Saturday, February 06, 2016

Adjusting my 'mom filter'

From today's Briefing:

When you become a mom, you acquire the mom filter. It changes how you see and hear almost everything.
Every mom calibrates her own filter. What worries one momma may not faze another, and what troubles you today seemingly didn’t exist yesterday. 
The mom filter accentuates sharp corners on coffee tables and uncovered electrical outlets — until one day you realize that you no longer have toddlers and that furniture is no longer hazardous. The mom filter might hone in on nutritional value. (How can one tiny container of yogurt harbor so many grams of sugar?) The mom filter might ruin any chances that you will ever again buy a single article of white clothing.
And the mom filter might change forever how you watch your favorite old movies.
Take, for example, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, which, incredibly, was released 30 years ago. I have no idea how many times I’ve watched the John Hughes classic, but I can sing or hum along with every song from the film and recite almost all of the dialogue.
You would think that with my countless viewings and strong memory of the script, I would have recalled that the movie is rated PG-13 for a reason.
We watched the movie at home last weekend — me, my 14-year-old son and my 10-year-old daughter. I warned Katie that there might be just a little offensive language, but we could ignore it and focus on the fun plot.
Good gracious, my mom filter was on high alert about two minutes in. I lost track of how often Cooper turned to look at me with raised eyebrows, as if to say, “I can’t believe you’re letting me watch this, much less my little sister.”
Some of it went over her head. Other phrases made her raise her own eyebrows. Every now and then I’d interject with an “Oh, boy, he’s not speaking nicely” or “Wow, that’s not appropriate.”
Certainly, no permanent damage was done. When we talked about the movie later, she focused on the angry principal, the parade scene and the girl with the gummy bear. Katie didn’t utter a single curse word.
Just a couple of nights later, I couldn’t resist the pull of Grease: Live on television. The 1978 movie was a staple in my growing-up years, mostly for the song and dance numbers. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I scrutinized the plot or understood the mature content.
Again, my mom filter was working nonstop. Cooper caught most of the double entendres (again with the raised eyebrows), while Katie was mostly mesmerized by the quick costume changes, elaborate choreography and massive sets. (“I can’t believe this is live!” she kept gushing.)
We were all ready for the end of the show — it was a school night, and we’re not conditioned for almost three hours of television — when Sandy sauntered out in skin-tight black clothes, overdone hair and heavy makeup.
Katie was convinced that another actress was playing this Sandy, the Sandy who sheds her innocent image to secure the boy she loves. 
“I like old Sandy better,” Katie said. “She doesn’t look like herself.”
Cooper was even more critical.
“It’s a terrible message,” Cooper said. “Does Sandy even like her new self?”
My mom filter picked right up on that insightful question, and in that moment I was reminded that my children don’t have to be protected all the time, that they usually make good decisions, and that they are going to be all right. 
Still, I’m keeping the mom filter — I’ll just continue to recalibrate as necessary.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Saturday, January 23, 2016

The world of dreams isn't a competition

From today's Briefing:

I’m standing in a museum gallery, staring at a photo from Glacier National Park, when my 10-year-old sidles up and whispers, “Someday I want to have photos in a museum exhibit.” She leans her head on my shoulder, stares at the mountain, then sets off to admire more works of art.

An hour later, we are in another Fort Worth museum, studying American art. A massive sculpture of reclaimed wood catches Katie’s attention. She stands close. She backs up. She hugs the wall to examine the artist’s construction and technique. 
New England Landscape II by George Morrison at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art

This is Katie’s world. 

And yet from the backseat of the minivan, on the way home that afternoon, she laments, “I feel like I should like sports.”

The comment came from nowhere, apropos of nothing, but my response was swift: “You don’t have to like sports, Katie. You like lots of other things.”

Then the conversation veered again, but I’ve had trouble shaking the sadness in her voice. 

We live in one of the most sports-friendly suburbs in all of America. Frisco already boasts connections to major league baseball, hockey, soccer and basketball, and the Cowboys are building a giant practice facility and headquarters 4 miles from our home. 

Youth sports often feel just as professional around here, with intense practice and game schedules, passionate fans, perpetual skills clinics and paid coaches for elite teams.

This is not Katie’s world. 

When she was much younger, she tried soccer, then basketball. She was a fan of neither. She endured gymnastics lessons for much longer, but she was neither interested nor particularly flexible. She spent a year in dance — and decided that she preferred creating her own moves.

Thankfully, people aren’t defined by what they can’t do or what they don’t like. 
Katie crafts soulful poetry. She creates art on a daily basis. She can stand before a crowd and speak without an ounce of fear.

She raises money for causes she believes in. Whenever she sees an ambulance speed by, she bows her head and prays for the injured or ill.

She gobbles up novels. She’s a vegetarian by choice. She loves long walks. She cheers loudly for the people she loves — including her friends who do like sports.
Some of her friends dream of careers in football or baseball or soccer.

Katie dreams of living in a cottage near a beach, writing, and illustrating and taking photos. 

This world of dreams isn’t a competition. One aspiration is no better than another, and each child deserves the right to change her mind over and over again. (In our house, the list of potential careers has already ranged from archaeology to zoology.)

I can’t predict Katie’s future. I don’t know how often her dreams will wander, evolve, change course. Maybe one day she’ll embrace tennis or golf or bocce ball. Or maybe she’ll never find a sport that speaks to her. 

What matters most to me is that she embraces the passion that whispers in her ear, that stirs her heart, that helps her realize her place in the world.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Monday, January 11, 2016

Working as a family reminds you to keep the holiday spirit all year long

From Saturday's Briefing:

At the advent of every Christmas season, I consider not decorating. No wreaths, no tree, no crèches.
It’s a split-second thought — crowded out too quickly to entertain seriously — borne from the worst part of the whole affair: the de-decorating. So many ornaments to take off the tree, to wrap and box protectively. So many knickknacks to gather and hide away for a long respite. So much cheer quickly packed away and tucked into a dark corner.
Our Christmas decor lives most of the year in the attic, accessible through a pull-down door and narrow ladder in the garage. Returning all the boxes to their home requires courage and brawn — historically a job for Uncle Greg, who lives 30 miles away.
Greg never complains about the work, and we enjoy the bonus visit when he’s here to help. This year, though, I thought we should at least attempt to move the boxes on our own. How hard can it be to coax a boxed, 9-foot, artificial tree up a ladder?
Cooper and I hatched a plan. He would sit at the top of the attic stairs, ready to receive the tree. I would slide it up the ladder, pushing it one stair at a time until safely within his grasp. Katie would watch from below.
He clambered up the ladder and waited. And coached. And encouraged. I needed every bit of his cheerleading and advice, because that box of plastic and metal was bulky and heavy, and my arms weren’t long enough to both handle and guide the tree. It kept getting stuck on a step, and I was unable to push it high enough to reach Cooper’s arms.
After a few minutes of struggling and strategizing, I quit. I let the box slide to the garage floor, and Cooper climbed back down. My next move was going to be a phone call to Uncle Greg to arrange a rescue.
“Let me try,” Cooper said. “You sit at the top, and I’ll push the box up.”
“It’s too heavy,” I said.
“I’m strong.”
“I won’t be able to lift the box when it reaches me,” I said.
“I’ll do most of the work.”
“I don’t want you to get hurt,” I said.
“Let’s just try.”
I climbed the steps — always an act of bravery for me — and perched at the top. Cooper asked Katie to stand behind and spot him. Then he began to guide the giant box up — an easier task for him and his 6-3 frame — and into my hands.
My helpful teenager pushed the tree into a secure spot, then prepared for more deliveries.
I stood on the ladder. Katie lifted boxes of decorations from the garage floor and handed them to me. I walked them up to Cooper, who returned them to their hibernation spots.
“We did it!” Cooper exclaimed as he folded up the attic door.
The three of us exchanged high fives as we walked back into the family room, now strikingly bare. My eyes settled on the coffee table, no longer hosting angels or snowmen or a dish of Christmas candy. All that remained was a board game, a couple of books and a framed photo of the three of us — small doses of cheer that stay out all year long.
It’s often tough to be a single mom, to be the only adult making decisions, to shoulder full responsibility of this little family. And then there are moments when the three of us pull together, when a child takes on a leadership role, when we fully rely upon one another. Those moments more than compensate for the tough times, and they are sweet reminders of joy in all circumstances, no matter the season.
Tyra Damm can be reached at

Saturday, December 26, 2015

We are rich with the most important gifts

From today's Briefing:

On the last day of school before winter break, I assigned homework to my fourth-graders. I printed their tasks on the whiteboard:
Read every day.
Enjoy family.
Be thankful.
Share joy.
The assignment came with a little speech.
“You’ll be gone for 16 days. We’ve worked hard this year on your reading skills. I don’t want your brain to turn to mush while we’re apart, so please read a little every day. Even if you’re reading junky books, read something.
“Spend time with your family members and let them know you’re happy to be with them.
“I want you to think about everything you have before you receive presents and be thankful. Each of us has everything we need, and a lot of us have a lot of what we want. I hope you are as happy the day before you receive gifts as you are the day after.
“And I hope that you’ll find ways to share your joy with the people around you.”
I’m not sure how much they heard (we were, after all, hours from two weeks of freedom) or how diligently they’ve been working on their assign- ments this week. I may have lost a few with that reading assignment first thing. None of them could have been too surprised by the list, though. It mirrors my everyday teaching.
We’re in the middle of Little House in the Big Woods, the first novel in the Laura Ingalls Wilder series. As I read aloud, I stop often to ask questions (“What can you infer …”) and answer questions (“What does that mean?”).
I also pause to emphasize differences between our 21st-century suburban lives and the lives of 19th-century pioneers.
Our food almost always comes from a grocery store or restaurant. Their food came from the fields and woods.
Our clothes almost always come from a store — or online equivalent. Their clothes were almost always handmade.
We are constantly entertained, with media streaming in our homes, on our phones. Their entertainment was Pa playing the fiddle when he wasn’t too tired from working all day.
One of the most obvious differences is Christmas now and Christmas then.
In the novel, Laura receives more gifts than any other child on Christmas morning: red mittens, a peppermint stick and a rag doll. The handmade doll replaces her previous doll, a corncob by the name of Susan.
I stop reading in the middle of the Christmas chapter and let it all sink in. All the cousins received two simple gifts. They need mittens for the harsh winters. A stick of candy is a luxury.
And little Laura? She’s rendered speechless when she receives a doll made of cloth and yarn.
There are days as a teacher and a parent that I wish we could regain that wonder found in basic, simple pleasures. I don’t want my students or my own two children to feel guilty for the luxuries we enjoy. I do want us all to recognize how fortunate we are.
No matter what was under the tree or in stockings Friday, no matter which of our wishes were fulfilled, we’re already rich with the most important gifts. We have clean drinking water. We have access to healthy food. We live in safe communities. Education is available to all.
We’ve got countless reasons to be thankful and joyful, no matter the day of the year.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Monday, December 14, 2015

Holiday errands lead to sweet memories

From Saturday's Briefing:

A luxury I’ve learned to allow myself is a scheduled day off before Christmas so I can finish the errands that inevitably pop up.
As I made my list this week and planned stops strategically, I thought of the old days, when I was a work-from-home mom with younger children and a more flexible schedule. Did I fully appreciate my life back then?
On my day off this week, after I delivered my children to their schools, I sat at a coffee shop for a full hour, visiting with a friend. We drank from real cups. We had a real conversation, making up for the quick texts we usually exchange.
I was able to shop at Trader Joe’s without jostling crowds. The lack of shoppers afforded me time to study the shelves, to investigate the latest ways cookie butter is being employed. There was no wait for a cashier, and no one standing behind me, anxious to move on.
Every other store was the same way. I found nearby parking spots. Merchandise was well stocked. Sales staff members, often harried by weekend crowds, were jovial. Pleasantries were exchanged all over the place.
Meanwhile, my to-do list was being whittled with ease. Bank deposit? Check! Gift cards for teachers? Check! Wrapping paper on sale? Check!
And then it all came to a grinding halt.
I dared to enter an arts and crafts store at noon — the time when working people manage to squeeze in an errand or two instead of eating a proper lunch.
Aisles were clogged. Spirits were low. I felt a little weak. (Perhaps because I hadn’t yet stopped for a proper lunch.)
I took my place in a winding queue sandwiched between registers and bins of stuff. Ribbons, costume jewelry, note cards, liquid soap, gummy bears the size of a newborn baby. Along the bottommost shelf were piles of small stuffed animals.
“I want this one!” squealed a tiny but strong voice behind me.
“We can put it on your Christmas list,” Tiny’s mom replied.
“Yes, ma’am. That would make me happy!”
There was the briefest pause and then, “I want this one, too!”
“We can put it on your Christmas list,” her mom said.
“Oh! Look at this one! I want this one!”
“We can put it on your Christmas list,” the world’s most patient mom repeated.
The line inched forward, getting all of us a little closer to the register and offering Tiny easy access to more fuzzy animals, all of which she desperately wanted. As soon as she’d pick up one big-eyed critter, she’d spot another she loved, discard the first and embrace the second.
At last, mom declared, “I will put the entire line of Ty Beanie Boos on your list. Every single one ever made. But we are not buying one now.”
I giggled to myself. I wanted to hug the mom. (I refrained.) And I remembered the “old days.”
Yes, I had a more flexible schedule, but I was also in charge of my own tiny, strong-willed people all day long. We didn’t complete errands with ease. Schedules were dictated by meals, nap times and, in the most treacherous of weeks, potty training. Damm children were responsible for tantrums of varying degrees all over town.
Did I enjoy every single moment? Nope. Was it a luxury to spend so much time with my children when they were very young? Absolutely.
I paid for my craft supplies. I walked to the minivan. I thought about Tiny and her mom.
I irrationally wanted time to slow down for them, for all of us parents who can’t believe how quickly these babes of ours grow and go to school and create wish lists that no longer include stuffed animals.
I re-entered the mundane. Dry cleaning dropped off? Check. Quick lunch? Check. Christmas card list compiled? Check.
Big hugs for my big people the moment they got home? Without a doubt.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Notecards for Christmas

Our church is again participating in Advent Conspiracy -- an effort to deepen the understanding of the days and weeks leading to Christmas, as we wait the good news of the birth of Jesus. There are four main tenets to the conspiracy: Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More, Love All.

Katie has embraced Advent Conspiracy for a few years now. She has sold bags of puff balls and jingle bells, homemade hot cocoa mix, and handmade bookmarks

This year she created three pieces of art that our church is using for the campaign. 

She chose her favorite piece, which represents ways in which we can help our neighbors, for fold-over notecards.

Each bundle of notecards includes this message from Katie about where the money will go.
She is selling bundles of five notecards for a minimum donation of $5. All the money that she earns will go to a dedicated fund at our church. Katie wants the money to go directly to children in need -- for either food or education. The money will be available to use in 2016 for children in need in the community.

If you would like a set (or more!) of the notecards, you can email me at

Thank you for considering!