Sunday, May 29, 2016

Soak more than just life's good moments

From yesterday's Briefing:

School days are numbered. Our count is down to four.

Cooper, who is finishing his first year of high school, has been announcing the daily number for a couple of weeks.

I had been listening and nodding most mornings, until finally I could stay silent no more.

“Cooper, I might sound like an old person giving advice that isn’t relevant, but I’m going to say it anyway.

“I know you’re ready for the school year to end, but try to soak it up. When you’re focused on how many days you have left, you’re less likely to enjoy the actual day you’ve got.”

He arched his brows and smirked slightly.

“It’s true. Soak it up.”

Then I hugged him, grabbed my lunch off the counter and rushed out the door.

I’ve lived by the mantra “soak it up” for years, but it’s usually for the really good stuff.

Like when Katie was a baby and I ignored housework during her naptimes, opting instead to snuggle my second-born child (based on first-born experience, reminding me how quickly babies grow). I would lie on my back, Katie draped across my torso, close my eyes and listen to my daughter’s breathing.

Soak it up, I told myself. This won’t last forever.

It’s the same when I’m at the beach, any beach. I lie on a towel, squish my toes in the sand, close my eyes and listen to the relentless waves and squawking birds. I fill up my spirit with as much beachy goodness as possible, hoping to store enough memories to tide me over until my next visit. (I’m way overdue.)

Soak it up, I tell myself. You don’t know when you’ll be back.

Lately, though, I’ve been reminding myself to absorb all the moments — not just the obvious ones.

Like crisscrossing Frisco more than once in afternoon traffic to get Cooper to and from a band competition and then to and from an engineering presentation. Soak it up.

Or staying up late to keep him company while he studies for a comprehensive humanities exam over the Renaissance. Soak it up.

Because, much like those blissful baby days, these days won’t last forever, either. We may want to rush through the tough stuff, but when our goal is simply to survive the rough days, we’re missing the gems hidden all over the place.

All those trips in the minivan with Cooper give us extra time to visit about school, friendships and pop culture references I don’t yet understand.

Late-night study sessions allow me to brush up on Romeo and Juliet and debate whether or not the Shakespearean play is a tragedy. (We don’t agree, though I suspect Cooper is more informed than me.) For that matter, we debate the mere existence of Shakespeare altogether.

Parenting a teenager isn’t breezy. There are moments when I ache to hold tiny, sarcasm-free babies again. When I would much rather be on the beach. Any beach.

Yet being parent to a teen isn’t a lifetime commitment. There’s a built-in expiration date, and, based on past experience, one day I’ll probably be nostalgic for the teen years.

Yes, we have four days of school left. Yes, we’re all looking forward to summer break. But I’m not wishing away a single day. I’m soaking up the early mornings, the late nights and all the minutes in between, allowing them to flood my soul with the everyday moments that make up a full life.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The journey is different than expected, but I'm thankful

From Saturday's Briefing:

I am mom to two children, but I claim an additional 146. Those extra represent three years’ worth of teaching, which isn’t exactly the same as parenting but includes similar guiding and worrying, nurturing and redirecting.
I can’t imagine my life without those 146 and the families, stories, challenges and success stories they represent.
It’s the same with a group of volunteers I’ve become attached to over the years. They coordinate the North Texas Head for the Cure 5K, an annual event that raises money for brain cancer research.
I teach because I am passionate about literacy and quality education, because my heart swells every time I read a story aloud or conference with a young writer. I also teach because I need a job that affords a schedule that allows me to care for my own two children as a single mom.
I participate in Head for the Cure because I look forward to a day when a brain cancer diagnosis doesn’t include the words “inoperable” or “incurable.” It’s too late to save my Steve — and a whole host of angels, like Melinda and Maureen and Madison. But there’s a whole army of folks out there — my volunteer-turned-friends included — who haven’t given up hope for future patients and their families.
Early in the grieving process for Steve, while he was still alive and undergoing brutal treatment, I learned to let go of “what if” scenarios, the fantasy world in which cancer hadn’t invaded our lives. No amount of hoping, crying or pleading would change his diagnosis.
Instead, he and I learned to celebrate silver linings. We would have traded almost anything to get rid of that tumor, but that wasn’t an option. So we relished easier- than-expected appointments. We embraced new relationships. We marveled at help received from friends and strangers.
All that was good training for life without a husband and dad at home — a life I never wanted but happened anyway. I’m constantly reminded that our reactions and attitudes define us more than our circumstances.
Last weekend, more than 2,000 people gathered at a park in Plano to walk or run for Head for the Cure. My family has participated the past six years, and it’s a privilege to stand beside volunteers like Shari and Leslie and Gerryl. They are women who make my life richer by modeling selflessness and purpose, and our paths may have not crossed without a shared, albeit tragic, connection.
I prefer to focus on the blessings of our friendships.
It’s the same with those 146 children.
The path that led me to the classroom was bumpy. It’s not the route I asked for or would wish on anyone else, but I’m thankful for the destination.
I have stories about each of those 146 — sometimes dozens of stories about just one child. I’ve listened to tales from the football field and volleyball court. I’ve entertained memories from the Galapagos, from Hawaii, from multiple Disney getaways.
I’ve watched some children endure separation or divorce and others welcome new siblings or kittens.
These children have taught me how to be more patient, how to listen better, how to pay closer attention to details. They have gathered on the carpet to listen to some of my favorite stories, and together we have discovered new favorites.
The past three years have been layered with hugs and high-fives, tearful confessions and jubilant celebrations. I never expected to be here, to be counting 146 kids and looking forward to a few dozen more come August.
This isn’t exactly the journey I anticipated, but I am thankful for every gift — and every single relationship — along the way.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Welcome, May, you bittersweet month

From Saturday's Briefing:

Dear May,

Welcome! I totally mean it. Mostly.

Every year, I both relish and dread your visit. Every year, I vow to prepare for you, to not let you bring me down. Every year, I survive you, but, let’s be honest, sometimes it’s a rough go.

Let’s peek ahead at what you have in store for us this time around: Open House, band banquet, STAAR and AP exams, solo and ensemble contest, 5K, two Boy Scout camping trips, marching band workshops, storybook parade, class presentations, Field Day and end-of-year parties.

That’s just what you’ve revealed so far. You have a reputation for being surreptitious, adding last-minute celebrations, sneaking in overlapping appointments. You seem determined to test every ounce of my logistical skills, to assess my problem-solving savvy.

Today I have big plans for make-ahead meals, guaranteed to get nutritious, well-balanced weeknight dinners on the table. Check back in a couple of weeks, though, and you may find a menu of grilled cheese sandwiches and sliced apples.

Sweet May, you offer ample opportunities to reflect and to cheer. You also present moments guaranteed to make me weep.

This year, you pack a wallop. It’s the final chapter of elementary school for our family.
For a full decade now, you’ve delivered us Field Day. This time, May, we will bid farewell to beanbag races, water relays and tire rolls. Adieu, three-legged race and Hippity-Hops.

For the final time, my Katie will show off a stack of assembled schoolwork — poetry, clay pot, science brochure — held back for one special night. We’ll take one last Open House photo with her elementary teachers. (Alas, it’s no longer necessary for her teachers to stoop down for the camera.)
She will finish up with recess and Friday morning assemblies, safety patrol and jogging club.

May, you and I have spent a lot of days together. You know that I know that my babies are supposed to grow up, to reach milestones, to move on to the next stage of life. Yet you also know I can be a sentimental, messy mess. That’s why, darling month, I’m relying on you to offer some levity. How about some moments of pure joy, not mingled with bittersweet tears of a momma who irrationally wants time to freeze?

I’ve got my eye on the band banquet for guaranteed, tear-free happiness; It’s a semi-formal affair for students and parents, hosted in the school cafeteria, with catered meal and a dance. There will be no weepy farewells. Plus, I rarely pass up the opportunity to observe teens in their habitat.

When there’s a sliver of break in your plans, how about we fit in the first swim of the season, a visit to the Snow Cone Lady, a neighborhood stroll? Let’s have a movie night at home and a morning to sleep in.

These stolen moments are key, May, to our surviving friendship. I need to bank these spirit-filling memories. Because, let’s face it, this go-round is nothing compared with what you’ve got in store in 2019, the year my first baby will graduate high school.

Oh, dear May, sit a spell. Stay a while. You’re welcome as long as you’d like.