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.