Saturday, February 18, 2017

More and more prepared: Being a Scout mom has helped me learn to trust my son

From today's Briefing:

What happens when you layer parenthood atop worst-case scenario kind of thinking? Nonstop worry from womb to, well, perhaps forever.
I’m pretty much an expert in the field.
What happens when you layer Boy Scouts atop nonstop worry? The opportunity of personal growth.
I’m getting there.
In fact, last week I was able to sit through an hour-long parent meeting about an upcoming high adventure camp without batting an eye. I wasn’t remotely fazed by warnings of injuries, floods or bears.
Cooper’s already survived all three.
Two summers ago, he and his troop spent a week on the Atchafalaya Swamp. After kayaking for a couple of days, they found respite on a small island. The boys were using various blades to chop bamboo. Cooper, for reasons I still don’t understand, used a machete.
It was a powerful tool. So powerful, in fact, that he sliced straight through bamboo and his shin. He accidentally nicked about an inch of skin.
Because they’re Boy Scouts, his people were prepared. They cleaned the wound and closed it with butterfly strips. The next day, a boat arrived at the island to take Cooper and adult leaders to dry land. Their next stop was the emergency room, to check for possible infection and the need for stitches.
Cooper came home with a story, a scar and a nickname. “Machete,” of course.
The next year, a group of Scouts ventured to Oklahoma for backpacking. Severe weather blew in, creating raging streams. Boys and dads relied on one another, savvy maneuvering and well-placed logs to cross increasingly dangerous water.
They came home with a story, know-how and appreciation for nature’s fickle power.
Last summer that same group spent two weeks together at Philmont Scout Ranch in northern New Mexico. It’s the pinnacle of the Boy Scout experience. Backpacking through the Rockies with everything you need for survival, scaling mountains, sleeping under unadulterated stars. Each day offers an opportunity for a new adventure.
One day the boys stopped hiking for spar pole climbing. (I know, only because I’m a Scout mom, that this includes scaling a tree, stripped of its branches, with the aid of a harness, some rope and blades on your boots.
While one boy is climbing, his buddy is in the charge of the rope on the ground.
Cooper’s buddy was halfway up the pole when a deer shot through the grounds. Then he heard a rustling noise. He turned around to see a black bear, just a few yards away.
Multiple accounts confirm that he sputtered, “B-b-b-bear.” And then the creature waddled away.
Cooper returned home with stories for days, incredible memories and motivation to return.
Way back when Cooper was a tiny first-grade Tiger Cub, I could have never imagined giving thanks for small accidents and near-misses. My job was to shield him from trouble.
Yet every mistake, every change in plans, every weather event, every animal encounter offers the chance to grow stronger – physically, mentally and emotionally.
He’s learned that preparation and teamwork are shields in the face of danger.
Boy Scouts has been just as valuable for me.
I’ve learned to trust my son and the people around him. I’ve realized that denying a child the ability to take risks offers zero protection for adulthood. I’ve been reminded again and again that problem-solving skills are best acquired when you’re actually solving problems.
Cooper has joined a crew for a return trip to Philmont in 2018. I look forward to more stories and his confidence found in succeeding – though I’d be content with no new accident-related nicknames.

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

Saturday, February 04, 2017

One march, many voices

Who am I?
I am a child of the 1970s. My parents divorced when I was 7. I attended Texas public schools, where at times I relied on a reduced-cost lunch plan. Teachers and librarians were my superheroes.
We didn’t practice religion often, though there were a couple of years we spent Sundays at an Assemblies of God church.
My domains have included apartments, modest suburban homes, more than one duplex, and a trailer house in the country.
I worked two or three jobs every day I was in college, paid my own way and graduated in four years (with mediocre grades).
I was engaged once to the wrong person for me.
I’ve never used illegal drugs, though I grew up around them. I’ve never tried a cigarette or been drunk (addiction scares me).
 I accumulated entirely too many speeding tickets from age 16 to 25.
I married the right person for me at age 22. I was baptized that same year in the United Methodist Church.
My work history includes fast food, retail, a half-dozen newsrooms, a megachurch and two elementary schools. Today I have three jobs – classroom teacher, freelance writer and tutor-for-hire.
I have volunteered in schools and churches for more than two decades.
My dreamboat of a husband and I had two children together. Our son is now 15, our daughter 11. Their daddy died when they were 8 and 4, after living for a year and a half with brain cancer.
Next to my children, books and travel are my passion. I wish I had more time and money for both.
I don’t exercise enough. I worry too much. My housekeeping skills are lackluster.
I love fiercely and unapologetically, yet I’m an introvert so I fear that I often appear aloof.
I have voted in every major election and a whole bunch of little ones since I was eligible in 1990. I discuss politics in a small circle and work daily toward tolerance for all who do no harm.
And on Jan. 21, 2017, my best friend and I drove to the state capital for the Women’s March on Austin.
I was fully clothed (some outlandish reports make it sound like everyone was running around in birthday suits). I carried a mild-mannered sign (“Strong women, strong country”). I sang “This Land is Your Land” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” along with the crowd.
Never, not once, not for a single moment, did I think of shaming women who weren’t there.  And I certainly didn’t walk the crowded downtown blocks because I thought I was speaking for any particular group.
I marched because I believe in equal rights for all, because children deserve strong communities and strong public schools, because healthy families are crucial to a healthy country, because small voices are often drowned.
I marched because we live in a country that protects speech and assembly and because democracy must be practiced beyond the voting booth.
I marched because I have relied on the kindness of strangers and even the generosity of our government.
I marched because I’m devoted to Micah 6:8, an Old Testament verse: “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
I’m not defined by that one march or who I did (or didn’t vote for) or any single moment over the past 44 years. I’m like every other soul, an amalgamation of millions of moments, decisions and interactions.
I continue to pray that we all look beyond the easy – and deceptive – labels, that we ask “Who are you?” with genuine curiosity. I pray that as we acknowledge our differences, we find the courage to make peace on our much greater common ground.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

(Published in today's Briefing.)