Sunday, March 27, 2016

After Easter sunrise service this morning

Some notes from this morning:

I woke at 4:45 a.m. to get us ready for sunrise service.

We went to sunrise because Cooper was asked to read the part of Jesus in the service. He's the oldest active youth group member at our church right now.

Cooper is also the tallest youth member. And he was the tallest congregant at the service, so when there was trouble with the cross, he stepped up to help.

We traditionally remove a black sash from the cross in the beginning of the service. At the end, we drape a white sash and add a wreath of fresh flowers. The white cloth was placed but was lopsided -- severely enough that there was risk of it blowing away.

Cooper leaped in the air to try to grab the short end to pull down. He almost made it. Bill, our youth minister, told Cooper to stand on his knee. So, Cooper stood on Bill's knee, scaled the wooden cross, and pulled down the white sash.

We all applauded.

He is risen!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Learning valuable lessons in the Big Easy

From Saturday's Briefing:

Our family was on spring break last week, free from bell schedules and formative assessments, but we didn’t stop learning.

We traveled to New Orleans for a few days of art, food, music and new sights, and we returned with full bellies, sweet memories and valuable lessons.

Katie splashed in puddles all over New Orleans.
Don’t let rain spoil your fun: New Orleans averages 119 days of precipitation each year, so it’s not surprising that one whole day of vacation was marked by relentless rain.

We didn’t travel to sit on a sofa and complain about the weather, so we pulled on rain boots and rain jackets, tucked umbrellas in our bag and marched on.

We learned to walk under awnings as much as possible and to take care when navigating crowded sidewalks with multiple open umbrellas.

Katie skipped between raindrops and pounced in puddles.

She and I hopped on a streetcar bound for New Orleans City Park. We discovered that no one else goes to the park in the rain, so we had the whole place to ourselves. We admired giant live oaks and swampy ponds, grand sculptures and dozens of kinds of birds — all of which we would have missed had we let the rain scare us away.

Stingray touch tank in New Orleans
Have a backup plan: For months, we had planned to visit Mardi Gras World, with the promise of touring a warehouse where parade floats are created. We would go Friday, according to my itinerary.
I called Friday morning to arrange transportation and learned that the whole operation was closed for a special event. It wouldn’t reopen until after we’d crossed back into Texas. (This is something my research should have uncovered. I learned to do better research next time.)

What else could we do for a couple of hours? I relied on my mental list of backups, gathered because I’ve learned that travel plans — like all plans in life — are merely suggestion. We changed course and walked to the aquarium, where we watched sea otters somersault and stingrays devour fresh broccoli. We studied a tiny seahorse and an elegant green sea turtle — unexpected treasures thanks to a change of plans.

Cooper, C. Johnny Difatta, and Katie
Slow down: We also spent a few hours at the National WWII Museum. Cooper could have stayed all day, but Katie had reached that restless, overloaded stage, in which every display starts to look the same and all you can really think about are finding snacks and perusing the gift shop.

On our way out, we stopped in the lobby to check out a Higgins boat (the small craft that would carry men and equipment from a ship to open beach) and lucked into a conversation with a WWII veteran, C. Johnny Difatta.

He spoke with native-son pride about those boats, designed and manufactured right there in New Orleans.

Difatta told us about enlisting the day he turned 17 and his momma signing his paperwork and his training in San Diego. He showed us maps of the Pacific Theater and described life on Treasury Island. He let us admire a photo from a special night, after the war, on furlough in San Francisco, handsomely dressed in Navy blues, surrounded by buddies and a coterie of beautiful women.
He allowed me to take his photo, a 90-year-old hero, sandwiched between my two children born in the 21st century.

There aren’t many World War II vets left to tell their stories — about 800,000 in all, with about 492 dying each day. I’m thankful that we slowed down long enough to notice Difatta, to listen to his stories and to thank him for his service.

No matter our age, location or stage in life, we’re standing in a wide-open classroom, with teachers all around.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Saturday, March 05, 2016

'Yet' blunts our unfinished tasks

From today's Briefing:
Tiny, unassuming “yet” wields all kinds of power.
I’ve been using the word more often the past couple of years, as I’ve become acquainted with the concept of a growth mind-set vs. a fixed mind-set, via the writings of Stanford professor and psychologist Carol Dweck.
Dweck relies on research to show the benefits of praising effort, not intelligence. She extols the value of making mistakes. And she writes and speaks persuasively about the power of “yet.”
“Just the words ‘yet’ or ‘not yet,’ we’re finding, give kids greater confidence, give them a path into the future that creates greater persistence,” Dweck says in a TED Talk watched more than 3.9 million times on YouTube.
Dweck’s ideas have influenced the way I teach my fourth-graders.
“We don’t all know how to identify the theme of a story yet,” I might say, “but we will keep working together until we all do.”
The word lets my students know that it’s OK to ask questions, that it’s OK if some peers have mastered a skill while others are still working, that mistakes are essential to the learning process.
The idea of a growth mind-set — that we can work to improve and develop abilities — has also influenced the way I raise my two children.
When a child is struggling with a task — conquering a piece of tough music, completing a challenging homework assignment — my encouragement relies on “yet.”
“It’s OK if you haven’t met your goal yet,” I might say. “Keep working, and you’ll get there.”
The word has given them freedom, signaling that perfection isn’t expected or even normal, and that hard work matters.
Now, I’ve got to start applying “yet” to myself.
I walk around with a long mental list of things I haven’t done as a parent. The self-imposed infractions include:
Lack of a baby book for either child
Inadequate personal finance lessons
Incomplete exposure to quality music and classic movies
An unfulfilled promise to help switch up bedrooms
I carry the guilt of these big-ticket items along with the everyday guilt associated with rushed mornings, forgotten permission slips, distracted conversations, clipped responses.
Lately, I’ve been practicing by adding “yet” to the end of my regrets.
I haven’t helped Katie study for her spelling test this week … yet.
I haven’t listened to Cooper’s clarinet solo … yet.
At the same time, I’m working on becoming more aware of what is going well.
This school year, Katie has taken control of her afternoon schedule, plotting homework and studying without prompting. She rarely forgets to complete or turn in an assignment — a huge step in independence and responsibility compared with previous years.
One evening this week, she declared, stood in the kitchen, hands on hips, eyes on the microwave clock and declared, “I need to plan the rest of the night.” She then ticked off every task still undone and an estimate of time needed for each. I may not have modeled for her a household budget (yet), but she’s grasping the concept of matching resources to tasks.
Each day when Cooper arrives home from school (or band practice or track practice), he does two things.
He asks how my day was, and he tells me about his day.
We started this ritual years ago, when I would walk to pick him up at our neighborhood elementary school. I taught him that it was polite to greet someone with, “How are you?” rather than, “Hey, I’m hungry. Where’s my snack?”
I also convinced him at a young age that it was his responsibility to fill me in on the details of the day. I didn’t allow one-word responses or “I don’t know” or noncommittal shrugs.
So now, all these years later, it’s his instinctive habit to ask about others and then to walk me through his day, with a recap of lessons, lunch and teenage dialogue. I may not have a baby book for him (yet), but we communicate every day.
I don’t expect I’ll ever have every task checked off my mom list. New action items wiggle their way on all the time. The key is to add a tiny, powerful “yet” to every line.
 Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at