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

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