Table of Contents
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Copyright Â© 2011 by Kyran Pittman
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author's rights. Purchase only authorized editions. Published simultaneously in Canada
“Mommy Wears Prada” and portions of “For Richer or Poorer,” “D-I-Y Spells DIE,” “A Pilgrim's Progress,” and “Feast of Sorrow” first appeared, in slightly different form, in
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Planting dandelions : field notes from a semi-domesticated life / Kyran Pittman.
eISBN : 978-1-101-51418-4
1. Motherhood. 2. Families. 3. Man-woman relationships.
While the author has made every effort to provide accurate telephone numbers and Internet addresses at the time of publication, neither the publisher nor the author assumes any responsibility for errors, or for changes that occur after publication. Further, the publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
Penguin is committed to publishing works of quality and integrity.
In that spirit, we are proud to offer this book to our readers;
however, the story, the experiences, and the words
are the author's alone.
Dedicated to my mother, Marilee, who is my homeland;
to Patrick, who is my refuge; and to my sonsâ
Alden, Jonah, and Careyâa mighty nation.
jumped the white picket fence. Not in the way the story usually begins, with the heroine breaking out, busting loose, setting off across the wild world in search of her authentic, enlightened self. That would be uncharacteristically normal of me. I broke in, not out.
Some people need to break out. They're called to distant, exotic places to find truth and wisdom: a monastery on a mountaintop, a boat on the high seas, the foot of a bodhi tree. There's nothing wrong with that. I happened to be called to find it in the laundry room and in Cub Scout den meetings. That's what I get for following
bliss. But those are exotic locations to me.
My children laugh when I tell them Mommy's an alien. “Look, it says so right here,” I say, showing them my United States permanent resident card. To them, “alien” conjures images of E.T., the extraterrestrial being trying to navigate suburbia,
, and trick-or-treat. It's more apt than they know. I came from “out there.” Way out there. Fifteen years ago, I pushed off from a forgotten island at the edge of the continent and landed in middle America. I came to marriage from an adulterous, scorched-earth love affair. I went from being a wild child to being a good mother. I grew up in a home that was free-thinking, free-loving, and free-falling, and willingly entered a life of Cub Scouts on Monday, bills on Tuesday, playgroup on Wednesday, groceries on Thursday, errands on Friday, sex on Saturday, church on Sunday.
Some people come here automatically, to this town called Ordinary. The straight and narrow route will take you right to the middle of it in a hurry. Some people never know anything else. But I hitched in by the back roads, peered over the fence, and chose it.
I choose it every day.
“Beeeee good,” I tell my sons, turning back to my field notes, the blog where for five years I've recorded my outside-looking-in observations on this big, little life. Part Underwood typewriter, part Moleskine journal, part refrigerator door; it's become a catchall for everything that digging in yields up.
“Look at this,” I'd say, holding up some fragment of everyday to myself and anyone who happened to be reading, turning it over this way and that.
People began wandering over to see what it was I was so taken with. First a few online readers, then more. Then
began to publish my essays, and the neighborhood suddenly got a whole lot bigger. “I have something just like that!” my virtual neighbors would say in a comment or an e-mail, and come running back holding the stories they found in their own backyard. They offer them up with a mix of shyness and excitement. Sometimes they doubt themselves.
I thought maybe it was worth something, but I don't know . . .
It's probably too small to matter . . .
It's kind of a mess and it's broken in places . . .
“It's beautiful,” I tell them. It's funny. It's deep. It's
We live in an age that exalts lifestyle over life. We call caterers and decorators “gurus.” Whole television networks are dedicated to telling us how our homes, gardens, tables, and wardrobes should look. Even our beliefs are subject to fashionâthe more exotic, the better. But most people can afford only the extractâthey get some of the flavor, but none of the substance. Imported spirituality is the new truffle oil.
I believe in seeking. I believe ardently that you should drop everything and run toward your true self, as far as you have to go. But I want to put in a word for the path that winds through the backyard, because it can be just as meaningful and wondrous as the one that goes up the mountaintop, if it's
path. You want a spiritual discipline? Try staying vitally connected to the same person year in, year out, through surprise pregnancies, late mortgage payments, toilet seat battles, and the occasional, strong temptation to walk away and make a living tending bar somewhere on the coast of Maine. Domestic life is full of moments of truth, if you stay awake to them.
What follow are some of my moments of truth. Writing them down is what keeps me awake and alive to that which is everyday and near. I hope they speak to the possibility of settling down without settling for, and the power of small things to make a life infinitely vast. They are an apronful of stories carried breathlessly up to the fence by that strange woman in town, me. They are for my neighbors who live inside the white picket fence with me, and they are for the wanderer who pulls off to the side of the road, looks over it, and wonders why anyone would want to live there.
Look. Look what I found. Come see
ill you marry me?” Patrick asked.
A light breeze came up, and the woods around us fidgeted; a whispered commotion among the fallen brown leaves. I opened my eyes and looked past bare branches of hickory and oak into the flawless February sky. It was my first winter in the South, and it felt more like early autumn to me, just crisp enough to wear a sweater. The sun had warmed the sandstone ledge we'd chosen for our picnic, and the trail that ran beside it, winding through a picturesque Arkansas valley, seemed reserved for our private enjoyment. It was a perfect day.
So why did he have to go and ruin it with that question?
Fortunately, I had an easy out. A wee technical glitch: I was already married to someone else.
That wasn't part of the official story we gave when people wanted to know how on earth a guy from Arkansas and a girl from Newfoundland came to meet. Nor was the manner of our introduction. “We met in Toronto,” we'd say, as if we'd both had other business there, besides meeting in person for the first time, after three months of writing torrid and anguished e-mails. It's quaint to think such a thing was once unheard-of, but for years we thought if word got out that we met on the Internet, we'd wind up on some lurid afternoon talk show.
“It's a long story,” we'd say, if someone should press for details. “It's complicated.”
But it wasn't, not really.
Two people fell in love. What other story is there?
Granted, I hadn't seen my husband in nearly twelve months, but I made the caseâprim adulteress that I wasâthat it wouldn't be
to get engaged.
“Ask me again when I'm free,” I said lightly. It was ridiculous. I had never been
free. I had run away from home. I had no job. Patrick supported us both with his salary as an art director for a small ad agency, the one place in town that would hire him after he threw his career and professional reputation down the drain, chasing me up and down the North American continent for a year. I spent my days doing pretty much whatever I felt like. Once a month, I showed up to read a few poems at an open-mike session held in the back of a downtown bar, and that was as close as I wanted to come to having a commitment.