Do you know a friend better when you’ve seen a picture of them as a child? I’d like to say yes – and I believe it is true.
Take my friend Tara Scarlett, President and CEO of the Scarlett Family Foundation. I’ve known her as a grownup, a mother, and a passionate advocate for education. She speaks in peaceful tones, she’s a centrist in many ways, and she’s someone who looks for and sees the good in others. But she lives and breathes ambition as well – an ambition for our community, focused on how we educate our children.
Tara stops in at Bacon today to write about Educated, by Tara Westover. In the photos she sent, I see the girl who became the woman – the cheerfulness, the energy. How she was nurtured – and, in turn, nurturing. I see her confidence, her playfulness, and her strength.
I’ll begin with the Bacon Interview and then share her post.
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Hi Tara! I’m so delighted for you to spend some time at Bacon today!
You grew up in middle Tennessee, right? Nashville?
I did. We moved to Brentwood in the late 70’s then Nashville in the early 90’s.
What kind of a child were you?
Independent Adventurer. I loved to be outside and explore everything around me.
What were some of your favorite books growing up?
I devoured Nancy Drew and the Chronicles of Narnia. Any book or book series that took my mind on an adventure was – and still is – super exciting.
What were your formative educational years?
My elementary years were in public school, and I later transferred to private school. Regardless of the school, I was and still am a curious soul. If I wasn’t playing outside, you would likely find me in the library or hanging with my friends.
How did you and your husband meet?
We both were working at Coca-Cola in Atlanta. While I was in the US division, Michael was in our global group. He actually worked for a friend of mine who ran Global Digital Marketing. At some point I needed to internally promote some of the work we were doing in the US. My friend suggested I speak with Michael to send out to the other country teams. That’s my recollection anyway. You can ask Michael as he has another story.
Tell us a little bit about your kids!
They are compassionate, caring kids with lots of energy and super curious about so much. Emily is our creator at age 5. If she’s not trying to read books, she’s coloring, playing outside, baking or inventing games. Gunnar is our imaginative builder at age 3. He is really into using Legos to create all sorts of designs then he shares stories about how the design operates. If it’s not Legos, he is outside exploring and playing with any ball he can find.
(And your dogs…)
We have 2 dogs – Jake who is 11 and Moana who is almost 3. Jake is a 10 pound chihuahua who grew up around big dogs so has a chill approach to life. Also, he loves the ladies. If given the option, he will snuggle with any woman who comes over the house. The men… not so much.
Moana will be 3 this summer. We adopted her from Big Fluffy Dogs Rescue just after she had a litter of puppies. She was not even a year old at the time. She is about the same age as our son, and they are best buddies and play together all the time. Then there are times she likes to escape but she always comes back.
What’s the best thing about being a parent?
Reliving childhood though my kids’ eyes and helping discovery happen. Not to mention the special moments like when my children come over just to give me a hug and say, “I love you mommy.” Or watching them succeed at something or watching them fall and get themselves back up. There are so many “best things” about being a parent. The love of a child and for a child is more than I ever expected.
What’s the hardest thing about being a parent?
Knowing what to do. To help or to let them learn. I can lead with my gut but in some cases I want to be a better parent for my children so I try different methods to help them be the best they can be.
What do you love about living in Nashville?
The people. Nashville is filled with so many amazing people and it fills my heart with joy every day.
What do not love about living in Nashville?
I’d like to see a stronger city vision.
If you had a day with no obligations, what would you do? (Do you ever have a day with no obligations?)
With two small children, two dogs, a husband, and a full-time mission driven profession, I don’t ever have a day with no obligations. But if I did, I would walk before dawn listening to Nashville wake, nurture my garden, read a book, drink some tea, nap, walk in the park and hug my friend and family. I do all of these weekly if not daily anyway.
What’s your favorite guilty pleasure?
Baskin Robbins’ mint chocolate chip ice cream on a sugar cone.
JP: OMG you’re kidding!! That was my favorite thing as a child. Let’s meet at BR soon!!
73 and sunny with the occasional big puffy cloud.
Caribbean beaches. Grace Bay in the Turks and Caicos.
What are you good at?
Envisioning possibilities and bringing people together.
What do you want to be good at?
What do you practice at?
Being a great mom
What do you worry about?
The children of Nashville
Who inspires you?
My Parents. My Husband. My children. Entrepreneurs.
My family (including the dogs). The Ocean. A good book.
Why are you so passionate about education?
I’m passionate about education because I believe that all children deserve an opportunity to follow their dreams, whatever those may be. I believe in potential and in Nashville, Tennessee – our city, our state, our people, our opportunities, our future. A quality education can change a life. All children deserve a chance to succeed in life and there are too many who fall through our societal cracks. These are the children of Nashville, of Tennessee, and they are all our children and they deserve better. I also believe in the power of our city and that we can pull together to transform the trajectory of our current education system.
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Typically, I’m engrossed with Dr. Seuss or Llama Llama books since I’m raising two young children, but now they entertain themselves a bit more which gives me a chance to read for myself. I just finished Educated by Tara Westover which is a raw and inspiring memoir about control and power in a Mormon family. While I cannot relate to the way Westover grew up, that’s what makes this memoir so fascinating for me (and apparently many others since it’s a #1 New York Times bestseller).
Westover was raised in a secluded area of Idaho called Buck’s Peak, where her father owned a junkyard. She grew up with 6 siblings and an obedient mom, all controlled by their father’s psychological whims and obsessive ways. For the most part, the children were “home schooled” though their mom stopped trying to teach her children since they were needed to work in the junkyard.
Even in her childhood stories, Westover comes across as a very strong willed girl. She shares story after story, painting a childhood filled with neglect, physical, emotional and psychological abuse by parents and siblings, and yet she was still able to pull out some sweet memories. Her family is all she knew in her formative years. There were no visitors to Bucks’ Peak, and she didn’t go to school. I guess her father’s extreme views on things did not encourage relationships with people from her church. No friends. Only family. In her seclusion, she balances being a good daughter and sister with intense abuse and her internal will to be herself. She struggles with how to step away from her family, the only community she has ever known.
One of her brothers encouraged her to take the ACT, and it was her pure will to make it happen. This was pre-launch of her formal education, but this book is about life as education and a transformation of one little girl navigating a harsh world, while becoming an empowered young woman.
There are thousands of stories about how a great education can transform a life. Typically, there is a person who sees potential in another. Westover shared stories of several people who were supporters, one of whom was Dr. Kerry, one of her professors at Brigham Young University. There was one point at which Westover was experiencing a lot of continued self-doubt and was excluding herself from her classmates. Dr. Kerry pulled her aside: “You must stop yourself from thinking like that. You are not fool’s gold, shining only under a particular light. Whomever you become, whatever you make yourself into, that is who you always were. It was always in you….You are gold.”
Everyone experiences negative self-talk, but Westover describes an extreme version that affected her every moment. Even when not at Buck’s Peak, she remained psychologically controlled and manipulated by her family, especially her father. She shares feelings of guilt for her actions and words and calls out that “guilt is never about them. Guilt is the fear of own’s own wretchedness. It has nothing to do with other people.”
Tara Westover fully owns her truth in this memoir. It’s an inspiring and empowering personal reflection and observation of life.
A couple other books come to mind that are in this same vein: Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance and The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore. Both are books I’ve read and recommend.