’s not appropriate.”
Certainly, no permanent damage was done. When we talked about the movie later, she focused on the angry principal, the parade scene and the girl with the gummy bear. Katie didn’t utter a single curse word.
Just a couple of nights later, I couldn’t resist the pull of Grease: Live on television. The 1978 movie was a staple in my growing-up years, mostly for the song and dance numbers. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I scrutinized the plot or understood the mature content.
Again, my mom filter was working nonstop. Cooper caught most of the double entendres (again with the raised eyebrows), while Katie was mostly mesmerized by the quick costume changes, elaborate choreography and massive sets. (“I can’t believe this is live!” she kept gushing.)
We were all ready for the end of the show — it was a school night, and we’re not conditioned for almost three hours of television — when Sandy sauntered out in skin-tight black clothes, overdone hair and heavy makeup.
Katie was convinced that another actress was playing this Sandy, the Sandy who sheds her innocent image to secure the boy she loves. 
“I like old Sandy better,” Katie said. “She doesn’t look like herself.”
Cooper was even more critical.
“It’s a terrible message,” Cooper said. “Does Sandy even like her new self?”
My mom filter picked right up on that insightful question, and in that moment I was reminded that my children don’t have to be protected all the time, that they usually make good decisions, and that they are going to be all right. 
Still, I’m keeping the mom filter — I’ll just continue to recalibrate as necessary.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at