Kyran Pittman's Blog, page 4
May 30, 2014
As an introspective extrovert, my employment of first person pronouns was once inexhaustible. I didn’t mean to always take up more than my fair share of a conversation–I just had a lot that I wanted to share. Needed to share. Feelings and ideas would tumble out in a torrent. Some people really liked that about me. Some people really didn’t. In my defense, it came from a place of enthusiasm, not selfishness–like a four-year-old who brings everything from her room to show you, because that’s how much she likes you.
After my memoir came out, that urge to constantly reveal myself changed. Something–maybe a craving to be known and understood intimately– felt fulfilled. I had said everything I needed to say, as best as I could say it, and it was time to shut up and listen. It was so easy and satisfying to let other people talk about themselves for a change. I became a much better listener and–I hope–a much better friend.
Partly too, the publication of the book made me feel exposed in a way blogging never had. I’m not sure why that is, but privacy became intensely important for a little while. I’ve yet to regret anything I shared in the book, but I put a whole lot of myself into it, and it felt necessary to pull back for a while, and recharge.
Balance is not static–it’s an ongoing process of correction. We shift our weight from one side to the other, and so we move forward, sometimes smoothly, sometimes lurching.
I must have veered too far to one side, because one of my closest friends recently chided me, lovingly, for not being more open with her when I have my own struggles and problems. I was completely taken aback by her observation, because I thought I was doing everyone a favor these past few years by not burdening them with so much about me. But here was my friend telling me I’ve been withholding something vital to intimate relationships–vulnerability.
Even beyond that conversation, the idea of vulnerability and visibility has been coming up a lot for me in the past year. I’m attracted to those qualities in some people, and repelled by them in others, and I’m not sure I can say what makes the difference–why one person’s self-revelation blesses me, and another’s feels burdensome. Perhaps it comes down to expectations, real or perceived. Perhaps it doesn’t matter, and the important thing is to risk being known and seen; to connect intimately with someone, never mind the people who don’t get it. I don’t know, but I’m being nudged to reconsider my own boundaries with respect to being vulnerable and visible, to paint a new center line.
As a writer who frequently rails against toxic myths of creative success, I immediately loved Austin Kleon’s manifesto, Show Your Work! I know what a generous thing it is to be shown a work in progress, how reassuring and instructive to see the cycle of vision and revision, the stalling and starting, the lurching movement forward.
Maybe it’s just as important to see life in progress, and just as magnanimous to show it.
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May 22, 2014
It’s been six years since we moved into our little house in the valley, a fact so unbelievable to me, I have to keep checking the math to be sure. But the math is correct. In the spring of 2008, when we downsized from our two-story, 2200 square-foot home, to a one-story, 1700 foot home, our boys were nine, seven, and four. Still little kids.
Even though we’d given up a lot of space, our new address seemed spacious after purging the clutter of a decade and actually decorating instead of ad-libbing with hand-me-downs and garage sale finds, as we’d always done before. The move reflected our shift to a new stage of family life–the middle years–where we would feel less squeezed for time and energy.
Fast forward at warp speed, and those little kids are big kids: 15, 13, and 10. We have two teenage boys. In case you don’t know, teenage boys rarely exist in ones and twos. They are pack animals. They travel in a cloud of testosterone-oozing, cologne-drenched baby-men. We call it the brozone.
The brozone comes in, not on little cat feet, but on the thudding soles of man-sized Vans and Converse All-Stars. It would come in on skateboards, but even “cool” moms have their limits. And I do hope I’m a cool mom—not cool in the sense of “anything goes,” but in the sense of providing a place where the brozone feels welcome. Because I would much rather wake up every weekend to three or four adolescent boys sprawled every which way on our living room sectional, hungover from nothing more than an all-night game of Halo 3, than not know exactly where my sons are after dark and who’s with them. I would rather the brozone come into our home and inhale all the cereal than wonder what’s available to inhale at an unsupervised party. We’re fortunate in that most of our sons’ friends have parents whose sensibilities are more or less in line with ours, but there’s always a kid whose mom or dad is parenting from a different place altogether. I’d rather those kids came to our house to hang out than vice versa.
It’s not that I’m trying to keep them on lock down. I’m no helicopter mom, and they’re all good boys. Teenagers need safe places where they feel comfortable, and I’m happy to give them one.
I would also like to have the family room back on weekend nights and mornings. And to maybe cut back the number of gaming controllers and consoles on the TV table by two-thirds.
My 13-year-old would also like to have his own room. He’s been sharing with his little brother since our first teenager graduated up to a room of his own, and he’s emphatically over it. I don’t blame him. When the youngest and oldest have friends over, he really has no place to go. He’s been more than accommodating, and a change is past due.
The fact is, we could all use more space. The reality is, moving or adding on isn’t feasible right now. And even if it were, would it make sense to size up for the sake of a few years? In less time than we’ve been in this house, our oldest will have graduated from high school, and this nest will begin emptying. I don’t want the brozone to get too comfortable.
So we’ve got to work with what we’ve got: 1700 square feet, three bedrooms, two baths, and a budget based on what’s left after orthodontics get started this summer–not much. Somebody’s going to have to use her imagination. It also looks like somebody is giving up their master bedroom to make way for a teen lair, where two baby men can hang out, study, play games, draw, and sleep without being on top of each other. It’s a daunting sacrifice, but a temporary one. We’ll either reclaim our space when they start going to college, or we’ll have moved by then. In the meantime, I’m hoping we gain more privacy than we lose. Call it a strategic retreat.
Things will get started as soon as my oldest goes to summer camp next month. I’ll be chronicling the process for moral support and motivation. Meantime, you’re welcome to check out my Teen Lair Pinterest board. I’d love your ideas–and if you’re raising, or have raised teens, your own solutions for giving everybody some space.
CommentsAs you know, our son just graduated from high school, and boy ... by John VandersliceWhat a great idea! I think you'll love the outcome and it will ... by Elizabeth HarperI can't wait to follow along – our house is a little bigger ... by Meagan FrancisI think temporarily turning over your master to the brozones is ... by Talya Tate BoernerRelated StoriesKnitting Season is OpenThe Thanking TreeA minimalist gift for the maxed out.
May 14, 2014
I wish I could post the fragrance. It borders on too much.
The fireflies can’t be far behind. Any evening now, my youngest will burst in from outside, calling for something to catch them in. In a crate on the back porch, there’s a stash of jam jars with hole-punched lids, a little rusted and dusty, but ready to go. Maybe his teenage brothers will join the chase again this year. Or maybe not. They’re like fireflies themselves now, blinking in and out of view, and I’m the one running behind them with my jar, catching them for a moment, then letting them go.
It’s all so sweet and fleeting–the honeysuckle, the fireflies, these years.
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May 12, 2014
I woke up last weekend needing to dig in the dirt. That urge has been somewhat restrained since we moved to the little house in the valley. I had a very big, very ambitious perennial garden at our old address, and I just haven’t felt like committing to another long-term landscaping relationship.
I flirt around with growing vegetables instead, in a 4 x 4 raised bed that was a gift I chose for myself on Mothers Day a few years ago. It’s a brief, but intense infatuation. Spring comes, and I get excited by the possibilities. I have visions of ripe tomatoes and bell peppers falling into my open arms by the bushel. I obsess over seed company websites and garden forums. I head to the home improvement center and I buy starter plants and soil mixes. Then Southern summer hits, and I am all, excuse me, do I know you? to my parched and withering crop, panhandling for water and fertilizer.
Vegetables are so needy.
Every spring, I forget all that. Or I sort of remember it, but I persuade myself that this time, this summer, it will be different. Saturday morning, off I went to the home improvement store, preempting an intervention from Patrick by invoking Mother’s Day privilege. I was trying to appear calm and casual, but inside I was burning to get to the store to pick up the latest gizmo that I know will be the answer this time, a self-watering container system (a SYSTEM) that hordes of Home Depot reviewers assured me will practically farm itself. As of one a.m. Friday, which is how late I was up googling tomatoes, there were eight units in stock at our local store. I could barely sleep for worry that others in my city would learn about this miracle product overnight, and beat me to them.
Come morning, I entered the garden center with laser focus, fully prepared to do battle with anyone trying to come between me and my “City Pickers” planter. But I didn’t have to, because–can you believe it–all eight boxes were still in stock. I had a budget that would just cover one, plus the prescribed soil mix, nutrients, and transplants, or I would have grabbed three, maybe four. Because think of the savings in produce!
There’s a whole other form of wishful thinking going on there, with respect to how many fresh vegetables my family will actually eat, even if I could grow them, but that’s another topic.
The planter had very specific instructions about the growing medium, because it’s a SYSTEM, but I was on my own to choose what to grow. Thank God I had to be somewhere in an hour, because it doesn’t take a long time in the vegetable aisle for me to get thoroughly lost in the weeds. Also, I was already over budget by half, and I feared Patrick bringing up the inconvenient math of past investments in vegetable gardening. I managed to get a handful of cherry tomatoes from last years’ garden and he said he’d never tasted $100 tomatoes before. The fact that I now have a SYSTEM would be lost on my husband, oh he of little faith.
After several rounds of picking out plants and putting them back, I settled on two tomato plants, a bush cucumber, a hot pepper, and a sweet pepper.
Do you remember getting a new toy at the store when you were a kid, and you could not wait to get it home and play with it? On Saturday, I was that kid, and this was my toy:
Maybe that’s what gardening really is for me–an excuse to play, which is something I recognize I need more of in my life, but have a very hard time granting myself permission to do. Gardening looks industrious, but maybe it’s just a cover so I can dig in the dirt, like my ten-year-old does for hours without asking what for. When I don’t take time to play, my creativity and productivity become miserable indentured servants. I wind up stealing time from myself here and there to feed them pilfered crumbs of junk that don’t satisfy.
The assembling and planting of the new planter was over in a couple of hours, but there is more digging and dreaming to be done. The Littlest Who and I are going to try a “Three Sisters” planting of corn, beans, and squash in the 4 X 4. We have a packet of morning glory seeds for the bamboo tee pee. I’ve staked out a new bed in front of the porch for annuals. And there are the petunias he brought home from school in a cup, for Mother’s Day. I planted those with some new ones in a hanging basket. I’ve been in and out of the house all morning, doting on my veggie box. The cucumbers are growing new leaves already. The tomato plants seem taller than they were two days ago. Maybe this year will be different. Maybe I’ll actually harvest enough of a crop to bring the price per pound down to under $20.
Or maybe not.
Either way, I think it was a good investment.
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May 2, 2014
See that cute little tomboy on the left? That’s my Nana Ferne. Her handsome papa was Johannes Henry Neilson, and that grim looking lady next to him is my great-grandmother Ruby Nancy Neilson. My mother remembers her as quite a lively lady, so maybe she was suspicious of the camera. Or just plain worn out. Look at all those kids.
Henry’s parents were Danish immigrants to Canada in the late 1800s, who founded a farming community near the border between New Brunswick and Maine, clearing the forest by axe, and eventually transforming the land into the pastoral countryside they were persuaded it was before they left Copenhagen.
Until recently, I didn’t know anything about Ruby’s origins, except that she came from Maine, and that she had been adopted by the people from whom she got her maiden name.
I mentioned that when my Ancestry DNA results came in, I had two close matches right away. The first was a long-lost, recently-found 2nd cousin on my father’s side. The next was an estimated 4th cousin. I clicked on her family tree, and started scanning for common surnames. There were none, until I came to the one that belonged to my great-grandmother’s adopted parents: Boynton. I scrambled along the branch, and quickly came to their first names. But how could that be, since Ruby wasn’t their biological child?
I fired off an excited message to my DNA match, who lives in Maine, and sure enough, she and my mother were third cousins “on paper.” Her great-grandfather and Ruby’s adopted father were brothers. Our kinship should have been in name only, but here was the genetic data saying it was also through blood.
I looked up and down both our trees for any other way we could be related, and found nothing. The most obvious and likely explanation was that Ruby had been adopted within her biological family, as was common in days of bigger clans and earlier mortality.
After searching the rest of my DNA matches for her maiden name (as well as new ones that the database finds continuously), the evidence mounted. If great-grandmama Ruby wasn’t the biological child of these people, one of my great-grandparents was. And they weren’t.
So, who were Ruby’s biological parents? We’ve narrowed it down to two suspects, both siblings of her adopted father, both whose lives ended early. We may never know which, or more information may surface—which it seems to nearly every time I login to my Ancestry account. As more people share their family trees and DNA online, more pieces of the picture come together, like we’re all gathering up shards of something that broke apart into tens of thousands of pieces and are patiently gluing it back together.
It kind of blows my mind.
What really blows my mind is learning that my American roots, through Ruby, run deep and long. Back to the Revolution, back to the Pilgrims, back even farther than my husband’s tree shows so far. Eleanor Pell, my eleventh great-grandmother, was born in Boston in 1614. Her husband, John Boynton came to the Massachusetts from England in 1643.
Even though I vaguely knew that my great-grandmother on my Mom’s side came from Maine, I’d always considered myself a stranger to these United States of America. I’m the first generation American, I’m the modern pilgrim to the New World. That’s been my personal mythology.
But it turns out a lot of my relatives beat me to it. I’m at least a thirteenth generation American. I could qualify for the American Daughters of the Revolution. As the founding fathers surely intended the Constitution to say, there goes the neighborhood.
There’s more I want to write about adoption in family trees, because there’s a flipside to this story in which I realize that my adopted ancestors are as much part of my heritage (and sometimes more) than bloodlines, but it will have to wait for a separate post.
Meantime, how about a FREE 1-Year World Explorer membership to Ancestry.com (valued at $299), in time for an incredible Mother’s Day gift for yourself, your mom, your grandmom, or a mom you know? Just leave a comment, and a winner will be randomly drawn after noon CT, Friday, May 9th.
Ancestry.com is kindly sponsoring a series of posts on my incredible Ancestry journey. Congratulations to Melissa, who won the DNA test from Ancestry.com in April!
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April 29, 2014
On Sunday, our Littlest Who turned ten. The night before, he had a Minecraft-themed sleepover party (and by “Minecraft-themed,” I mean they played Minecraft and ate some brownie squares with green icing– don’t bother looking for the DIY tutorial on Pinterest). In the morning, they had more Minecraft, and donuts. The birthday boy opened his presents from us, and began planning how to spend the gift cards that were burning a hole in his pocket. I told him we could go shopping wherever he wanted, as long as I was back in time to bake cake for our dinnertime family celebration. In spite of a worrisome weather forecast that his Dad and I were keeping anxious eyes on, it was shaping up to be a very happy day.
Shortly after the last guest left, Patrick quietly alerted me that our dog, Fanny had taken a sudden turn for the worse. Fanny was an old lady–at least 15 years old, since she was an adult dog when I adopted her from a shelter in 2001. It’s been clear to us over the last month that she was winding down–she had all but stopped eating, and was sleeping almost around the clock–but she wasn’t in any apparent suffering or distress.We agreed there was no point putting her through the trauma of a visit to the vet until it was clearly time.
Clearly, on Sunday, it was time. As I sat next to her on her bed, it was plain that she was not resting comfortably anymore. After a brief period of hoping against hope that we might be able to postpone the inevitable just one more day, we gathered the boys together and explained that it was time to say goodbye.
I accompanied each separately. “I’ll have my birthday supper tomorrow,” my youngest said, as he wept. Our thirteen-year-old, who has always been the most nurturing to Fanny, stroked her fur in silence, his face ashen. Then he went to his room and lay face down on his bed.
My eldest son came with me to the emergency vet clinic. I’ve never been so proud of my firstborn as when that tall young man wrapped one strong arm around my shoulders, and kept his other hand gently stroking our dog as she went to sleep for good. It happened very swiftly and serenely. She was there one minute, and then she was gone.
It’s a holy thing to be present for someone when they die, I told him, remembering that we were both beside his grandmother when she took her last breath, him tumbling in the womb, yet to take his first. Birth and death, joy and grief, the coming and going of things, all mixed up together.
“Let’s have a birthday,” I told our not-so-little Who when we got home. “We can be happy and sad today. That’s how life is sometimes.”
And so we had a very happy birthday on a very sad day. Gift cards spent to the last nickel, extra big slices of chocolate cake, the declaration of a family rest day on Monday, and a special wish granted to a 13-year-old brother who is a friend to animals (even the orneriest ones like Fanny), and deserves his own phone. None of it to deny what was lost, but to celebrate all we’ve been given.
Goodbye, Fanny. You were a crabby, crazy old dog. And we miss you.
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April 22, 2014
I promised a mystery story for the next Ancestry giveaway post, and I’ll make good on that before the month is through, but something huge has happened since I last wrote about researching our family tree, and I think it warrants a special edition.
A few Saturdays ago, I dropped in on the Arkansas History Commission, to kill some time between dropping off and picking up one of the kids from a school event nearby. I had been meaning to look up the Civil War widow’s pension application of Patrick’s great-grandmother, which was filed with the State of Arkansas in 1901. There was a summary of it on Ancestry, stating the date of the application and which unit her husband fought with, but I thought it would be interesting to see the original document. I’ve been having trouble tracing her background, and I hoped there might be a morsel of information in the file that hadn’t carried over to the digital record–a next-of-kin, a maiden name, some clue about who she was before she married the man whose namesake I married.
I sat down at the microfilm reader, and started scrolling until I found her name. There was the application, filled out in bold, inky cursive. I pressed the forward button. There was the auditor’s stamp and the authorization for a $50 pension. That should have been it, but I pressed the button again, just in case. The screen was filled with faint, spidery script. I wasn’t sure what I was seeing, or if it was even part of the same file. I pressed the forward button again, and again, and again. Two words kept catching my frantic eyes:
Breath held, I scanned for a signature line. At the bottom of every few pages I found my husband’s name.
The staff must have thought I was deranged as I leaped up from the microfilm reader, and leaned over the help desk.
“Originals. Have. To. See. Now? YES?”
I was politely asked for my phone and purse, shown into a glass walled room, and seated at a desk, where I waited for the archivist to come back with either a security guard or the pension file. Maybe they see people’s heads exploding all the time, because she returned with the latter. A folder was placed in front of me. Inside, sandwiched between layers of clear plastic film, were a half dozen letters from the Civil War, written between 1861 and 1864, fragile as pressed flowers.
”Dear Wife, it is with pleasure I seat Myself to drop you a few lines…”
I must have made quite the spectacle in my glass aquarium for the next hour, as I smiled and frowned and puzzled and wondered and wept over those letters. The first is dated ten days after leaving home to go to war, the last is dated June 18, 1864. They begin in a spirit of confidence and adventure, and end in resignation to defeat, and the glad anticipation of coming home. In between are all the reassurances, remonstrances, tedium, and tenderness of marriage, so ordinary and familiar as to render that great and terrible war mere backdrop to the story of daily life. As all history ever is.
Patrick the fourth, reading aloud the letters of Patrick the first.
I had copies of all the letters made, and have carefully transcribed them. Look for excerpts to come soon.
This post is from my blog, Planting Dandelions. Let's hang out on the FB.
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April 21, 2014
In case you’ve been missing my Facebook page updates since the latest algorithm scramble, all are now welcome to follow public updates on my personal Facebook page, by choosing the button that looks something like this:
Or just click the widget in the blog sidebar.
I really enjoyed chatting with readers on my author page before the changes, and I hope this solution will allow us to continue those conversations. Maybe see you there!
This post is from my blog, Planting Dandelions. Let's hang out on the FB.
April 16, 2014
Two years ago this month, my mom messaged me on Facebook with the news that my late father, poet and playwright Al Pittman had been selected as an honoree of Project Bookmark Canada—the eleventh Canadian writer to be so honored. A ceramic plaque, printed with an excerpt of his poem, The Sea Breeze Lounge, would be permanently installed near its geographical setting, in Woody Point, Newfoundland.
The news was thrilling on two counts. First, that the plaque would be a visible affirmation of Dad’s literary legacy, his work memorialized as a physical landmark (one of thirteen Canadian writers to have been so honored so far, including his dear friend Michael Ondaatje). Second, HOW COOL is it that such a project exists anywhere in the world, with a mission to put “stories and poems in the exact, physical locations where literary scenes are set.”
Pretty damn cool.
The Al Pittman Bookmark was unveiled in August 2012, eleven years after my father died. I wasn’t able to be there, but I think you can tell from the photo what a happy day it was for our family:
(From l-r, my nephew and niece, my little sister, my moma , a nd Dad’s big sister. Oh, and Kanani, my American girl doll niece. )
But how much more important is what each Bookmark means to the person who happens upon it in its place. Like finding a window that opens upon a whole other dimension—the one written in words.
Project Bookmark Canada intends to create a cross-country network of hundreds of plaques, with your help and mine. I’m donating $20 to the project, and hoping many of you will do the same. Being part of something so wonderful is its own reward, but each person donating $20 today will be eligible to win a signed, hardcover copy of my book, Planting Dandelions.
Please consider a donation and do share the word about this great project. I’m hoping it spreads worldwide.
This post is from my blog, Planting Dandelions. Let's hang out on the FB.
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April 15, 2014
TestRocker is giving away six months of online SAT or ACT test preparation to a Planting Dandelions reader (a $699 value)! Details at the bottom of this post.
My ninth-grader wrote his first official, on-the-record college entrance exam last month. As we drove to the testing site that morning, I contemplated saying something like, “Remember you’re a few years younger than most people taking the test today—don’t be discouraged if you find it difficult this time.”
At the last minute, I decided not to adjust the bar for him, but to let him locate it for himself. “Do your best!” I said, and wished him luck.
When he reported that the test was “easy,” I chalked it up to teenage insouciance, and didn’t put too much weight on it. Either way, I was proud of him for sticking with the study program for nearly six months.
I didn’t expect to be able to view his score for a month or more, but when I logged onto his ACT account a few weeks after the test date, it was ready.
Now, I went to high school in Canada, a thousand years ago, and we didn’t write standardized entrance exams for college. So I had no clue what the number I was looking at meant. But after consulting Patrick, and poring over the percentile tables for both the composite score and individual test sections, I can tell you I was one very proud and happy mama.
This kid doesn’t need the bar lowered. In fact, it’s tempting to raise it by speculating what his ACT scores might look like by the time he’s a senior and has written the test two or three times. But those are chickens yet unhatched and best uncounted.
As for the scholar, he’s happy with the results. Though he may already regret his spectacular score in one particular subject for which he’s been bringing home unspectacular grades from school. So much for excuses.
It’s hard to say whether the test gave him a confidence boost, or made the prospect of college seem that much nearer and more real, or he finally felt the nip of my tiger mother teeth, but I see him working harder on all his grades this last quarter. Even after he’d cashed his subcontractor check from me, and bought the well-earned longboard of his dreams.
So, big thanks to TestRocker, for sponsoring this experiment, and big thanks to you for following along. The future looks bright.
To enter to win a $699, 6-month TestRocker program for a student in your life, please follow this step :
Tag TestRocker’s facebook page in a Facebook post, telling them why you and your child want to study with TestRocker. Your post must be set to public, and it must include both @TestRocker AND #testrocker in order to qualify. (Yes, it’s a little more involved than usual, but this is a much bigger prize than usual.)
This contest ends April 25th and the winner will be announced on TestRocker’s facebook page onApril 26th.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE. Skateboards for everyone! Kidding. It’s cooler than that: everybody gets access to an exclusive offer for TestRocker’s study program (and a generous one). Simply email firstname.lastname@example.org and mention Planting Dandelions for a special discount on the program.
Thanks again, and good luck!
I’m very happy to disclose that TestRocker provided my son with six months of access to a customized ACT study plan, and sponsored a series of posts about the experience. All opinions are mine and his. Sign up here for your free TestRocker trial, and learn how it can help your child.
This post is from my blog, Planting Dandelions. Let's hang out on the FB.
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