Instilling confidence & courage in children

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A rare photo where we’re all looking at the camera!

I spend a lot of time thinking about how I can instill confidence in Madelyn. She’s only 20 months old, but she’s already so impressionable.

Growing up, I struggled with anorexia and disordered eating for more than a decade and had no confidence. It took me awhile to regain it, and it’s stronger in some areas of my life than others.

These days, I’m most confident in my role as a mother.

As a mom, I want to show Madelyn that there’s beauty in imperfections, that her self worth isn’t determined by the numbers on a scale, that success is measured not just by our wins but by how we handle inevitable losses. It’s hard teaching this to a 20-month-old, so I try to hint at it in other ways — by the way I interact with her and the books I read to her.

PersistenceLately, her favorite book has been “She Persisted,” which profiles 13 American women who found the confidence and courage they needed to fight for what was right and pursue professions traditionally dominated by men. I recently bought the book for Madelyn, assuming she wouldn’t be interested in it yet because it’s geared toward older children.

But she discovered it in her book basket and now hands it to me multiple times a day, shouting “Reeeed!” She listens to me read vignettes about Ruby Bridges, Virginia Apgar, Nelly Bly, and Sonia Sotomayor with a look of wonder and possibility in her eyes.

She gets excited seeing illustrations of the women and shouts “guurl!” and “mommy!” when she sees them (because at her age, every storybook girl is a mommy). Even though she doesn’t understand most of the words I’m reading, I like to think she understands there’s something special about these girls/mommies/women and that, like them, she’s capable of achieving greatness.

As Sally Ride says in the book: “Young girls need to see role models in whatever careers they may choose, just so they can picture themselves doing those jobs someday. You can’t be what you can’t see.”

Kids see role models not just in real life, but in books, on TV, and in their imaginations. If they’re lucky, they see them at home. As a child, my mom was my role model. Mom wasn’t college educated and didn’t have a fancy job, but she worked hard at being a good mother. Most of all, I was in awe of her courage.

Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was just 36 years old. As the disease spread to her bone marrow, liver and brain, she grew too weak to even stand or smile. But even at her weakest, she was my greatest source of strength.

It’s been 20 years since Mom passed away, and I still seek inspiration from her perseverance and persistence. She showed me that courage isn’t always grandiose; it takes shape in both small steps and strides.

As a mom, I’m shaped by my own mom and the story of my past. I try to be a role model by taking care of myself, by not critiquing my body out loud, and by pursuing my career while giving my kids all the attention and love they need at home. Some days, it’s all about small steps. Other days, strides.

I like to think that all of this will make a difference in my kids’ lives — and that my husband Troy and I can provide Madelyn and Tucker with the ability to confidently and courageously see all that they can be.

 

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Welcoming Tucker Tarpley

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On Wednesday, September 6, we welcomed our second child, Tucker William Tarpley, into the world. Needless to say, we are so in love with him! We adore watching him and his big sister, Madelyn get to know one another. Madelyn and Tucker are close in age — just 19 months apart — and we hope they’ll always be close as brother and sister.

We’re having a lot of fun with our little guy, who likes eating, staring at ceiling fans, keeping mom and dad awake at night, and going for walks in the stroller with Madelyn. Our little guy has only been here for a few weeks, but he has forever changed our lives.

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Remembering loss & celebrating love on Mother’s Day

Squealing and squirming
Exploring the garden.
Hand in hand.
Bow-less and pigtail-less.

 

It’s been 20 years since my mom passed away from breast cancer, and yet I still get emotional on Mother’s Day. Every year I tell myself that I should be over it, that the tears of loss should be dried up by now.

This year, I tried letting the mascara run without remorse. I felt both the sadness of my mother’s passing and the joy of my own passage into motherhood. I approached Mother’s Day as a time for remembrance and celebration, a reminder that loss and love can coexist without one having to replace the other.

Having a daughter of my own, with another baby on the way, makes me feel both closer and farther away from my own mom. Closer because I now appreciate her on a much deeper and relatable level, and farther away because I can’t ask her questions about motherhood or about what I was like as a baby.

I make sense of these paradoxes through writing. For so long, my mother has been my muse. And now, so too is Madelyn — my strong, beautiful and vivacious daughter.

Madelyn squealed and squirmed when we tried posing for Mother’s Day pictures, so we opted for candids instead. She’s always finding ways to deepen my appreciation for unplanned and unposed moments of happiness. When you lose a parent as a child, you wonder if you’ll ever experience those moments again. Becoming a parent years later reminds you that it’s possible. The cyclical nature of life is healing.

Mother’s Day morning, shortly after throwing a teary tantrum, Madelyn grabbed my hand and her grandma’s and guided us on a toddler-size tour of my mother-in-law’s garden. Smiling, I thought about how it was my favorite Mother’s Day gift of all.

When nursing comes to an end

Madelyn found this hat in one of her drawers and keeps putting it on her head and giggling. She normally hates wearing hates. My maternal grandma gave her the hat — one of many great-grandma gifts from the Dollar Tree. Madelyn loves them all.

Last week I stopped nursing Madelyn. For 12.5 months, nursing was her nourishment, her sense of comfort. In some ways, it was mine too. It’s hard to let go of the things that draw our children near — but our motherly instincts, our bodies, our children usually steer us in the right direction and help us arrive at a good decision. Sometimes we take the scenic route, or our internal compass fails us along the way, but eventually we get there.

Remembering my mom, who taught me so much about motherhood

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My beloved mom passed away 20 years ago this month. Usually, life with her in it feels like forever ago. But this year feels unexpectedly different. The memories feel fresher, more vivid — probably because I’m reminded of my mom on a daily basis now that I have a daughter of my own.

For years after my mom died, I put her on a pedestal of perfection. I blocked out the bad because it was too painful to remember and it felt disrespectful. A few years ago, one of my writing mentors asked: Did your mom ever do anything wrong?

Over time, I began writing and talking about her more authentically and came to accept her for who she was — a loving mother who, like us all, struggled and made mistakes. Unintentionally, Mom taught me to appreciate both the blemishes and beauty in life and to see perfection for what it is — unattainable.

Today I’m celebrating the mother she was and the grandmother she would have been. I know she would have loved Madelyn. 

Celebrating Madelyn’s 1st birthday!

 

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A year ago today, our sweet Madelyn was born. In the past year, she’s grown from a baby to a strong little girl who has changed our lives for the better.

She likes playing peek-a-boo, clapping, reading, trying to walk on her own, being tickled, hiding behind her high hair, playing with keys and Tupperware, and getting ahold of things she isn’t supposed to have (i.e. our phones). She dislikes daily daycare drop offs, loud noises, and sleeping in.

I’m so grateful to be her mom. 

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Birthday girl!
Madelyn's Gramzie threw a birthday bash for her in Fort Worth. Madelyn had lots of fun and ended the day covered in pink frosting.
Proud parents!
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Troy and I had a mini celebration for Madelyn the weekend before her birthday. I covered her cake in Cheerios, which she loved. The cake ended up on the floor, after falling off her highchair table, but it was good while it lasted!
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Madelyn’s Gramzie threw her a big birthday bash in Fort Worth. Madelyn celebrated with family and ended the day covered in pink frosting.

Learning when to let go & hold on as a parent

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So proud of Madelyn!

Even though Madelyn slept soundly last night, I woke up at various times worrying about her first full day of daycare.

Would she cry most of the day? Would she eat well for the teachers? Would she be able to nap in a new crib, surrounding by nine other babies? How do you get 10 babies to all sleep at the same time? Wouldn’t the cacophony of crying and cooing keep them awake?

These are the rabbit-hole questions that keep a mom up at night when she’s faced with one of the first big letting-go’s of motherhood. Too many moms have to experience this moment much earlier, when their babies are just weeks old, due to subpar or nonexistent maternity leave options. I’ve been lucky enough to have a job that lets me work from home, and a nanny who gave Madelyn 1:1 attention and care.

Moving to Austin earlier this month prompted me and Troy to look into different childcare options. We briefly considered looking for another nanny but ultimately decided daycare would be best. Madelyn would learn to be more independent and to socialize with other babies. She’d engage in arts and crafts. Music time. Story time.

When I dropped Madelyn off at daycare this morning, she cried. I cried. As I stood in the lobby sobbing next to another mom who had dropped off her baby for the first time, the school administrators assured me that Madelyn would be ok and that I could call and check on her as many times as I wanted. I called only once, but worked half the day from a Starbucks across the street. I needed to be nearby, to occupy the space between holding on and letting go.

It was cold and rainy when I dropped Madelyn off this morning. The weather matched our mood.
It was cold and rainy when I dropped Madelyn off this morning. The weather matched our mood.

As I thought about Madelyn throughout the day, I was reminded of the first time I rode my bike without training wheels. I peddled on my big-girl bike, while my dad held onto the back of the seat. As we approached a small hill at the end of the quiet street I grew up on, I flirted with courage.

“Daddy, I want to ride down the hill. Let go!”

He was worried. Would I lose my balance? What if my brakes gave out? What if I fell off, tumbled down the hill, and broke a bone? Multiple bones?!

It turns out, I was just fine. More than fine, actually. In a wobbly way, I flew down the hill with a big smile on my face and then stopped at the bottom, injury-free.

“I did it, daddy!” I proudly exclaimed. I had found my balance. My dad probably found some semblance of it too that day.

He recalled this experience in a note he wrote me a few years ago around the holidays. It was the first year I wouldn’t be home for Christmas because I had plans to spend it with Troy’s family in Texas.

“Every time I ‘let go’ I think of it as ‘let grow’; it makes it easier for me. Being the sentimentalist that I am, I reminisced about the times that I have let go of you in your life,” dad wrote.

“I remember so well the first time that I let go of your hands when you were learning to walk, knowing that you would fall, but you didn’t. I remember bringing you on your bike to [the neighbor’s] driveway for the first time without training wheels. I gave you a little push, knowing that within 10 feet you would fall, and Mom would come rushing to your aid to wipe away your tears. You never fell. Instead, you made it all the way down the street. It was Mom and I who had tears in our eyes.

“I remember the first time you drove out of the driveway in the Tempo alone for your first time. I was concerned, but I knew that I had to let you go.

“I remember letting go of you on your first day at Providence College, as you walked toward the dining hall, while Gramz and I stood there teary-eyed watching you walk away. When you graduated from Providence College, I wanted so much to keep you close by, but I knew letting go of you so that you could go to Florida was what I needed to do.

“Mallary, every time that I have let you go, I have watched you grow. You may look up to me for inspiration, but I look up to you for my inspiration.”

I resurfaced and reread my dad’s note today not as a daughter but as a mother. I could relate to it on a different level and couldn’t help but be grateful that life’s big letting go’s are often spaced out. I’m finding, though, that the delicate dance of learning when to hold on and when to let grow is constant. And it’s far from graceful.

Sometimes we let go too soon and fall flat on our butts. Or we hold on too tightly for too long until our hands and hearts hurt. Other times we let go at just the right time, even though it feels painfully soon. These actions require us to consider who’s leading our moves and who we’re trying to protect — ourselves or our children. They’re an act of trust — in the process and in our child’s ability to let us know when it’s time to take the next step and when we’ve made the right move.

When I picked Madelyn up today, I peeked through the window to the daycare room and saw her sitting at a mini table eating her afternoon snack. She seemed content but then started crying when she saw me come in. She held out her arms and wrapped them around my neck.

I held on tight.

Learning how to help our baby sleep better, one night at a time

I've taken the week off to unpack and spend some time with Madelyn before she starts daycare next week (eek!) Yesterday, we went to the Round Rock Public Library to get a library card and explore the baby book section.
I’ve taken the week off to unpack and spend some time with Madelyn before she starts daycare next week. (Not sure who that will be harder for — her or me!) Yesterday, we went to the Round Rock Public Library to get a library card and explore the baby book section.

 

Madelyn slept through the night for four consecutive nights this week!

She woke up a few times and cried for a bit but then went back to sleep. I don’t want to jinx it, but this feels like a victory, considering she has been waking up two to three times a night to nurse since she was just a few months old.

During the move, we bounced from St. Pete to Fort Worth to Austin over a two-week period. Madelyn was so disoriented that she began waking up four to five times a night and was often inconsolable. I was tired and frustrated and wondered why my 11-month-old baby still had the nighttime sleep habits of a newborn. My go-to coping mechanism was to empathize with her — to think about how unsettling it must have been to wake up at night in a different place with different sounds, surrounded by unfamiliarity.

I also turned to my favorite mom-related Facebook group — Precious Little Sleep — which has more than 31,000 members who post dozens of updates a day. The moms in the group seek and offer advice about how to help babies get the sleep they need. They vent and post funny pics of their babies looking wide-eyed into the baby monitor camera, or sleeping on their knees with their little butts up in the air. The posts are a reminder that there’s no silver bullet, and that even though you hear about all of these magical babies who sleep through the night, you’re not the only one who has a seemingly nocturnal child.

Sleep deprivation leads to desperation.

Companies realize this, which is why there are countless products aimed at helping babies sleep better. The variety of choices feels both comforting and utterly overwhelming. Early on, Troy and I blew so much cash on swaddle blankets that other parents swore by. They had words like “miracle” and “magic” in the descriptors — language that inspires a fleeting glimpse of hope. Some of the swaddle blankets looked more or less like baby straightjackets, so much so that when we bought them we were convinced there was no way Madelyn could ever wriggle out of them. But our determined baby girl always found a way out — one toe, one fist, at a time.

At various times we tried the “cry it out” method, but to no avail. When your baby continuously cries for 30 minutes during a cry-it-out session (and simultaneously breaks your heart), it’s honestly just easier to go into her nursery and nurse her.

Breastfeeding is the one thing that has always pacified Madelyn, but it’s not an ideal solution when you want sleep. With newborns, around-the-night nursing is to be expected. But by the time your baby is almost a year old, you can’t help but yearn for a different remedy that won’t require ongoing, interrupted sleep.

As a mom, breastfeeding feels like a superpower. It can also feel all-consuming and lonely knowing that you are responsible for all the night-time feedings and the only person who can give your baby what she wants and needs. Troy is an amazing nurturer and would help at night if he could, but Madelyn won’t take a bottle, which makes sharing nighttime duties difficult.

Troy and I were worried about how Madelyn would do at night when I was out of town last week for a four-day work trip (one of a few I’ve taken since she was born). We assumed she would wake up a lot and be inconsolable. But in fact, the opposite was true. She slept like a champ.

Since Madelyn won’t take a bottle and realized I wasn’t there to nurse her at night, she simply stopped waking up as much. I’m not sure why this particular trip has that effect on her, but I suspect it’s because I’ve been weaning her off breastmilk and onto more solid foods, so she’s not as reliant on me for nourishment. She has also been eating more food lately and goes to bed on a more full stomach.

The trip signaled a turning point, and what I hope will be the start of better sleep for Madelyn (and mom and dad). Babies have a way of constantly switching up their routine. Just when you think you’ve figured them out, they find new ways to surprise you. They are our best teachers, constantly reminding us what it means to be patient, selfless, and grateful for small victories.

For now, I’m grateful for the extra sleep (and for our healthy, loving, and strong-willed baby!) and I’m staying optimistic.

🤗