Sunday, September 17, 2017

When tragedy strikes in other places, we need to lift up those in harm's way

From yesterday's Briefing:

I suspect that I'm not the only human who feels emotionally drained these days.
In the past month, we've been exposed to a long list of heartache and peril.
The first blow was shocking violence in Charlottesville, Va., where people actually re-created some of the most horrific scenes from the 20th century, carrying torches, spewing hatred and marching against an entire group of people based on their skin color. One man rammed his car into a crowd of anti-white-supremacist protesters, killing one woman and injuring 19 others.
We were still grappling with the aftermath of that tragedy when Hurricane Harvey stormed through Texas and Louisiana, disrupting lives and devastating communities. There was no time to breathe before Hurricane Irma marched through the Caribbean and Florida.
In the middle of those disasters, fires have ravaged the Western U.S., Mexico City was rocked by its most powerful earthquake in a century, and India, Nepal and Bangladesh have been hit with deadly floods.
Violence continues at the hands of humans, as well. The United Nations has warned that Myanmar is committing ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims, who are fleeing the country for Bangladesh in crushing numbers. Plano is still reeling from the mass murder of eight people watching football in a home Sunday night.

All of the news, this soul-crushing news, hasn't even affected me directly. I haven't been injured or forced to flee my home. I haven't had to make hurried decisions about what to save, what to leave behind. Yet my heart aches for my neighbors — all of them, in Rockport and Houston, in Barbuda and Key West, in Oregon and Montana, in overcrowded refugee camps.
What can we do?
We can give money to nonprofits that we trust to deliver resources in an equitable and timely fashion. (I've chosen to give money through my church for Harvey relief. I have faith, based on research, in the umbrella organization that receives our contributions.)
We can support nonprofits that support people in need. (I have a friend who teaches English to refugees in Dallas. I can't volunteer with her group right now, but I can send money occasionally to support her work and the precious people she serves.)
We can, if so inclined, pray for the people in harm's way, for the people who commit violence, for the people who are helping tear down and rebuild, for the children who are trapped in crisis, for leaders who don't act in the best interest of people.
We can start to recognize the humanity in each and every soul on earth. We can try to carry someone else's burden, just for a little while. We can listen when people want to share or cry.

We can speak with kindness to our crossing guards, police officers, store clerks and colleagues. We can assume the best first, discarding altogether our cynical inclinations.
We can step into our communities with courage, speaking up for people with small voices or no voice at all. We can politely but firmly name hatred as hatred and insist on civility.
We can recognize that no class of people, no race, no religion, no culture is immune from natural disaster or violent whims of people in power. We rely on one another to swoop in and scoop up. We need one another to tear out molded drywall and to clear debris from land, to provide shelter and to share resources.
We need to give thanks for whatever blessings we have, dig in for sacrifices to lift up our neighbors and expect that our work on behalf of others — here at home and across the globe — will in turn renew our spirits.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. She can be reached at tyradamm@gmail.com.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

My first weeks in middle school prove not much has changed since 1982

From today's Briefing:

Sixth-grade me
Awkward social exchanges. Evolving identity crises. Asynchronous growth spurts.

I have returned to middle school. Willingly. Cheerfully, in fact.

In the past few weeks I've made the transition from elementary school teacher to middle school teacher. I'm at the school down the street, where the fourth-graders I once taught are now sixth- and seventh-graders. We're growing up together. And while I adore elementary school culture, with homerooms and Friday morning assemblies and recess every day, I'm feeling right at home with lockers and pep rallies and P.E. every day (which requires no whistle from me).

In some ways, I've been preparing for this role since 1982, when I started sixth grade at Belton Junior High. My life at home was often challenging, but I was soothed by the hours I spent each day at school.

I loved everything about it: changing classes, making new friends, singing with the choir. Most of all, I adored my teachers. They were my refuge.

Mr. Finney conducted his singers with passion. He told goofy jokes. He asked interesting questions and remembered answers and made strong connections with his students.

Mrs. Emmert taught math with passion. She talked quickly. Chalk flew from her fingers onto the green board. She had high expectations for her students, and we didn't want to disappoint her.

Mrs. Creek taught reading and writing with passion. She encouraged us to explore multiple genres. She pushed us to write with clarity. She celebrated our progress.

Those adults were heroes. I've carried them in my heart for 35 years, and those fond memories helped lead me to my own middle school classroom.

Of course, life is significantly different today. My students can't imagine a world without smartphones. (Some don't even fathom the concept of a home telephone.) They have no understanding of a television that receives four channels via rabbit ears and needs to be changed with a manual dial. They've always heard the words "social" and "media" smooshed together.

Yet preteens are almost exactly the same today as in 1982.

They visit in the hallways.

They get flustered when their lockers won't open.

They want to be recognized as individuals, and at the same time they want to completely blend in with the crowd.

They laugh at goofy jokes.

They rise to high expectations.

They blossom when an adult celebrates their progress. 

They are mercurial creatures, each and every one. 

Some people are slightly frightened of a mass of middle-schoolers (I myself and slightly frightened of a room full of kindergarteners), but I'm fascinated by them. They are forming strong opinions and express them with vigor. They are a developing a sense of self-awareness, trying to figure out where they belong, which group they should join or which group they should create. 

They're a little like puppies with long limbs and big paws: eager to move and explore, yet still unsure of how everything connects and how much space they take up in the world. 

Every middle school student deserves a Mr. Finney, a Mrs. Emmert and a Mrs. Creek to provide levity, define boundaries and encourage excellence. I'm thrilled that I get the chance to pay homage to these heroes.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. She can be reached at tyradamm@gmail.com.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The years we had with Margie just weren't enough

From today's Briefing:

I often wish dogs lived as long as sea turtles. We'd have our furry companions for a good 80 years, maybe longer, and our hearts would break less often.

Two weeks ago, my children and I made the difficult and necessary decision to let our Margie go. She was 12 years old, a member of our family for more than 10 years.

We adopted her from a Scottish terrier rescue group when she was a toddler, the same age as our human toddler, Katie. We brought her into our home when life was mostly normal around here. Mom, dad and two young kids eager to go on walks and snuggle a fuzzy friend.

We never learned why Margie was with the rescue group, but it didn't take us long to suspect that she'd run away from her first home. She was a runner.

We were deceived more than once by her squat legs and slightly chunky body. She would act casually, lounging by the front door. In reality, in those early years, she was waiting for her opportunity to see the world. She'd spy a crack in the door, as a package was delivered or someone was walking in, wiggle her way out and charge for the sidewalk.

Katie Damm and Margie the Scottish terrier(Tyra Damm)
Katie Damm and Margie the Scottish terrier  

There was never time to lace up running shoes to chase her. You'd sprint out the door in whatever you were wearing, scan north and south, then fly after her. She could sprint faster than any human for about a quarter of a mile. Then she'd slow down and eventually stop, allowing her people to scoop her up and carry her home.

Most of the time, though, she stood guard. At the front window, watching for squirrels and rabbits. On the sofa, curled atop children's feet. In the kitchen, in case of falling scraps.

Just a few months after she'd settled in as a Damm, we learned that Steve was ill. Margie became his constant companion. She sought him out all over the house — upstairs on the exercise bike, resting on the green chair in the family room, napping in the bedroom.

Our Margie may have not understood the intricacies of brain cancer, but she instinctively knew how to comfort her people — first Steve through his illness and then Cooper, Katie and me in our grief after Steve's death.

Margie stands guard at the door.(Tyra Damm)
Margie stands guard at the door.  

Margie loved neighborhood walks and belly rubs. She loved burrowing in a pile of freshly laundered sheets and towels. She was an especially literate dog, in attendance for hundreds of guided reading sessions and bedtime stories.

She was a majestic mountain of fur, with triangle ears that heard everything and a bark to let us know when it was time to go out, time to come in, time to eat.

In the past couple of years, she had surgery to remove an abdominal growth, and she started slowing down. She took daily medication for a couple of chronic health conditions. She could no longer leap on furniture. She couldn't sleep through the night without needing to go outside for a bathroom break.

And in the past few months, she steadily lost weight despite a healthy appetite.

All of the sudden, she stopped eating altogether and struggled to put weight on her back legs. I knew, though I wanted to deny, that her body could take no more.

The kids and I decided, with our vet's guidance, that it was time.

Katie sat on my left side. Cooper sat on the right. Margie rested in a blanket on my lap. I held her as she took her last breath. We cried and cried and cried.

I like to imagine Margie and Steve reunited, which provides a little comfort as we adjust to life without our pup. We miss the skitter of her paws on the wood floor. We miss morning and evening walks around the block. I sometimes wake in the middle of the night, expecting to hear her bark, crestfallen when I remember the silence.

Yet our hearts will eventually mend, and one day we'll be able to talk about Margie without a lump in our throats.Why do we invite these animals into our lives, these beloved family members who we know won't outlive us? Because they love unconditionally and comfort selflessly and create buckets of joy — even though we don't get to hold on as long as we'd like.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. She can be reached at tyradamm@gmail.com.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

The surprising lesson I learned while being driven around Chicago

From today's Briefing:

Everyone has a story. We just have to listen.

The kids and I spent a couple of days in Chicago last week, and we were surrounded by stories. Every time we climbed into the back of a taxi cab or Lyft car, we learned a little more.

Our driver to the Museum of Science and Industry wants to travel to Texas someday, mostly to try the food and visit the home base of his church. Cedric has heard that the produce is fresher and the beef is better here. And he'd love to see Joel Osteen preach live at Lakewood Church in Houston.

Cedric shared that he was on public assistance when he was younger. He said that he could have found a way to continue to receive welfare even when he no longer qualified, but he knew that would be dishonest — and he would be taking money from someone else who needed it.

He allows that same philosophy to guide his decisions today. When he shops and sees a bargain, he rarely buys it. "If I didn't need it 10 minutes before I walked in the store, I don't need it now," he said. It would be better, he said, to leave that bargain for a shopper who really needs the item and the discount.

We waved goodbye, climbed out of his car and explored the museum. We bought nothing from the gift shop, Cedric's advice fresh on our minds.

Samuel drove us from our hotel to the theater. He's a special-education teacher hoping to be rehired by the school he transferred to last year. It's close to his home — he can walk — and he enjoys the work.

He was fascinated by the amount of money spent on high school football stadiums in Texas. At the same time, he lamented the poor budgeting decisions of his own school district and state.

"They make a lot of bad choices," he said, with the soft, calm voice you'd hope for from a young man who works with children with special needs.

We wished him luck for the new school year and spilled out on the sidewalk, eager to stand in line for Hamilton.

We relied on Christopher to drive us back to the hotel. He endured our effusive praise for the musical — we stopped short of singing the soundtrack — and we listened to his story.

He lives in Indiana and drives about 45 miles one-way to get to Chicago. The money is good — better than he can make at home. He prefers the afternoon, evening and late-night shifts. On busy weekends, he might not return to his wife and children until 5 or 6 a.m. He's got all kinds of tales of revelry.

No one, though, entertains like our cab driver from the airport.

He spoke with a heavy accent, so we had to lean forward and concentrate on every word. In half an hour, we learned about his three grown children, his travels in Africa and South America, his opinion on pharmaceutical companies and his work in computational physics.

He drives for fun, he says, to get away from his university lab.

After the car in front of us ran a red light and was almost hit by another car, our cabbie shook his head sadly and said, "There is only one second between life and death. Cherish every moment." (Chicago traffic is not for the fainthearted.)

Katie, Cooper and our sweet cab driver
He quizzed Cooper on probability and left him with a puzzle to solve.

He told us about his parents in Scotland and his phone calls home.

"Kids, cherish your mom. She is special," he said. "There is a lifelong bond. Don't ever joke with it."

And then we reached our destination and said goodbye and marveled, again, at the people we've met, the strangers still out there and the stories we've yet to hear.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. She can be reached at tyradamm@gmail.com.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Family gets by with teamwork, faith and a little help from our friends

Now and then: The three of us in June 2017 and in September 2009 (on the day of Steve's service)
From today's Briefing:
Days after we sang "Happy birthday" to Cooper, it hit me: I've been a single mom for as long as I was a married mom.

Cooper turned 16 this month. In a few weeks, we'll remember the eighth anniversary of my husband's death. Cooper has lived half of his life without his dad in the house. (Younger sister Katie had only four years with Steve.)

The occasion doesn't warrant a card or a party, but there's a somber sort of celebration in my heart.

We have been the recipients of more meals than I can count. Those early days of widowhood are a blur of casseroles delivered to the front porch and restaurant gift cards in the mailbox. Even today, I can rely on Grandma to show up with dinner during our busiest seasons, or we can walk across the alley for dinner with our best friends.

For eight years, we've relied on other people for rides to and from school, Scouts, church, band, track. Cooper and Katie have a list of folks they can text last-minute for rides, say if it's raining and they're dressed for an important presentation at school. I scan my calendar weekly, trying to avoid overlapping commitments and seeking logistical help when it's unavoidable.
I'm rarely ill, but one awful week I was incapacitated by flu. I was in and out of fevered sleep when the school nurse called. Cooper had suffered a slight injury in PE and needed ibuprofen. I didn't panic. I called a nearby friend, who had already offered to help in any way, and she delivered medicine for me.
When I'm weary from being the only adult who makes decisions, I know who I can call or text for venting with no judgment. When I need advice — because, oh my word, why on earth would my child do that and how am I supposed to respond? — I've got a list of folks who listen and advise.
More often than not, though, the three of us have figured out how to forge life on our own. We long ago settled into a daily routine. Katie is the official dog-walker. Cooper is the light-bulb changer and trash man. I take care of the first half of the laundry process, and they do the rest.
If something's broken, Cooper is our go-to guy. If a gift needs to be wrapped or a card created, Katie's in charge. I plan menus and shop for groceries; the kids take turns unloading the minivan and putting food away.
We've traveled all over the country together. The three of us share precious memories of hiking along the Oregon coast, climbing slippery rocks in Maine, riding Space Mountain at Disneyland, gathering seashells in Florida.
We've lost our way — in more ways than one — yet we've always rediscovered the path together.
We pray together at the dinner table and worship together on Sundays.
We each have built stockpiles of resilience.
There's so much of life we don't get to control. This isn't the parenthood I dreamed of. It's not the childhood I expected for my babies. We've made it this far, though, relying on our compassionate village, steadfast faith and the strength we find in one another. It's teamwork worth celebrating.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. She can be reached at tyradamm@gmail.com.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

It's not unreasonable to expect polite discourse

From today's Briefing:

Like every parent I know, I've taught my children to say "please" when they want something and "thank you" when they receive it.
Sometimes they forget, and if I'm around when that happens, I always remind them.
When Cooper is waiting outside the band hall for a ride home, he might hurriedly text: "Ready for you to pick me up." That kind of text will earn the reply: "I'll wait until you ask politely."
I'll hop in the minivan as soon as he responds with something close to, "Can you please pick me up from school?"
I try to model the same behavior and use the same kind words with my children and, well, everyone else. "Can you please put away the dishes?" "Can you please walk Margie?" "Thank you for folding the towels."
I've also taught my children that it's not kind to call people names. When you're angry or frustrated, I teach them, try to express yourself with civility. "My feelings were hurt when you ignored me" is obviously preferable to, "Pay attention to me, you big dummy."

The Golden Rule

We rely frequently on the Golden Rule, found twice in the New Testament (as well as in the Old Testament, the Quran and every other major faith tradition's scriptures). It's worded a little differently depending on the verse and translation, but the sentiment is the same: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
This is not extraordinary. This is normal. This is what we should expect from one another, at home, at school, at work, in the grocery store. This is what I expect not only from my children, but also from my students and my friends, from the people I do business with, from my ministers, from my leaders.
Of course, I don't expect to agree with all of these people all of the time — indeed, even some of these people a fraction of the time.
My opinions on health care, climate change and school vouchers don't perfectly align with everyone I know or even everyone I respect. What I believe is based on my own experiences, research and worldview.
One of the great joys of living in the United States and participating in our democracy is recognizing that our strength lies in both our similarities and differences. If only we could do so with greater civility.

Online culture

Many of us seem to lose our manners when hidden behind a screen. We abandon "please," "thank you" and "excuse me." We take shortcuts in grammar, spelling and punctuation, but that's not an excuse for shortcutting kindness.
We also throw out insults with ease. Check almost any news story online for an example.
I peeked at an online news story about President Donald Trump and his ongoing battle with CNN. The story was posted on Fox News. The name-calling was tossed from all sides (and many comments were so hateful I refuse to repeat them):
Liberals are trash.
The president is an immature baby. Get over yourself! Man up!
Then I clicked over to CNN to read a commentary about Trump's most recent decisions. Comments were no kinder:
This is what an idiot looks and acts like.
You liberal idiots make me laugh so hard.
Of course, the president in question sometimes struggles with civility himself. Just last week, he called two members of the media "crazy" and "dumb as a rock." Trump also retweeted a doctored video in which he body-slams and pummels a man with a CNN logo for a head.
I understand differences in opinion. I understand passion that fuels discussion and debate. I accept that policy decisions are often made by people I didn't vote for.
But I struggle with an absence of the values that we expect from our children every day. I won't stop modeling manners, and I won't stop expecting the same from my family, my friends and — perhaps foolishly — from our leaders. I will speak up, as politely as possible, in favor of civility and hope that more of the folks in my circle do the same.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. She can be reached at tyradamm@gmail.com.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

New life skills are souvenirs from time apart

From Saturday's Briefing:

Summer is sleeping without an alarm, movies in the family room, nights at the neighborhood pool.
Summer is volunteering at church, studying for the PSAT, cleaning out closets.
Summer is also seeking adventure, solving problems, gaining independence.
My children grow up quickly each summer.
Already this break, Cooper has traveled with his uncle in Europe, and Katie has spent a week in Colorado with her grandparents. They each have more adventures to come – a week of camp and church mission trips.
The house is too quiet when one or both are gone, and I miss them terribly, but their weeks away offer practical training for the rest of their lives.
It’s a process we parents work on from the very beginning. We start out taking care of every possible task, and then we slowly release.
For a year or more, we’re solely responsible for every piece of clothing placed on their squishy, squirmy bodies. Then we teach them how to pull up pants, how to wiggle into a shirt, how to cram toes and heels into socks and shoes.
We prepare countless meals, then we start teaching how to rinse produce, how to cut veggies, how to make a sandwich, how to read a recipe.
In restaurants, we provide their voice, placing orders that reflect their very specific likes and dislikes. Eventually, though, they learn to read, speak for themselves and look a waiter in the eye to politely request dinner.
We do all of this modeling and releasing because we know that one day these babies of ours will be on their own.
They need to navigate airport security lines without help – read signs, anticipate steps, follow directions and gather all of their belongings when they’re done.
They need to know how to ride public transportation – understand maps, find stations, buy tickets, stay safe.
They need to carry on conversations with helpers and strangers. They need to make smart purchasing choices, estimate sales taxes, stand in line, pay a cashier, check for correct change.
We can model all over town and practice together, but nothing offers on-the-job training like doing it by yourself – or at least away from the parents who’ve protected for years. And when they come home from their adventures, they have plenty of stories and lessons to share.
Cooper was hiking in the mountains near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, enjoying views of the Alps, while Uncle Jim stayed in the valley. Cooper had wandered about 5 miles when he hit a toll path. He hadn’t packed Euros in his daypack (he’s never hit a walking toll booth in the United States), so he turned around, hiked back down and walked back to the hotel, where he and Jim had agreed to meet.
He didn’t panic. He took the next logical steps. And he’ll likely hike with pocket change from now on.
He had some problem-solving in Munich, too. He took the subway north from the central train station and walked to the BMW Museum. After touring the museum, he struggled to find the subway entrance for his return. His cellphone map wasn’t helpful. So he just started walking back south to the city center, where he found some window shopping, people watching and eventually the train station.
He didn’t panic. He took the next logical steps. And now he knows to more carefully observe signs and plan an exit strategy.

Cooper matured more than two weeks’ worth on that trip – and we’ve still got two months of summer. That’s plenty of time to laze about, read some novels, catch up on movies, lounge at the pool – and practice a few life skills for the not-so-distant years that don’t include an automatic three-month break for summer.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. You can reach her at tyradamm@gmail.com

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Hope helps us get past life's disappointments

From today's Briefing:

We three Damms ended the school year mostly the way we wanted. In fact, I'd estimate the year was about 95 percent successful for each of us.
Which part are we more likely to dwell on? Some days, it's that 5 percent of disappointment.
We didn't make a team or group we wanted, we didn't score as high as we expected, we missed out on an event, we failed to earn an honor we thought was ours.
These are the expected, yet never welcome, disappointments in life, occasions that are often devastating at the time but usually minor (or at least much smaller) in retrospect. These are the character-building moments that we would like to avoid altogether — both for ourselves and for our children.
There's no benefit in sheltering from disappointment, though. Tears are shed — and tears eventually dry. Hearts break — and hearts mend. Feelings are hurt, plans are disrupted — and we get a new chance tomorrow.
Eventually, we find strength from the pain of defeat and sorrow. Sometimes, if we're lucky and paying attention, we even gain strength without the pain.
In the waning days of fourth grade, I gathered my students to the front carpet, and we chatted about our read-aloud novels from the year:
The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo
Loser by Jerry Spinelli
Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood
Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan
"Let's reach way back," I said, "and think about the themes, or life lessons, from our books." We talked about friendship, family and courage. And hope.
"Is there a message of hope in every one of these books?"
Students broke out into excited conversations. They recalled characters and plot, followed by evidence of hope in each novel. I scribbled their answers on the board, trying to keep up with their quick minds and contagious passion.
We had spent the year with these books and their characters, who in turn became our friends. We cried with Rob when he finally let go of his emotions in The Tiger Rising. We held our breath as Zinkoff stumbled through a blizzard in Loser. We cheered when our beloved silverback gorilla friend escaped his concrete domain and relocated to the zoo in The One and Only Ivan.
The room quieted again.
"I hope that when you are in a valley in your life, like Esperanza in her novel, you are able to reach back to these characters and remember that hope helped them through really tough times," I told my students. "Hope will help you, too."
Hope carries us through grief.
Hope means we look for true friendship despite a series of disappointing relationships.
Hope fuels us as we reach for big — even seemingly impossible — goals.
Hope buffers disappointment and disapproval.
Hope pushes us through deep valleys and propels us to the mountaintop.
Hope is essential for survival.
We can't avoid disappointment or loss, but we can prepare for the journey — by watching others, by reading, by living.
And we can spend more time celebrating the mountaintop moments, all while recognizing the value of the valleys.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. She can be reached at tyradamm@gmail.com.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The May rush is nearly over

From Saturday's Briefing:

Hang on, folks. You can do it. June is just around the bend.

Soon, our calendars will be less crowded. We can hang up the fancy dresses, put away the Sunday shoes. We can sit down to family dinners in which all members are present in both body and mind.

When May has passed, we can breathe.
The refrain is the same every morning this month in our house: "What do you have tonight?"
Each of us seems to have something — or more than one something — that celebrates an end or marks a new beginning. The inevitable overlap requires practiced logistics as well as special guest appearances by helpers who juggle their own crazy calendars.
Take Monday night, for example.
Katie had middle school tennis tryouts at the high school.
Cooper had solo and ensemble contests at the same high school, but first he needed to come home to change.
I made it home from my final staff meeting of the year (wearing neon yellow for "Reading Brightens Your Future" theme day) in time to drive Katie to the tennis courts. While caught in comically slow parking lot traffic, I waved to Cooper, who was speeding home on his bike.
He was in the shower by the time I pulled into the driveway. His hair was still damp as I drove him back to school for competition.
I arrived for a standing Monday tutoring appointment at exactly 5 p.m. While I was teaching adverbial prepositional phrases, Katie was practicing volleys and Cooper was warming up with scales.
Katie completed tryouts in the middle of my tutoring session and caught a ride home with momma friend Liz, who ferries children from the high school all afternoon.
Cooper finished his second song while I was wrapping up. I sent a text to offer a ride home, but by then his walk was nearly over.
The three of us reunited briefly. As I listened to tales from the court and the band hall, I made a grilled cheese sandwich to fuel my next journey. I left veggies, bread and cheese on the counter for the kids' DIY dinner and returned to the minivan. Next stop: back-to-back church committee meetings.
Both children were still immersed in homework (what is May without some giant projects looming?) when I returned home, this time for good.
It was late, but we need clean clothes and clean dishes, so we launched into super-attack chores mode, taking out the trash, folding towels, loading the dishwasher.
In the middle of all that work, we discussed the obvious: "What do we need to gather for whatever we have tomorrow?"
Cooper needed dress clothes for his National Honor Society induction, which would take place immediately after marching brand practice, leaving no time to change at home.
I needed a beach towel for outside reading day at school.
Katie, mercifully, needed nothing special (except perhaps a nap).
I hesitate to complain about May because it represents what makes our lives joyful -- music and friendship, growth and possibilities, milestones and community. And one day, I know, May will no longer revolve around my children's schedules. I'm not going to wish away these days.
I will, though, embrace June and its slightly lazy days with open (albeit tired) arms.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. She can be reached at tyradamm@gmail.com.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

We miss out on new memories with our kids if we dwell in the past

From yesterday's Briefing:

Moms, I have a gift suggestion for us all. For Mother’s Day, let’s give ourselves permission to live in the moment.
Too many of us live in the past, reminiscing about babyhood or toddlerhood or any day but today. We stare misty-eyed at Timehop photos that reveal innocent eyes, chubby cheeks and seemingly simpler times.
We also live in the future, looking forward to milestones and independence and any event but today. We envy parents who no longer change diapers, then those who no longer pay for daycare, then those who no longer need to ferry their children from place to place.
Our children deserve our attention and adoration today.
On a recent Saturday in Dallas, I woke up to the glory of my children right now.
Katie, Tyra & Cooper at Klyde Warren Park
Together we walked the row of food trucks at Klyde Warren Park, each of us gravitating toward a different cuisine. In the old days, we would have all stood in one line, then another, then another. We’d finally sit, 30 minutes later, crabby and hungry, two-thirds of us eating cold food.
These days, though, I can hand cash to each child. They are old enough and responsible enough to stand in line alone, to order their own food, to pay, to pick up and meet back at a designated table.
We meandered to the playground after our Tex-Mex/Vietnamese/barbecue feast. I was inching toward wistfulness, thinking of days gone by, when Cooper and Katie would have raced to the giant climbing structure, would have begged to jump in the water, would have waited in line for the giant swing.
Instead, Cooper settled in on the bench next to me. (He chatted with me in between Snapchat posts.) Katie wandered to the merry-go-round, not to hop on but spin the little kids as fast as possible.
As I soaked up the sunshine, I worked on soaking up that very moment. A teenager who (most of the time) enjoys my company. A preteen who finds happiness in helping others.
After Katie was worn out from one too many turns of the merry-go-round, we walked a few blocks to the Perot Museum.
We were always on the same floor at the museum, but we weren’t always together. While Cooper was battling with robots, Katie was designing her own light show. While Katie was composing music, Cooper was building towers. 
We enjoyed some shared experiences, but I didn’t feel the need to corral and hover nonstop. When we eventually hit the gift shop, I didn’t have to pry tiny fingers out of the bins of shiny rocks or explain 27 times why we didn’t need another stuffed animal.
Do I miss those days? Absolutely. I don’t have to stare at a photo to remember exactly what it was like to push tiny Cooper on the bucket swing at our neighborhood park or to remember tiny Katie falling asleep among a nest of 27 stuffed animals.
The fact that those days are long gone makes my heart ache a tiny bit, yet longing too much for yesterday steals joy from today.

This Mother’s Day I’m choosing to celebrate how those bygone days have accumulated to reveal the quirky, thoughtful, slightly mischievous children who call me, “Momma.”  I won’t spend a moment wishing away the day, though I trust more celebrations are in store.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. You can reach her at tyradamm@gmail.com.