Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Clearest view of fight for civil rights lies outside the comfort zone

From Saturday's Briefing:

Cooper was 4 when I first read to him the picture book Rosa by Nikki Giovanni. He’s been a student of the civil rights movement ever since.

He devours books on the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln. He can name heroes of the 1950s and ’60s and discuss key court cases and legislation with clarity.

He has watched countless movies and documentaries. He has read historical fiction.

We have stood near the Woolworth lunch counter, instrumental in the desegregation movement in Greensboro, N.C., and now housed at the National Museum of American History. We have stood on the National Mall, imaging what the grounds were like during the March on Washington of 1963.

Yet nothing compares to experience — at least as close as you can get 50 years after the fact.

Cooper joined other teens plus some parents and ministers on a civil rights bus tour last weekend. The group traveled to Jackson and Oxford, Miss., and Memphis, Tenn. They toured museums and worshipped together. They watched documentaries. They visited with the Rev. Ed King.

King is a veteran of the civil rights movement, an instrumental force in helping African-Americans register to vote in the 1960s, and a colleague of the late Medgar Evers. And he has stories — often harrowing stories — to tell.

It was after the visit with King that Cooper sent me this text: “I never knew how horribly they treated African-Americans and whites that did not agree with them.”

My first reaction: goosebumps and tears.

My second reaction: How could he not know, after all of his research?

My third reaction: This is why we can’t shelter our children too long. This is why we have to allow our children to experience life outside our comfort zones.

No amount of reading, watching television or even standing inside the Lincoln Memorial compares to talking with someone who lived through and struggled through those pivotal years in our history.

After Cooper returned home, he explained more. He described how authorities abused people who were demanding voting rights. How King and his colleagues were tortured. How King, a white man, was willing to stand up for African-Americans, even when it wasn’t socially acceptable.

Even with all these years of research, “It means more to talk to the person and know what they felt,” Cooper says. “It makes me think more about the people who were treated badly.”

Cooper’s weekend away encapsulates my own struggles with raising children in an affluent community.

We live among children who know very little about struggling. All of their needs are met. They’ve never experienced poverty. They are fortunate.

They are living the way all children should live.

Yet there are children nearby and all over the country who don’t have the luxury of being pushed out of their comfort zones — because there is no comfort zone at all. They live with racism and poverty, with poor education options, with crime, with unemployment, with inadequate health care.

They are living the way no child should live.

I do not want my own children to feel guilty for their relatively easy way of life, but I do want them to appreciate their way of life. I’m not certain they can fully appreciate it until they experience something different.

Cooper, already a well of empathy, needed to look into the eyes of a man who was tortured to fully understand the inhumanity of unchecked power. Now that my 13-year-old son is armed with both research and the voice of a survivor, I have a feeling there’s no limit to what his compassion can fuel.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at tyradamm@gmail.com.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Happy to go along for the ride, so to speak

From today's Briefing:
I’ve officially become the mom who is content to drive children to amusement parks and hold all their stuff while they take off for daredevil adventures.
I’ve become the kind of mom I once pitied a little, the one I assumed was having no fun as she saved seats or carried a giant bag of gear.
Teenage me was mistaken. Teenage me didn’t understand yet that grownup fun sometimes is simply rooted in the happiness of children — and the absence of achiness that might come from a bumpy ride.
The shift was evident last summer, when I took four kids to our nearby water park. They are all old enough to wander on their own (always in pairs), to check in periodically and to make good decisions in my absence.
I didn’t stick a toe in the wave pool. I didn’t lollygag on the lazy river. I didn’t swish down a slide for old-time’s sake. I settled in on a lounge chair, smothered myself in sun block, sipped water and read an entire novel. I snacked a little, visited with my charges when they appeared, served lunch — all from the comfort of my chair.
All five of us left cheerful — four with raisined fingers and a little too much sun, plus me, relaxed and ready to tackle another book.
My status was reinforced last weekend, when we set off for a bigger park, armed with new season passes (a generous gift) and plans to conquer the biggest roller coasters in Texas.
Our first stop was the giant pirate ship that moves back and forth, back and forth, making passengers feel like they just might tip out. I was game to sit on the very back row with Cooper, who’s never met a roller coaster he doesn’t like.
After just two sways of the ship, I was queasy. I gripped Cooper’s arm. I closed my eyes. I yelped a little.
It would take me a couple of hours to recover. While the rest of my party gallivanted on coasters, I remained grounded, holding eyeglasses and maps, scoping out our next destination, looking forward to tales from the adventurous riders.
At last, one of my childhood favorites pulled me back in. Yet, the mine-train car seemed a tiny bit tinier than I recall. And the ride itself, though exhilarating, was also a tiny bit rockier than I remember.
I was happy to reclaim my role as mom-who-holds-all-the-stuff, happy to take photos of my waving children, happy to listen to what they loved most about each ride.
Finally, we’d ambled as much as we could, stood in lines as long as we dared. We were ready to drive home — but wait, not until one more ride.
We snaked our way to the front. We climbed in to impossibly snug cars. We zoomed up and down hills, we screamed (or at least I screamed), we laughed. I was, yet again, a little queasy and tiny bit achy.
As we searched the parking lot for our minivan — with a little less pep in our step — we recounted the day. We compared favorite rides and plotted strategy for the next visit. Which ride should we dash to first? Which roller coaster can we bypass?
I’ll run, skip or walk to all of them. I may bypass most of them. As long as I’m with my people, and my people are enjoying themselves, I’m happy to go along for the ride — figuratively speaking, of course.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at tyradamm@gmail.com.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Hands of God

She designed a bookmark -- a drawing of animals on one side and poem on the other -- and sold them for $1 each. In three weeks, she sold almost 600 bookmarks and earned $921 from generous friends. As she says, that's enough to buy three water buffalo, three flocks of chicks and three sets of honeybees.

Today she was recognized in front of our church congregation for her efforts in raising money for Heifer International. Her total represents more than 10% of the total funds raised by our church during Advent.

A Heifer representative attended both services today to thank Holy Covenant for the donations and to thank Katie in person. Our new missions committee chair, Joy Lasley, also thanked Katie and gave her a pair of gloves -- "to protect the hands of God." Joy reminded us that we are ALL the hands of God and challenged us to help others in 2015.

Joy asked Katie why she wanted to raise money. Her answer: "A lot of people have all of what they need and most of what they want. And some people don't even half of what they need. I want to help people get what they need."

During both services, my big-hearted 9-year-old child received a standing ovation. 

Katie, who served as acolyte at the 8:30 service, wore the gloves this morning as she lit candles on the altar. 

And what song did our pianist play as she lit the candles? "Creation Will Be at Peace," one of Steve's favorite anthems. (You can listen to the version from his memorial service here.)

All my tears this morning represented a full heart.

Before church this (very cold) morning

Monday, December 29, 2014

Kids need our support on the sidelines

From Saturday's Briefing:

During the most stressful moments of my most stressful jobs, no one in charge has yelled at me. In the middle of grown-up chaos, no one has hollered directions or detailed what I was doing wrong or demanded that I do something differently.
In 1990, when the scanners stopped working at Target on the Saturday before Christmas and all the cashiers had to type UPC codes from every single item while customer lines snaked through the store, no supervisor barked at us to type faster.
Over the many years that I designed news pages or edited ever-changing stories on tight deadlines, no one sat nearby, screaming at me to move a photo or revise a paragraph or write a headline.
These days, when I’m working one-on-one with a student who struggles to decipher a multisyllabic word or discern an author’s purpose in a given text, no one heckles or jeers from a corner of the classroom.
Yet at almost every youth sporting event I attend — games that, let’s face it, have very little long-term impact — parents are hollering at their kids (and sometimes even other people’s children).
You’ve heard the words: Move! Run! Get him! Stop her! Move faster! Run faster! Play smarter!
Why are we yelling at our kids? What do we expect to accomplish? How are we helping when we criticize loudly from the sidelines?
Cooper’s indoor soccer team lost last Sunday. The winning team’s goalkeeper worked hard, letting only one shot through. That was one too many for the young man’s dad.
Dad stood up and waved with exasperation. “Use your arms!” he bellowed in a huff — a dramatic plea that in no way could be mistaken for support or comfort.
It’s the same tone I hear from a few parents at every cross-country meet — angry messages of speeding up, of refusing to slow down, of beating the guy two paces ahead.
There’s a fine line between supporting and yelling. When Cooper sprints by during a meet, I’m deliberate in choosing my tone for “Go, Coop!” I’m hoping for joyful and encouraging, not disparaging and grumpy. I make an effort to smile, just in case he glances in my direction.
I’m hoping he knows I’m ready to cheer for him no matter his pace or his finish.
And all the while, I’m reminding myself that his performance — no matter how stellar or lackluster — is not a reflection of me.
His speed on the course is a reflection of how he performs in that moment, of how often he has trained, of how hard he’s pushed his body, of how well he’s hydrated during a full day of school, of his ability to recover should he slip and fall, of whether he gets elbowed by another runner, and of his reaction to the day’s weather conditions.
His placement at the finish line is his alone. The results of one race or game don’t define him, and they certainly don’t define me.
What does define him? His effort and attitude. His reaction to winning and his reaction to losing. How he treats teammates and competitors, coaches and referees. His progress and growth, even in tiny increments.
How will he make progress? By practicing. By making mistakes and accepting responsibility. By studying missteps and correcting them. By placing appropriate priority on a game.
A whole bunch of yelling and stomping and irritated, heavy sighing will only hold him back — and define me in all the wrong ways.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at tyradamm@gmail.com.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Bringing the '70s roots to parenting today

From today's Briefing:

I’m a conflicted child of the 1970s.
I eschew bellbottoms, yet I embrace a fine paisley print.
Avocado green is all wrong, yet harvest gold is perfectly acceptable.
No, thank you, Black Sabbath, Rush and Deep Purple. Yes, please, Allman Brothers, Queen and Fleetwood Mac.
Total disregard for child safety is troubling, yet a little loosey-goosey parenting is refreshing. Perhaps even necessary.
I rode in the bed of pickups. I didn’t wear a seatbelt in a car until 1985, when a state law forced me to. I first doffed a bicycle helmet when I was an adult.
I was thrown off merry-go-rounds and blistered on scorching metal slides. I swam at public pools crowded with kids and supervised by only a couple of teenage lifeguards — every single time without a drop of sunscreen protecting my fair, freckled skin.
Truly, we 40-somethings are fortunate to be alive.
How do we celebrate? By smothering our own children. By stepping in so often that we shield them from real life. By depriving them opportunities to learn how to survive.
I’m working on revisiting my ’70s roots, albeit with a 21st-century mind-set.
I credit the Boy Scouts for largely reshaping my parenting style.
About once a month, my son packs gear for a weekend away. He’s completely in charge of the whole camping-prep affair. If he forgets to pack socks or underwear, sunscreen or bug repellant, I’m not rescuing him.
After all, it’s Boy Scouts, not Mom Scouts. Cooper can survive two days without toothpaste or a hat. If he really needs something, he can barter with other Scouts, and perhaps he’s more likely to remember it next time. Maybe.
He starts fires and wields knives. He cooks and cleans. He builds shelters using grass, twigs and branches. All without the benefit — or hindrance — of my supervision. It’s been good training for him and even better training for me.
Tuesday afternoon, I was in my classroom, frantically answering emails and prepping for Wednesday in an effort to get out the door in time to pick up Cooper from his school and deliver him to a different school for a tennis match.
My phone rings.
“Hey, Momma. A friend’s dad can drive me to Wakeland. I’ll get there faster. Is that OK?”
Without hesitation, I said yes and wished him good luck. Only after the phone call did I realize that I didn’t even ask who the friend is or what the dad’s name is or does he drive a reliable car with seat belts.
Hours later, I parked at the courts to retrieve my son. He had won both matches — without me there to holler his name or clap real loud or repeatedly take his photo. In fact, there were very few parents there. Most just drop off and pick up, Cooper tells me, as visibility is sketchy, depending on which court you’re assigned, and no one really knows who will play when.
A sporting event without an entourage of paparazzi parents? It was almost like we’d stepped back in time.
Now, let’s be honest. I’m never going to be a full-on 1970s mom. I’ll insist on sunscreen every time we go to the neighborhood pool, and no, I’m not going to just drop off. Every single night, I’ll ask if homework is complete and most nights, I’ll spot-check assignments. I plan to take photos at most parties, performances and games.
Yet just this week, at the middle school winter band concert, I left my phone and camera in my purse. I didn’t record a single note of music. I listened, with my hands free and my mind clear. It was groovy. Can you dig it?
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at tyradamm@gmail.com.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Want to (help) buy a water buffalo?

Drawing by Katie
Katie's dream is to buy a water buffalo through Heifer International. The animal would be given to a family in need, to help with farming and food.

Our church's Christmas mission this year is to buy as many animals as possible. It's a happy collision of Katie's passions -- her love for church, her love for all the world's people and her love for Heifer, an organization we've supported since 2011.

"I think it’s important to help people who don’t have what we have," Katie wrote last week. "I already have everything I need and a lot of what I want. Other people don’t even have what they need, and I think that’s much more important than my wants."

A water buffalo is valuable and therefore pricey -- $250. As she's done in years past, she has launched a plan to raise money for the Christmas project.

Katie is selling bookmarks, one side with a drawing she created for the project (stained glass with three animals) and the other with a poem she recently wrote (see below). Each bookmark is $1.

She's already collected $40 from a kind church member and friend. She's working on creating 200 bookmarks, with the goal of selling every single one and having $240.

Please email if you'd like to buy a bookmark or two!


World, a place needing a together
World, barely enough dreaming
World, a never-ending war
World, a message with no meaning

Love, an open door
Love, just you and me
Love, unites our spirits
Love, blessed harmony

Happiness, a little light in the storm
Happiness, the wag of a tail
Happiness, finding there is no need to lurk
Happiness, walking down life's trail

Peace, is never enough
Peace, the shake of a hand
Peace, has barely started
Peace, a graceful land

-- Kathryn Sibley Damm