Monday, October 20, 2014

Pedaling forward is a lifelong process

From Saturday's Briefing:

I’m forever pushing children out of their comfort zones.
If one of my students prefers to read only graphic novels, I cajole him to try a science fiction novel. If another is buried in realistic fiction, I convince her to try biography.
Just when a fourth-grader thinks his essay is perfect, I challenge him to make five more words even stronger.
If I teach it, I need to live it, no matter how painful. Every now and then, I push myself beyond comfort.
For example, a week ago I slipped a handmade pink tutu over blue jeans and shimmied in front of 500 people while lip-synching Taylor Swift.
This totally out-of-character performance was made possible only because I was one of a menagerie of dancing teachers at our school assembly. I find strength in numbers when pushing my limits.
My brief stage appearance was painless. My next venture, not so much.
Sunday nights at the Damm house are routinely routine. Cooper practices clarinet. Katie practices violin. I cook dinner and prep food for lunches for the rest of the week.
Last Sunday night was out of the ordinary. I shed domesticity for an evening out with some usually mild-mannered mom friends. We climbed into strangers’ cars, headed for Dallas and spent the night pedaling through Uptown.
Because some in the group planned to drink adult beverages and because we are hyper-vigilant mommas, we chose to hire out the driving. We used our smartphones to hail not taxicabs, but rides from everyday drivers willing to share their cars for a fee.
We spilled out of three random sedans and gawked at our next mode of transportation: a giant cart equipped with barstools and bicycle pedals. It’s called the Buzz Bike.
The cart is piloted by an experienced driver who has control of steering and the brakes. The power is provided by the people sitting on the barstools.
We stowed our purses, the pilot described our roles, and in no time we were inching north on McKinney Avenue. Just as quickly, I could feel some leg muscles that hadn’t been stretched in a long while. Pedaling a giant, truck-sized cart takes more strength than I’d imagined.
Discomfort was easily ignored, though, with all the singing, laughing and waving to curious folks on the side of the road.
We took a break on the route, stopping for chips and salsa (cycling works up an appetite) and water (who could handle anything stronger with all that work?). We climbed aboard again, ready to face two challenges: a steep decline that would send us flying and an equally steep incline that would leave us gasping.
Our party perched atop the first hill, unable to see the bottom. The traffic light turned green and we started to pedal, fueled by a well-timed “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” blaring through the speakers.
Cyndi Lauper’s words were eventually drowned by our screams — part exhilaration, part fear of rear-ending the Mustang directly in front of our lumbering contraption.
We stopped just in time.
We enjoyed a couple of flat blocks, then we faced the biggest challenge of the night: the hill of Allen Street. We’d heard stories of previous groups that couldn’t pedal all the way up — that had to dismount and push the oversized bike.
Our competitive spirits kicked in. We would not become a cautionary tale.
One of the fittest friends in the group pedaled like an Ironman triathlete while commanding us to follow suit. We focused. We dug in. We biked up that cursed hill in two minutes flat.
There was nothing comfortable about it.
But I needed that night out with friends, a few hours away from responsibilities and planning. I needed to step out of my routine, to wave at strangers, to sing ’80s pop with wild abandon.
My sore quads are a small souvenir of the night. Longer lasting is the reminder that we all need to stretch a little.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at
The whole gang, celebrating Julianne's 40th birthday (after we survived the treacherous hills)

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Before church this morning

Not shown: Katie's new braces on the bottom teeth and expander on top, both of which are causing extreme discomfort

Monday, October 06, 2014

Finding ways to celebrate without sweets

From Saturday's Briefing:

I know comfort food because of Gramma.
Having a rough day? A Big Red and Blue Bell float will fix you right up.
Celebrating some good news? We’ll stop at the convenience store for a popsicle or Drumstick.
In the middle of a family reunion? How about a slice of Mrs. Smith’s apple pie?
Gramma has been gone almost a decade now, but I’m a keeper of the flame, a firm believer in the family tradition of soothing and praising with treats.
You didn’t win the election? Frozen yogurt with toppings will cheer you up. You earned a place on the team? We’ll stop for a chocolate shake. You and your friends completed a monstrous project? How about some brownies?
My children have been absolutely agreeable with this candy-coated legacy. We don’t eat fast food. I don’t keep many sweets in the house. Why not fully embrace a system that guarantees treats every few weeks?
I’ll tell you why not. Because your 9-year-old vegetarian daughter gave up most desserts for her New Year’s resolution and, unlike 99 percent of everyone you know, she’s actually kept hers.
For almost a whole year now, she’s passed up celebratory treats and consolation desserts. My family tradition has been challenged. My go-to comfort choices have been shelved.
Not that I’m complaining.
It’s healthy in more ways than one to ditch food as a balm or a reward. Food is supposed to be fuel, and we should consume only as much as we truly need. (I’m pretty terrible at following this advice.)
Drowning our sorrows in rocky road doesn’t really solve anything. And there’s absolutely no relevant connection between, say, making the A honor roll and downing a Slurpee.
Besides all of that, does every piece of encouraging news warrant a reward?
Does every disappointing tidbit deserve a consolation prize?
Katie’s lifestyle change has made the answers obvious.
Not only does she not need a cookie for good news, but she also doesn’t need anything beyond the natural consequences of the good news. Same for the setbacks. The absence of comfort food has forced genuine conversations of heartfelt praise and pep talks. Every time I think, “We should celebrate with [fill in the blank],” I am forced to stop and regard my own motivations, to consider the intrinsic value of winning or losing, of reaching your goals or falling short.
Still, Katie is only 9, and there are events that demand some sort of celebration. (Or moments that not even the tightest hugs and most sincere words can make better.)
So I’ve asked for a Katie-approved list of possible treats. Her suggestions include:
  • New book
  • Squares of felt from the craft store
  • Extra minutes of nighttime Harry Potter read-aloud
  • New markers
  • New paint
  • Movie night at home
  • Time at the playground
  • Episode of Gilligan’s Island
  • New rosin for violin bow
  • Homemade Chex mix (“As long as it’s not burned,” she added without a trace of judgment and, yet, no doubt recalling my last batch.)

Free-spirited, creative, poetic Gramma (who cooked a mean batch of Chex mix) would no doubt approve.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Saturday, October 04, 2014

From my phone

Noe and Katie, after half time of the Frisco vs. Centennial football game -- out on a school night!
Cooper, after playing on the field at the Frisco High game
Katie and Cooper at the Frisco High game
Tyra and Katie at the Lone Star Storytelling Festival field trip
Veggies, before they were roasted, for a pasta dish
Katie, after a haircut with the fabulous Erin
Katie on career day, part of College Week, at Hosp

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Teen tuneup for mom mode

From Saturday's Briefing:

Clues that your child is less than a year from high school:
Some weeknights, you struggle to stay awake long enough to see your child to bed.
Some weekends, you struggle to stay awake long enough to see your child come home.
You pray that years of modeled behavior, subtle hints and outright lectures have actually stuck.
You realize that everyone who warned you was right: The middle-school years fly by.
Cooper has finished two years, and soon — in what will no doubt feel like two months’ time — he’ll be headed to high school. All signs indicate that eighth grade is a transition year not just for students, but for parents, too.
He’s often awake past 10 or 11 p.m., completing homework, managing projects and studying for tests. I try mightily to stay up with him, to be available for questions, to offer moral support or to turn off his bedroom light. But there have already been a couple of evenings when he’s the last human awake in the house.
Two of his classes are heavy hitters — high school courses a year early, with grades that will kick off his official GPA. While I appreciate that students have an opportunity to get ahead and clear their high school schedules for even more complex classes, I struggle with the pressure 13-year-olds face in worrying about GPA. And I sort of dread what a full load of high school classes will look like.
With greater responsibility comes greater freedom, including later “curfew,” if you can call it that when parents are doing all the driving.
After long weeknights, I’m usually desperate for a lazy, early Friday night. The eighth-grade social scene is in full swing, though. I’m thankful for two- parent families, who almost always volunteer to take the late driving shifts for me. At least I can doze on the sofa while waiting for my teenager to come home — and little sister can keep her bedtime.
Last Friday night, as I drove Cooper to a high school football game, I felt a wave of alarm. Had I properly prepared him for whatever scenes might unfold? Would there be a fistfight under the stands? A group of ruffians smoking in the bathroom? (Was I expecting American Graffiti to break out?)
I couldn’t keep silent the building admonitions.
“Watch out for trouble. You can’t drink any alcohol or try any drugs. I mean, I know you wouldn’t and we’ve talked about all this before, but it’s my job to tell you these kinds of things all the time. Seriously. Don’t. If I text you, you have to text me back. Do you have your phone? Do you have cash? Is it safe in your wallet? You have to stay with your group the entire time. And have fun!”
Whew. Mom mode needs some fine-tuning. But the whole teenager thing happened so fast.
If you’re parent to an infant or toddler, you might start rolling your eyes now, but it’s absolutely true: Each year moves faster than the year before.
Each year is filled with more — more papers to write, more band concerts, more group projects and more word problems with increasing complexity.
And those tall people who were not long ago your preschoolers are gone more often — going in early for tutorials or sectionals, staying late for meetings or challenge matches on the tennis court.
As their lives fill with more, and you spend fewer moments together, time has the illusion of speeding up, like someone hit fast-forward on your very existence.
We’re not given the luxury of hitting stop or even pause. We’ve simply got to keep up — as long as we can stay awake — and relish the moments we can share.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

From my phone

Katie and Mr. Else, Hosp Elementary dedication
Noe and Katie, after Katie's storytelling performance at Barnes & Noble

Cooper and Katie, lunch, Three Squares

Tyra, Mrs. Woodson and Cooper, at the Hosp Elementary dedication

Tyra and Katie, college hat day