Editor’s Note: We always knew Tara Wood had a big heart. Well, now the rest of the world is finding that out as well. If you don’t know, Tara’s account of her daughter Nora’s relationship with Mr. Dan, an elderly gentleman she befriended during a trip grocery store, has gone viral in the last couple of days. Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford gave her a shout out on Facebook and, right this very minute, Tara is preparing for a CNN interview. Here, then, is a story we published in June about Tara and her gigantic family, so you can get to know a little bit more about this kindhearted and foul-mouthed soul. Enjoy!
Tara Wood is known for a few things: a big heart, an even bigger family and a filthy, filthy mouth.
You may know this Columbia County mother of seven from her Facebook and blog called Love Morning Wood, which should give you an idea as to how warped her sense of humor can be. But Tara also is a devout Catholic, which she doesn’t necessarily see as being at odds with her personality.
“I did for a long long time try and fit into this box and I tried to be what I thought the good Catholic wife and mother should be,” she admitted on a recent weeknight at her kitchen table, surrounded by the laughs, cries and whines of six playing children and a nearly one-year-old baby. “I do pray and I do try to follow the tenets of the Catholic church, although I do have disagreements with a few things. But the older I got, the more I thought that there’s no one way to be a good Catholic wife and mother. I have a sailor mouth but I don’t think that negates me from being a good Catholic wife and mother.”
Far from being ashamed of it (anymore), Tara is, if not proud, at least nonchalant about her use of a well-placed F-bomb or other lowly descriptive. In fact, in a June 2 post welcoming readers to her Love Morning Wood Facebook page, she warned unsuspecting visitors of what they might see.
“Just a heads up,” she wrote. “I have a deep and profound love for salty language and am unapologetic about it, so if the words ‘fuck’, ‘bullshittery’ or ‘cock gobbler’ offend you, I invite you to unlike this page- you’ll be horrified if you stick around.”
Far from horrified, readers seemed to have embraced Tara’s no-nonsense take on motherhood and the reactions that being the mom of seven inspire in those around her.
Since she began writing, Tara has gained nearly 17,000 followers, was cast in a show called Listen to Your Mother and is now a published author, having recently submitted and had accepted an essay called “It Didn’t Go So Smoothie” in a just published book called “I Just Want to Be Perfect.” She recently signed copies of the book at local book stores.
It’s a far cry from where her adult life began, and no one seems more surprised about it than Tara herself.
“It’s really cool because it’s mine,” she said. “I can’t hire it out, nobody else can do it for me and it’s just something because, for so long, I’ve just — not just been a mother because it’s valuable — but that’s what my identity has been. But this is separate from that and sometimes I get a little wrapped up and I’m like, ‘You’re going to have to wait on that because I’ve gotta finish this post’ and that’s something I’m working on, but it’s mine and I absolutely love stepping out of my comfort zone and am doing these things that I never, ever thought I would have the balls to do.”
“I was dating his best friend,” she laughed. “So Grady Nickel and I were dating. I went to Lakeside, Grady went to Westside and we had mutual friends who thought I looked like Natalie Merchant from 10,000 Maniacs and that Grady looked like Michael Stipe and that we should date and so they sort of put us together. Grady and Garrett were very good friends and there was — not instant attraction, but over the next few months there was a magnetic pull between the two of us, but it took years for us to actually get together. We always had a thing, a flirtation.”
Eventually, that flirtation led to marriage, marriage that has lasted 21 years. But it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for the two. The first few years were filled with problems that kept them from starting a family.
“Yeah, there were some bumps in the road that caused us to wait for a while. We weren’t ready,” she admitted. “We were still barhopping and stuff like that so we weren’t ready to be parents before we became parents. But it was a conscious and deliberate effort that we were ready to start that part of our lives and then they just kept coming. They’re every two years.”
“They” are the kids, who she and Garrett sometimes refer to as the Woodchips. They include Juliette, 15; Bella, 12; Mia, 10; Leo, 8; Ronan, 5; Norah, 3; and Marigold, who will turn one at the end of the month. And yes, Tara can still rattle off all their names and ages “as long as birthdates aren’t involved.”
The number of children is partly due to the couple’s Catholic faith. The Woods became Catholic the same year that Juliette was born, although Garrett recalls pondering the subject many years before.
“I was 25, and one night I remember I was on the front porch by myself and I’d had, like, I don’t know, eight or nine beers I’m sure at that point, and I was just like, ‘What in the hell is all this about?’” he said. “I sat out there and pondered and said, ‘God, if you’re there, you know, give me something.’”
“It had a little section and it said, ‘Interested in Catholicism? Monday nights, come with your questions.’ It was real simple and we went, ‘Huh,’ he said. “And then we went, ‘Well it’s in the Spirit, which was kind of funny because it was spiritual, so we went down there and it was immediate for me. We weren’t there 15 minutes and I was like, ‘This is really cool.’”
Though neither had attended church as children, the meeting gave each of them a completely different feel from anything else they’d encountered.
“All I knew was Southern Baptist and it was hellfire and brimstone. We’re all sinners and we all suck and all that stuff,” Garrett explained. “This was just different. It was very welcoming. Here’s what we’re about. Don’t check your brain at the door, I remember them saying that that first night. Ask questions. Question everything, basically. For whatever reason, I was like, ‘I’m in.’”
Tara was as well, but for a more practical reason.
“I think we just felt a pull. We wanted something a base to have our child grow up in,” she said. “I think we both had kind of been looking for something and Catholicism sort of fit the bill for us. It’s so steeped in history. I just felt like I wanted them to have a home so that no matter where they went in the world they could find a Catholic church and they’d hear the same liturgy in Brazil as they would in Augusta, Georgia.”
The matter of faith settled, the Woods set out to follow the tenets of the church, which called for no birth control other than natural family planning.
“But I’m not good with math and stuff and keeping up with dates,” Tara laughed. “I was fortunate enough that breastfeeding kept me infertile until the next child came along, so I nursed Juliette for about 18 months and then about, I don’t know, two months later I was pregnant with Bella and every two years they just followed along.”
Besides Catholicism, there was another reason Tara and Garrett continued to have kids.
“I just kept feeling like my family wasn’t complete and I don’t know another way to say that,” she said. “I just think you know in your heart when your family is complete and I never really felt that. I could always see welcoming someone else. Like somebody was missing.”
Tara continued to feel like someone was missing, even as she got older and her pregnancies became more difficult. After Norah, she had two miscarriages and, with her last pregnancy, she said she knew if it ended in a miscarriage that was the end.
“That was just it: we were going to cap the well and our procreation days were over,” she said. “But I carried Marigold to term with much complication and got the golden ticket on that, so my uterus is in a landfill somewhere. I do feel peaceful about it. You know, Garrett’s 46 and I’m 43 in 10 days and I just feel like everybody’s here who’s supposed to be here now. I don’t feel like there’s somebody missing.”
Besides, seven is a number she can keep up with… barely.
“I don’t get as much one on one time as I would like each day, but I know them,” she said. “I have trouble remembering their birth dates sometimes, but I know their personalities, I know their wants and needs, I know what their triggers are and what they need from me and I think that if I were to have more I might struggle with that and I don’t want to. I don’t want to have children just to collect children. I value all of them and I think if I had more that I would be pulled in too many different directions. I’m happy with our little seven. That’s always been my favorite number anyway.”
Spitting out kids may have come pretty easily to Tara, but it’s taken years for her to work up the courage to do what she always admired in others: write.
A major stumbling block, she said, was that while she was a fan of the Beat Poets, William Butler Yeats and John Keats, literature was her favorite subject and she even worked at Walden Books in the mall, she hated school. She went to Augusta State University for two semesters, but eventually left to take a full-time job at a urologist’s office. She worked there from the time she was 18 until she left the work force after Bella was born in 2003.
So while Garrett was working, first as an ICU nurse, then at both his day job and a business he was starting, then, finally, just at his internet company, Tara was home with the kids.
“I fancied myself a writer, but I never did [write],” she said. “I think I mostly loved the idea of it.”
Then came Facebook. Tara began just by posted status updates with funny things her kids did and said.
“And I started getting friend requests from people I didn’t know and I was like, ‘What’s going on?’” she said. “Finally, people started messaging me and saying, ‘Hey, I work with so and so and she reads your stories to me and I wanted to see if I could follow along.’”
Finally, after writing something about being stung by a jellyfish in Charleston, a friend who was an English teacher sent her a private message. “You’re a writer,” is what it said. She didn’t believe him, but humored him by telling him she would sit down and write every day for 30 days.
One of the challenges was finding time to write when seven kids monopolized her every waking hour every single day. So she woke up ridiculously early to write, toyed with the idea of started a community Facebook page and hit upon a name that combined her last name with her early morning writing practice and the fact that she hoped people would like what she wrote.
Love Morning Wood was born.
“So I put this little wooden coffee cup as the icon and this little silly thing Leo had written as the cover photo and woke up the next day and had 75 readers. The next day I had 300 readers and it just grew. I thought maybe an aunt out of town and maybe some cousins would read it,” she said. “I started in November and said, ‘If I have a thousand readers by my birthday in June, then I’ll start a proper blog and I’ll buy a .com domain name. And I hit a thousand readers two months in advance of my birthday.”
That was in 2013 and, at lovemorningwood.com, Tara began experimenting with longer pieces. Those pieces, combined with her Facebook presence, resonated with readers and garnered her more and more attention. She’s been named one of Today’s Funniest Parents by the Today Show many times and wrote a monthly column for Metro Augusta Parent magazine.
“It was huge because I was like, ‘My kids will be able to read this. My kids’ kids will be able to read this,’” she said. “They might not think anything of it, but lots of people would love to have an article and have people be able to read your words and then come back to you and say, ‘That touched something in me’ or ‘That made me pee my pants’ or whatever.”
A big leap for Tara was when she submitted an essay for Listen to Your Mother, a show held in different cities across the country in which moms read their parenting essays in front of a live audience. She had never spoken in front of a large group before (“Not unless I have all my kids lined up on the couch and am yelling at them”) and was scared to death.
“And I told the kids, ‘Hey, I’m going to audition for the show with a piece that I’ve written and I just want you to know that I’m scared to do this but I’m doing it because I can’t tell you to jump off cliffs if I’m not willing to do it myself. I just want you to know that I’m doing it and we’ll see what happens,’” she said.
There were a mix of essays read at Listen to Your Mother in April, from sad to thoughtful to… Tara’s, which was called “Bottom’s Up.”
“I was sort of the comic relief for the show and when I was up there and I was reading and I got those first real laughs? It was immediate, it was a natural high, it was an adrenaline thing,” she said. “I never thought when I was holding my baby that I’d be checking her asshole for pinworms in 10 years. But you have to do stuff like that as a mom and if you have the ability to tell that story so that it’s not so… well, it is gross but if people go, ‘Oh my god that’s horrible but so funny’ that’s great. If you can write that way, or you can tell stories that happen every day then other mothers or dads may feel like they’re not mucking it all up and that we all make mistakes and everybody isn’t perfect and that’s okay.”
Making people laugh is Tara’s primary motivation in everything she does for public consumption, but taking the perfection out of parenting has become a close second.
“I never want to hurt anybody, but I don’t mind pissing people off a little bit or maybe ruffling some feathers,” she said. “I just try to be supportive to other people who are struggling, and sanctimommies who think they have it all figured out and they know how every parent should parent when they have no idea about different struggles people are having? I enjoy putting them in their place.”
This is the same person, however, who will pick up a woman struggling with her umbrella in the rain and give her a ride in the Wood’s 15-passenger “murder van,” which just happens to have an I Heart Pope Francis and a Happy sticker on the back. She has the support of her family, although she does run potential posts by her 15-year-old sometimes, so she’s not too concerned about what other people think about her online presence.
“It’s taken me a long time to be unapologetic about the words that I use,” she said, “but I’m a good person and I think that if people decide that I am not a good person based on some of the language that I use then that’s really their loss because I’m a good friend, I’m a good person and I try to be a decent parent.”
“You’ve lost a few people along the way,” Garrett added. “There’ve been a couple of people who think you’re not the kind of mother you should be, or the kind of Catholic mother you should be. That’s going to happen, but these weren’t good friends of ours. Our good friends, whatever their opinions are, have stuck around.”
“You know, it’s the whole you might want to remove the plank in your eye before you talk about the splinter in mine,” Tara said. “But other than that, there really haven’t been any downsides. It’s been a great experience for me. I’m in a book, I’ve got readers all over the world who are just wonderful and it’s made me braver.”