I read Kyran Pittman’s lovely, funny, wise memoir, Planting Dandelions: Field Notes From a Semi-Domesticated Life, in a single day. I was smitten by page three:
“‘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. Look.
People … offer themselves 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 extraordinary.
Pittman seems to be speaking in lucid, beautiful sentences that which I’m endlessly circling around here on this blog, stumbling over and bumping into in the dark of my life. Yes. It’s extraordinary. Just look. A couple of paragraphs later, she says that Planting Dandelions shares her “moments of truth.” She cites “the power of small things to make a life infinitely vast,” and then invites her reader, at the end of her introduction, to “Look. Look what I found. Come see.” This is on page four, and I was already nodding and crying at the same time.
The chapters of Planting Dandelions are loosely organized by theme or life stage. Pittman talks about the complicated, “scorched-earth” way she and her husband connected, about her early days as a fierce proponent of attachment parenting, about her gradual movement back into work. She covers sex, religion, the loss of grandparents, school, female friendships in midlife, and the US South, all in a voice that is by turns laugh-out-loud funny and wipe-tears-away tender.
One theme that I particularly related to in Planting Dandelions is the vague sense of bewilderment that dogs Pittman and her husband no matter how old they and their children become. I totally share this. I have often joked that I’m waiting for the real mother to come home, and that’s utterly true. Sometimes I look across a room at my children, or catch a glimpse of them in the rearview mirror, and am absolutely awestruck, astounded, that I am their parent. When did this happen? Wasn’t I just, five minutes ago, a college senior, arms flung around my best friends, staggering across Poe Field on a sunny spring day? I am conscious, every single day, for example when I go to drop off in my actual pajamas, of all the ways in which I thought I’d be more “grown up” by now. Pittman describes this feeling, which I feel piercingly, regularly:
“…I wanted to fall to my knees, hold him to my chest and say I’m sorry, I wanted to be better for you. I thought I might have it together by now, but I don’t, and I don’t thin I will before you figure it out and can see for yourself that other people seem to have the secret to life and we, your parents, don’t have a clue.”
There is another strand in Planting Dandelions I found particularly powerful, which is that our children are not, in fact, ours. They belong to themselves, not to us. We are deeply privileged to share these years with them, to shepherd and shelter them, but we are not as mightily responsible for the outcomes of their lives as some believe. Pittman addresses this:
“I lose sight of that from time to time, and delude myself into thinking I’m the auteur of their experience, when actually, I mainly work in catering. They don’t need me directing, feeding them their lines. They get it. The script of life and death, grief and joy, is written on their DNA.”
Towards the end of Planting Dandelions Pittman talks about her decision, a long time in coming, to become a US Citizen. At one point during her deliberation, she unearths a box of old visas, medical records, and faxes. She finds a poem, many years old, that her father had written for her. It contains this line: Going towards yourself is the longest journey of all. That sentence, at least for me, is the purest distillation of what Planting Dandelions is about. It’s about the journey home, the way we build a marriage and a family from myriad small, imperfect moments, decisions, and experiences, about how we eventually figure out who we are. It’s about the way we can lose ourselves in the desperate love of our children, about aging and wrinkles and sag, and about how a community of women becomes ever more important. It’s about the many paradoxes and mysteries at the heart of even the most ordinary family life. It’s about the cracks that let the light in.
And I loved it. I know you will too.
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