Thursday, June 30, 2011

Glimpses of Steve

I've shared this column already on the "happy blog." Here seems a good place, too.

From today's Briefing:

Looking back on 10 years in the parenting business

This week I celebrate a decade in my most challenging, rewarding, exasperating, exhilarating job ever.
Baby Cooper
I’ve been a mom for 10 years.
When I gave birth to Cooper, a roly-poly chunk of cheeks and thighs and hair, there was no Facebook or even MySpace. Only three of the eventual seven Harry Potter novels had been published. The towers of the World Trade Center were still standing.
Now he’s three inches shy of me with zero detectable body fat.
He can’t imagine life without instant access to information, no matter how trivial. Nor a world without a mom who chronicles much of his life online.
He never had to wait for J.K. Rowling to finish a manuscript. By the time he caught up with the first few novels, the final books were waiting for him.
He’s traveled all over the country but has no firsthand knowledge of the days when loved ones could greet you at the gate of your arriving plane.
This first fraction of the 21st century has ushered monumental change around the world. Terrorism, economic crisis, devastating natural disasters. It’s often frightening to think of the world that Cooper and his little sister are growing up in.
Part of my on-the-job mom training has been learning when to let those scary events influence our life at home — and when to protect them from harsh reality that can wait.
Only in the past year have I explained the horror of 9/11 to Cooper. That background has helped him better understand our ongoing wars in the Middle East. (I’m still taken aback when he’ll randomly ask at the dinner table, “So, how are things going over in Afghanistan? Have many of our soldiers died lately?”)
With trial and error I’ve learned — and am still learning — when to let him go and when to hold on.
One night when he was in kindergarten, I realized that he was still washing with baby soap. No one told me when to stop buying it. I just kept returning to the same Target aisle to pick up the same bottle of gentle bath wash. In one startling moment I snapped to and realized, “Hey, he’s not a baby or even a toddler anymore.”
This week, I was driving three boys around town. Cooper was the only one who isn’t allowed to play or even watch Halo, a video game in which the player is responsible for killing aliens (I think).
“Why can’t I play Halo?” Cooper wanted to know, again, perhaps hoping that I would cave with his buddies around.
“Because it’s rated ‘Mature,’ and you’re not 17.”
Perhaps you’re rolling your eyes, thinking that I’m overprotective or na├»ve. That someday soon he’ll be at a friend’s house and Halo will come up and he’ll just ignore my rule. Maybe. But I’m holding on as long as I can.
He’s been bathing with “real” soap for the past few years, but I’m not willing to let go of my standards on violence (or language or sex) just yet. My job experience as mom to Cooper tells me it’s the best decision for our family.
The past decade has also altered our definition of “family.”
When Cooper was 6, his daddy was diagnosed with brain cancer. When Cooper was 8, Steve died.
Almost-10-year-old Cooper
We’ve broadened “family” to include folks who cared for us in crisis and still watch over us today. And to include the husband and dad who isn’t living in the house but who is very much an integral part of this home.
Being mom to Cooper grants me frequent glimpses of Steve. They share a wicked wit, love and gift for music, uncommon gentleness, endearing goofiness, wild enthusiasm, legs built for running, unassuming intelligence, poetic word choice.
Where we are today was blessedly unimaginable 10 years ago, when Steve and I were meeting our firstborn. Thank God no one gave me a detailed job description or list of heartaches to come. I can’t guarantee that I would have said yes.
Instead, we adapt every day to the changes around us and within. I’ve learned that there are no guarantees for security or stability or health. That nothing totally prepares you to be a parent, except being a parent. And that love grows exponentially over a decade.
Imagine what I’ll learn in another 10 years.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Monday, June 13, 2011

Rough season

In the next few days, we will celebrate:

1. Father's Day
2. Katie's 6th birthday
3. The beginning of our family: mine and Steve's 17th anniversary
4. Cooper's 10th birthday

Lots of folks talk about "firsts" being difficult. And they were. But I'm not convinced that "seconds" are any easier.

A few friends and I are studying the Old Testament book of Ruth this summer, using a study guide by Kelly Minter. One of last week's lessons focused on weeping forward vs. weeping backward. When Ruth chose to follow Naomi to Bethlehem, she was weeping forward, moving forward, leaving behind her people and the comfort she had known for an unknown, possibly uncomfortable life -- but she was following God's call. Orpah (not Oprah, as I often read/write), on the other hand, was weeping backward, retreating to the comfort of her own people, ignoring God's call.

Minter writes, "Be encouraged. God sees your tears. Cry them, wipe them, feel them, but don't let them stop you. It's possible to cry and walk."

One of my prayers during this rough season is that I'm able to weep forward.

Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. 
Let all that you do be done in love. 
(1 Corinthians 16:13-14)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Stephen Damm Memorial Award

Last night graduating neurology resident Dr. Cherie Herren received the Stephen Damm Memorial Award for excellence and compassion.

I presented Dr. Herren with the award (a generous gift from Dr. Shilpa Chitnis and her family) at UT-Southwestern's neurology and neurotherapeutics graduation dinner.

While there, I was also able to meet Dr. James Battiste, last year's recipient of the award, which was established just after Steve's death to recognize a fellow or resident in the department "who best exemplifies the excellence and compassion in patient care for which Steve Damm was well known."

Dr. Battiste told me that receiving the award last year "sealed the deal" on his decision to pursue neuro-oncology. It's obvious from his demeanor and the many accolades he received last night that his patients will be cared for extraordinarily well.

Drs. Herren and Battiste

Steve would be especially proud of Dr. Herren, whose speciality is pediatrics. She practices at Children's Medical Center Dallas, Steve's employer for almost a decade. He would also have been tickled to meet Dr. Herren's tiny, beautiful 3-month-old twin girls.

Once again, I marvel at the legacy of our Steve and thank God for him and his 40 years on earth.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Another tri

Cooper completed his second triathlon on Saturday. He raced well and enjoyed the whole experience -- even waking at 5 a.m. to get to Irving in plenty of time to set up his transition area. I'm certain that Cooper would compete every weekend if there were enough kids' triathlons offered in the Dallas area.

I continue to let Cooper know how proud I am of him for his training and determination. And how very proud his Daddy is, too. Can't you imagine how excited Steve Damm would be to see his son run, bike and swim? He would be cheering and smiling and being silly and giving sage advice and getting a little weepy.

Cooper in Irving on Saturday, after swimming, biking and running

I completed my first triathlon on Sunday. (You may remember that I tried a few weeks ago but wasn't able to finish.) I struggled to get started with the swim, as you can read about in my Briefing column below, but I finished.

Julie sent me a text after I finished: "Steve Damm is so proud." I know it is true. I feel it in my heart.

In murky water or in life, staying afloat is all mental

On the first day of May, I tried to complete a triathlon and failed.

The trouble stemmed from unusual weather and mechanical malfunctions. There were severe winds, hail, sideways rain, temperatures dropping to the mid-40s. Plus, the bike I was borrowing had a broken pedal and later a flat tire.

At the end of that sad morning, I was just two-thirds of a triathlete. Lightning closed the running course before I could begin the last event.

I vowed to not let months of training go to waste. I registered for another race.

The second triathlon was last Sunday. There was little wind, no precipitation and temperatures in the mid-80s. There were no mechanical malfunctions. Only mental ones.

In May’s race, I swam 300 meters in an indoor pool, very much like the one I had trained in. On race day, I was unnerved by so many competitors in the pool and the waves we all made, but I kept moving and finished in close to the time I’d estimated.

This week’s race was different. The swimming event was in open water. The murky water of Lake Carolyn, to be exact. Perhaps you’re not familiar with Lake Carolyn. You might know it better as the big pond in the middle of Las Colinas.

Yes, the manmade body of water surrounded by signs that say “NO SWIMMING.”

Swimmers shimmied down a concrete embankment into brownish-greenish water. Then we stood on slimy mossy stuff for a few minutes, waiting for the signal to begin. (I stood on just one foot at a time, barely able to tolerate the unknown squishy muck between my toes.)

On the count of three, we began the 300-meter course. But my start was fitful.

I could not get horizontal. My body stayed vertical. I was overwhelmed at first by the mass of limbs and bobbing heads around me. I was overwhelmed by my inability to see through the water. My breathing was out of control.

For a moment, I thought that my fledgling triathlon career was dead in the water.

I waved at a lifeguard in a nearby kayak. She paddled toward me, and I latched on to the side.

“I need a little time to catch my breath.”

The young woman told me to stay as long as I needed. Then another kayaker joined us.

I told him that I couldn’t force my body to get flat enough to swim. I couldn’t see and I couldn’t breathe.

“It’s all mental,” he said. “This isn’t the water you trained in. You can’t touch the bottom or see through it, but it’s still water.”

He told me to look up every four or five strokes so that I’d know I was swimming in a straight line instead of circles. He assured me that kayaks would be nearby.

With his advice, I loosened my tight grip of the boat and glided through the water, assuming my comfortable freestyle stroke.

“It’s still water,” I told myself over and over.

Every now and then I’d pop my head up to make sure I was pointed toward the correct buoys, all the while trying to focus on the small space of water before me. I needed to accomplish this stroke, not worry about the many more still to come.

Finally, I reached the temporary steps that led me out of the lake and onto solid ground.

As soon as I stood and could feel my legs beneath me, my confidence returned. I still had miles to go on bike and foot, but I had overcome an obstacle that was scarier than I’d ever anticipated. That accomplishment, plus the reminder that “it’s all mental” pushed me forward.

My struggles on the bike were miniscule — a few hills that seemed tiny compared with some I had trained on. With each push of the pedal, I focused on the next one — not the hundreds still to come.

Midmorning heat and fatigue forced my run into mostly a walk. I concentrated not on the finish line but on the patch of pavement directly in front of me.

I finished the race physically and mentally exhausted — and after hearing my name announced at the finish line, I was emotionally refreshed with the rediscovery of one of life’s most basic truths:

Meeting a monumental goal requires countless incremental moves. One stroke at a time. One pedal at a time. One step at a time.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Friday, June 3, 2011

First and last

Today we complete our second school year without Steve.

When I cried at the morning assembly it was partly because I always, without fail since my own kindergarten year, cry on the last day of school. Don't get me wrong -- I love growth and achievement and the freedom of summer. But I'm terrible at goodbyes and love, love, love everything about learning and the community spirit of school.

And I partly cried because I ache for my children, who have the most amazing Daddy and terribly miss his hugs and laugh and physical presence. He wasn't there to hear the lively baseball medley that the kids have been practicing for weeks. Or to personally thank Mrs. Schmidt and Mrs. Harris for taking care of our children so well all year.

And I cried because I miss Steve's laughs and hugs and hand to hold. And I carry the intermingled joy and heavy weight of being the only parent on earth to two truly amazing people. And because milestones are difficult when I can't share them with Steve.

But I can share them with many other folks who love Cooper and Katie, and that makes the heaviness a little lighter.