Wednesday, September 25, 2013


It's been five weeks since I was offered the fifth-grade teaching position and my new career officially launched. 

Of course, my career didn't really begin five weeks ago. I started the certification coursework about a year ago. I would work at nights and on weekends. I tried to read, write and study only when Cooper and Katie were asleep or busy, but that wasn't always possible. 

At the same time, I was also studying for the state certification exam -- work that consumed multiple hours until the big test day in November. 

That was on top of working a full-time job plus freelancing plus volunteering plus taking care of our home and my family.

That required monumental teamwork from Cooper and Katie. (And plenty of help from family and friends.)

Cooper and Katie picked up a few extra chores during the busiest times. They missed more than a few nights of our traditional read-aloud time. They endured a few weekends with me surrounded by my laptop, books, study guides and pages of notes.

They never complained. 

Cooper and Katie are a huge reason why I'm teaching now. And they continue to be a huge help.

Every school morning, Cooper volunteers to pack the car for me. He carries out my giant bag, weighed down with binders and books, plus my lunchbox and two drinks -- a big cup of ice water and a to-go cup of coffee. 

Katie helps make my classroom welcoming before she leaves for her own room. She sharpens pencils, turns on lamps, straightens papers. She offers advice on classroom management, lessons and organization. (She's serious about it, too.)

There are multiple moments every day when I want to share with Steve how thoughtful and compassionate his children are. I'm certain, though, that he already knows.

Scene from Sunday: Walking Margie on a lovely afternoon 
Scene from Monday: Cooper accompanies violinist Katie.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Steve's bench

Three years ago, we dedicated the Damm Spot at Holy Covenant United Methodist Church in Carrollton. It's a triangular-ish piece of land on the north side of our church's property, and it includes four trees and a bench, dedicated in Steve's memory.

Almost every Sunday since then, the kids and I have parked in front of the bench. We say hello to Steve, not because it's a burial site but because we're especially reminded of his spirit and presence there. And Cooper and Katie sit, and I take a photo. (My Facebook friends know this well -- I post a photo every Sunday that we're there. You can also find them on the "happy" Damm blog.)

Today when we arrived, the kids and I were dismayed to see that someone had marked all over the bench with chalk.

I rubbed off as much as I could with my bare hands (the photo above is after "cleaning" it).

Cooper and Katie found a corner on which to perch, so that their church clothes wouldn't get chalky. We took a photo, grumbled some more about the chalk, then walked inside for the 8:30 a.m. worship service.

As we sang and prayed and listened, my heart changed toward that chalk that at first agitated me.

1. It's chalk. When it rains -- please, let there be rain soon -- it will wash away.

2. Chalk on clothes isn't a real tragedy.

3. Those scribbles look like the work of a small child. Wouldn't Steve want children at church, and wouldn't he want them to grow up living the words from Micah 6:8?

By the end of the service, I was no longer irritated by the chalk. I was comforted and curious. Who stood in the Damm Spot this week? Who may have read Steve's name for the first time or for the hundredth time? Was there laughter when the child was scribbling on the stone? Did someone read and then ponder Steve's favorite verse?

What does the Lord require of you 
but to do justice, and to love kindness, 
and to walk humbly with your God?


Saturday, September 7, 2013

Four years

Today marks four years without Steve here.

Perhaps I write this every year on Sept. 7. It's worth repeating: The time since Steve died has been incredibly slow and super fast all at once.

I was blessedly busy on this particular Sept. 7.

My fifth-grade class is moving to a portable building, to accommodate the continuing crazy-town growth in Frisco, Texas. Today was my big work day, and there's no way I could do it alone.

A team of family members and friends and their children pulled together to create a cozy, cheerful space. (If you want something done, call on Jim and Betty, Melane, Jenny, Julianne, Liz, Angie, Stephanie, Tammy, Kris, Stephanie S., Katrina and Allison. And that list doesn't include all the help from my fifth-grade team and other teachers plus friends who've stocked my supply cabinet.)

The whole experience was joyful:

1. When Steve lived with cancer, our family was supported by an amazing team. We couldn't have survived without loved ones all around us. Just like today.

2. I was working on something new and exciting, challenging and rewarding -- and I kept thinking of how proud Steve would be.

3. When Steve died, I wasn't sure that I would ever again make any new friends. Would people find me dull and/or depressing? Would it be strange to have relationships with people who had never met our Steve? Half of the people helping me today were an integral part of our journey with Steve. And half I didn't meet until after his death. All those new friends feel like "old" friends, and Steve would have adored every single one.

So, yes, today is a gloomy reminder of what we've lost, and I cried off and on thinking of what could have been and what should have been and how much I miss that tall, dashing, witty, brilliant, creative, compassionate man.

But the day has also been hopeful and joyful. Steve would no doubt approve.

Outside my classroom door

Monday, September 2, 2013

Labor Day 2013

First week of school is over, and three hours later we're waiting for our flight at DFW.
We've survived another Labor Day.

I have a self-imposed rule that we're not home for (most of) Labor Day. I can handle being home on Sept. 7, but the whole Labor Day weekend routine is tough.

So far we've been to Michigan for a football game, Los Angeles for fun with Gretchen & Anthony, Grapevine & Arlington for the Gaylord and a Michigan game, and now Washington, D.C., for sightseeing and time with Uncle Jim.

This was my sixth visit to D.C. -- once in college, once with Steve in 2000 (when I was pregnant with Cooper but didn't yet know), three times with Steve and Cooper, and now once with Cooper and Katie.

We visited many of my favorite sights plus saw a few new ones:
  • Capitol
  • Library of Congress
  • National Archives
  • National Museum of American History
  • Jefferson Memorial
  • FDR Memorial
  • Lincoln Memorial
  • White House
  • Newseum
  • National Gallery of Art
  • Mount Vernon
It's such a joy to share these places I love -- and places Steve loved -- with two children who are curious and reverent and genuinely interested. Cooper, a voracious reader, knows more about American history than I do. Katie is especially interested in civil rights and her favorite president, Abraham Lincoln. (As we walked up to the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday night, she said, "I've been dreaming of this my whole life.")

Katie & Cooper take photos of good ol' Abe.
U.S. Capitol Rotunda
Dallas Morning News on display at the Newseum

Cooper & Katie on the Capitol grounds
Library of Congress
Cooper, Tyra & Katie at Mount Vernon 
Cooper, Katie & Uncle Jim at Mount Vernon