Monday, April 18, 2016

Don't shy from the big picture

From Saturday's Briefing:

Parenting requires the uncanny ability to function in the tension between the present and the future.
There’s the survival, often reactionary, mode side of parenting, in which everything hinges on food, clothing, shelter and logistics. Then there’s the squishy future world that requires methodical planning and predicting for who-knows-what variables to come.
Survival mode includes untold hours devoted to nutrition: Learning to nurse a newborn, coercing a toddler to eat vegetables, packing lunches for school, delivering team snacks to ballgames, attempting to keep the cupboards stocked for your ravenous teen.
Same with clothing: Do we have enough onesies? How did this child grow out of all her shoes already? Where did all the socks go? Where did you leave your jacket? How did you get holes in those brand-new jeans? Why on earth did the coach select white shorts for outdoor soccer? You need which shirt clean in 15 minutes? The one at the bottom of the hamper?
Ditto for logistics, a tricky formula with increasing difficulty based on the number of children, activities, divergent campuses and available driving adults.
This right-now sort of parenting occasionally garners praise from the young people. Bake a fabulous batch of cookies or rescue a child from walking home in the rain, and you’re likely to hear “thank you.” You might even receive a giant hug.
Hang on to those accolades. You’ll want to revel in them later, when some of your other decisions are less popular. Because in the middle of providing for basic (and sometimes frivolous) needs, you can’t lose sight of the bigger goal: guiding that tiny person into responsible adulthood.
That focus on the big picture requires the kind of work that sometimes goes unappreciated in the moment. Indeed, it may be openly scorned.
That’s OK. Parenting also requires a thick skin, a kind of hard-earned callus that deflects eye rolls and shrugged shoulders and sarcastic barbs.
Keeping tabs on the future means that you don’t always rescue your child. If your son forgets his clarinet at home, you let it stay at home. You let him earn a 70 for participation in band class that day because it’s not a life-or-death crisis and perhaps, if he suffers the consequences, he’ll never forget it again.
When your child loses a very specific pair of socks, you agree to buy a second pair. Mistakes happen, yes? But when that second pair goes missing, you insist that the child pay for the third pair, because how else is that child going to learn how to care for things?
Parenting with the future in mind means a healthy share of household chores — not just because of present needs but because you want your children to become adults who are able to prepare their own meals, wash dishes and laundry, clean floors and toilets.
In our house, it also means pushing a child out of his comfort zone.
If you’re old enough to handle an email address, I believe you’re old enough to handle your own correspondence. For about four years now, I’ve required Cooper to email the adults in his life to solve problems. If he has a question about schoolwork, he emails his teacher. If he needs to sign off merit badge requirements with a Boy Scout leader, he emails the leader.
He finds addresses on his own. He types in complete sentences. He rereads his requests before sending.
“Thank you for making me write my own emails,” he told me recently. “I feel confident in doing it now, and it’s a good skill to have.”
And just like that, the future seems like it’s already here.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Monday, April 04, 2016

Shared pastimes keep treasured memories fresh

From Saturday's Briefing:

Around the same time I gave birth to our first baby, my husband started running. And, in typical Steve fashion, he wasn’t content to run a little: He started training for a marathon.
At the time, I found it slightly inconvenient. I was a brand-new momma, home all day with this tiny person who needed constant attention. Brand-new dad would come home from work, trade his suits for shorts and his Allen Edmonds for Asics, and sprint back out the door.
The more Steve ran, the more I realized that he needed to run. He needed time and space to think through problems — or think of nothing at all. He needed an identity separate from the office, separate from home. He needed to set a goal and accomplish it.
Cooper and I were his biggest fans. We’d wait for him on the front lawn, ice water in hand. We watched him finish many races — a whole bunch of 5Ks, a couple of half marathons, a full marathon.
A few years later, when Steve was no longer able to run, I started running instead.
I didn’t love it as much as Steve did, but every time I laced up my shoes, I felt a little closer to him. I understood his passion for the sport a little better. And I regretted that I had waited too long to actually run with him. I didn’t start until after his cancer diagnosis, after his body was too unstable for sustained walking, much less a 3-mile run.
Steve watched me finish a couple of 5Ks and a half marathon before he died.
More important, he watched his Cooper finish a 5K.
Cooper’s first race was in January 2009. He was 7. He ran some of the course, walked the rest. He finished strong, with swift feet and a huge smile despite a biting wind.
We’ve lost count of how many races he’s run since. A whole bunch of 5Ks. Couple of triathlons. Cross-country meets. Track meets.
He gets a little faster every time.
Back in the fall, my 14-year-old set a goal to run a half marathon. So we looked at calendars and local races and registered for the Rock ’n’ Roll Half in Dallas.
For the past three months, he’s added half-marathon training to his already-full plate of freshman classes, band, track, Boy Scouts and chores at home. He would wake at 5:50 a.m. some days to fit in a long run before school. Other days he’d bike home from school, trade his blue jeans for shorts and his sneakers for trainers, and sprint back out the door.
Two weeks ago, on a brisk Sunday morning, we woke long before dawn to drive downtown and join thousands of others prepared to run 13.1 miles — or cheer from the sidewalks.
I hollered, “Go, Cooper!” when the race began. I walked a few blocks over to cheer again at mile 4. I obsessively checked the Find iPhone app to watch his progress as I meandered to the finish line.
I wiggled my way to the front row of spectators and craned my neck, watching for Cooper to turn the corner and sprint toward the finish.
Cooper, March 20, after 13.1 miles
When I finally spotted him, I was speechless. Literally, I could eke out no words of encouragement or congratulations. One word from me and I would have been a blubbering mess. There’s no feeling like watching your child accomplish a lofty goal.
I thought of his daddy’s first race and his final race. I remembered Cooper’s first 5K and the small crowd of friends and family who had gathered to cheer for him. I recalled him training for weeks despite fatigue or cold weather.
Cooper finished strong, with swift feet, a huge smile and a strong time — like he was born to run.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at