Sunday, January 22, 2017

Don't wait too late to make a final impression

From yesterday's Briefing:

Every weekday afternoon, I stand at my classroom door and say goodbye to each individual student.
“Farewell, young man.”
Adios, my friend.”
“Enjoy your evening, dear scholar.”
I offer side hugs to the huggers and high fives to the rest.
I often throw in “I’m proud of you” or “Love you!”
This habit began because I’ve learned the hard way that we never know which goodbye is final.
In my first year of teaching, we returned from spring break to an empty desk in my homeroom. There was a custody issue that resulted in a student moving across the country with no notice.
I worried about him the rest of the year.
How would our curriculum align with his new one? Did I teach him well enough to help him transition? Was he making friends at his new school? Did I tell him often enough that I was proud of his efforts?
What troubled me most: How did I say goodbye to him that Friday, when everyone was watching the clock and eager to leap out the door and into the sunshine?
I’m certain it was uneventful – forgettable, even. My habit was to wave to students as they walked away and I shuffled on to carpool duty. I’d throw out an all-purpose, “Goodbye!” or “Study for your states quiz!”
That missing student changed my ways. The next year and each year since, I’ve stood sentry at the door, insisting that students line up and walk out the door one at a time.
I’ve tried to change my ways at home, too, though I’m not always successful.
By the time I’ve showered, dressed, dried my hair, made breakfast and packed lunches, I have about 2.5 seconds to bid farewell to my two children. I manage to cram in some version of “Have a good day! Make good choices! Be safe! I love you!” as I dash into the garage, balancing a piece of toast atop a to-go cup of coffee in one hand, purse, lunch bag and keys in the other.
We often miss hugs and thoughtful exchanges.
I’m thankful each evening when we’re all reunited.
When I think about the people I’ve loved and lost over the years, I think of our final time together.
My grandpa had been ill, and we suspected his time was limited. When I said goodbye for what would be the final time, my heart knew.
When my grandmother fell ill about three years later, I said goodbye, but I don’t know if she understood. Alzheimer’s disease had long before stolen her memory. When was the last time that I said goodbye to her and she knew who I was? I can’t pinpoint it.
My mom had been bed-ridden for years, and every time I visited her nursing home, I braced myself, preparing for what might be our last conversation. She and I made an effort to make each goodbye meaningful.
When my husband’s time was near, we both knew. He suddenly could no longer speak, so my sister scribbled the alphabet, and he pointed:
“I love you. Thank you.”
Not long after, his body fell into a sleep-like state. Twelve hours later, he took his final breath.
We’re not always so fortunate. We can’t predict the future. We don’t know how much time will pass until we meet again – if at all. I plan to keep working on making all of my hellos and goodbyes and the moments in between meaningful. Every moment counts.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. You can reach her at

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Am I ready to the be mom of a teen driver?

There were plenty of tears when we drove baby Cooper home from the hospital. I shed every single one.

I was exhausted from childbirth, in awe of the little human suddenly in our care, eager to get home and, most of all, terrified of the cars and trucks zooming by. I sat in the backseat, hovering over our newborn, acutely aware of our charge to protect him in an unpredictable world.

I thought of every worst-case traffic scenario during that drive home, all the while falling more in love with our chunky, dark-haired, blue-eyed pumpkin.

The whole scene was a pretty good preview of parenting in general, with alternating moments of hyperactive worry and intense bliss.

For example, when Cooper became mobile:

He's crawling! He's standing! He's walking! This is so exciting!

Oh, my goodness. He's going to hit his head on the coffee table. He's going to slam cabinet doors on his fingers. He's going to tumble down the stairs.

Repeat when he ventures outside:

He loves to run barefoot through the grass.

Fire ants will attack him!

He's so friendly, running to say hello to neighbors.

Stop running across the street without holding my hand!

All these years later, the pattern continues.

Cooper rides his bike about half-a-mile to and from school each day. He wears a helmet (most of the time) and obeys traffic rules (as far as I know). I'm not worried about his behavior as much as I am the drivers around him.

He navigates a four-way stop, often manned by crossing guards, but sometimes he goes in early or stays late, and then he's on his own, at the mercy of folks who don't always pay attention or stop when they're supposed to.

Sometime in the next year, that bike is likely to be replaced by a car (a sensible, used car, to be sure). In anticipation of that monumental shift, Cooper is taking driver's education, working toward a learner's permit to be followed by hours of practice behind the wheel.

My worst-case scenario tendencies are in overdrive.

A motorcycle screams by on the Tollway. A sports car swerves in and out of lanes. A pickup truck ignores a stop sign.

My first thought in all of these cases: How would Cooper handle this as a brand-new driver? My second thought: Do teenagers really need to drive? Followed quickly by: Maybe we should move way out to the country, where cattle outnumber vehicles.

I'm not necessarily concerned about his abilities (though he hasn't actually operated a car yet, so that worry may be mounting). It's all the other stuff that troubles me: lanes closed for construction, distracted drivers, thunderstorms, fog.

I consider the split-second decisions we all make as drivers — how much distance to allow between cars, when to start applying brakes, crossing traffic without a light, yielding, changing lanes — and wonder how a teen's brain processes it all and makes sound decisions.

I think of my own early driving years, in my own used (and completely unreliable) car. I recall all those times my 1975 Audi stalled simply because it was raining. I remember the first time I drove on the Tollway — accidentally because I was in the wrong lane of the service road. I sometimes drove too fast, rolled through stop signs, turned right on red when I shouldn't have.

I made mistakes. I learned from them. It's what I hope for my own children.

Way back in July 2001, I had no idea how many times parenting would lead me to wrestle with fear and elation all at once. Even today, I'm unsure of how many more tears will fall, but experience assures me that the joy of new beginnings has the power to dwarf all the worries.

Tyra Damm is a Dallas native, veteran journalist, fourth-grade teacher and Dallas Morning News Briefing columnist since 2008. She lives in Frisco and writes about family life and parenting. She can be reached at