Sunday, August 25, 2013

Mrs. Damm

The quick version of the story: On Wednesday I was offered a teaching position at Katie's school. I accepted. Starting tomorrow, I will teach language arts and social studies to two groups of fifth-graders.

The longer version of the story:

When Steve was diagnosed in January 2008, my planning mode went into overdrive. There were two main threads.

1. Steve is healed, goes into remission and life goes on mostly the same.
2. Steve doesn't survive this insidious tumor, and everything changes.

I much preferred fantasizing about the first thread. I put all my faith and prayers and hope in the first thread.

It would have been foolish to ignore the second.

At the time, I was a freelance writer and editor. I was staying home with our young children. The money I earned helped to contribute to the household, but Steve's income was primary.

When I considered what would happen if Steve died, I had to consider what kind of career I could have that would allow me to take care of our children. I loved journalism and newspapers, but I had worked long enough as a journalist to know that it wasn't a good long-term single-mom solution. Too many late hours and demands.

Every time I considered what would be best for us, I returned to the idea of teaching.

I've always been fascinated by the process of education, particularly in public schools. I am passionate about sharing my passions -- specifically great books, ideas and authors -- with others. As a writer and editor, I often take complex topics and break them down to be more easily understood. I want my work to mean something.

I was even president of the Newman Smith High School chapter of the Future Teachers of America in 1986-87 (after a somewhat dramatic coup d'etat for which I probably owe a couple of people an apology.)

I didn't do anything about teaching then. I continued to freelance from home, thankful for the ability to work and take care of two grieving children.

About the time I started to worry about our COBRA health insurance running out, I was offered an excellent opportunity to work and serve at a large church. I took the job joyfully, working for a dear friend, writing and editing, making new friends. They were very good to me.

Yet I couldn't let go of the sense that I was supposed to be teaching. So I quietly enrolled in a certification program. I took online classes at night and during weekends. I read books on classroom management and pedagogy. I studied for and passed the state's generalist 4-8 exam, so that I would be qualified to teach just about any subject in grades four to eight.

Then I waited. I continued to work, truly thankful for a good job with good people.

Just a few days ago, everything fell into place. Rapid growth in our neighborhood created the need for another fifth-grade classroom at our neighborhood school. I was offered the job. I accepted. I regretfully gave very short notice of my resignation at the church.

Tomorrow morning, I will commute one-third of a mile from our home. Katie and I will walk in to the school building together. She'll go to her new third-grade class, and I'll go to my new fifth-grade class. I'll be working in a school community that has been integral to our family for eight years. I will be caring for and learning about and mentoring dozens of young people. (If there were sound on this post, this is where you'd hear a happy squeal.)

I know and love enough teachers to know that first years are difficult. Rewarding, no doubt, but difficult. I also know that I am surrounded by a great team and staff who have expressed over and over how they'll help me. And I'm cushioned by a circle of friends and family members who jump in to help whenever I ask -- and sometimes help without me saying a word.

I live with the two biggest cheerleaders, who encourage me every day.

And I keep thinking of Steve, who I know would be tickled to see me in a classroom, who would want to know all the details from my first day and every day after, who would teasingly and proudly call me "Mrs. Damm."

Katie, Tyra & Cooper

Sunday, August 11, 2013


This dry-erase board has been hanging out on our refrigerator for many years.

If you look closely, you'll see that the last month written is April. April 2009.

Every few months since then, I've considered erasing and starting afresh. Maybe even throwing the whole thing out, as I'm guessing it may be difficult to remove the ink from more than four years ago.

And yet, so far, it stays.

It's a little snapshot in time that I'm reluctant to let go, even as we've moved forward as a family.

There are reminders of dental appointments and school events and birthday parties and counseling. Phone numbers of doctors and friends and the police detective in charge of the case of my stolen identity from that spring. There's a note about medicine and payments due for water and cell service.

There are special quotes, such as 7-year-old Cooper saying, "I feel safe with you."

There's a snippet from a dinnertime conversation about childbirth. After Cooper heard everything (as much as an inquisitive child should hear during a meal), he remarked:

"I'm happy I'm not a girl. I don't want to go through that."

Steve replied, "Amen, brother."

Keeping this outdated calendar and montage of notes and quotes won't take us back in time. It won't restore our family to the days when Steve was alive. I can't explain exactly why it's still there.

One day, that space on the refrigerator will be filled with photos and postcards and magnets from our travels. Just not yet. I'll know when I'm ready.

We're not totally trapped in time around here. Cooper, Katie and I continue to embrace our gift of days. We returned last week from vacation in Oregon, where we soaked up cooler temperatures and the beauty of the coast. We launched many adventures (including a harrowing hike that you can read about here).

I am thankful for these children and how we work together. I am thankful for memories, and I am thankful for more time.

August 2013 photo from Hug Point State Park, coast of Oregon