This has been a Christmas week to remember. It was our first Christmas in our new home, with two kids, and with both sets of grandparents here to celebrate it with them.
When you become a parent, you get to relive that sense of wonder you felt when you were a kid around the holidays. You’re given the chance to rekindle family traditions, leave behind the ones that stir up sad memories, and start your own. All the while, your Christmas wish list becomes less about gifts for yourself and more about your children — the big wish being that they’ll grow up with gratitude not just for the gifts they get but for the generosity they symbolize.
As 2018 approaches, I’m feeling grateful for my family — especially Madelyn, Tucker and Troy, the best gifts of all.
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.
Lately, 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.
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.
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.
The Tarpleys have some exciting news: We bought a house AND we’re expecting our second child — a baby boy! I’m 16 weeks along and due on Sept. 12. We’re feeling blessed, and we’re so excited to raise our growing family in our new home! 👨👨👧👦💗
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.