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Saturday, September 27, 2008

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Because They Took All of Mommy's Other Little Helpers Away

I'll be giving a short talk on "The Hows and Whys of Mommy (& Daddy) Blogging today at 11:30 a.m., at the Education Expo presented by Little Rock Family magazine. I am nestled among some other parenting themed presentations that sound truly useful. The full schedule is here. Admission is free. Drop by. Bring coffee.


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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

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But I Do Know That I Love You


"I don't like my new school anymore," my eldest son said Monday morning, his brow and chin pressing toward each other.

I was surprised. A good student, and a natural extrovert, he has been enthusiastic all along about the switch to our new neighborhood school.

"What's happened that you don't like?" I asked him.

"Nothing. I just don't like it anymore." The caravan of kids he walks with was coming up the road, but he was crying. I sent his younger brother on his way, and sat down with my firstborn to try and find out what was going on. I got nowhere. Neither did his dad, who drove him to school.

At lunch time, he brightened to see me sit down at his table. His day was going okay. By the time I picked him up at the end of the day to walk him home, he was ready to tell me.

"I don't want to be sent out for ETC."


I can't remember what it stands for, but ETC is the new acronym for what used to be called GT— the gifted and talented program in our public school district. His teacher had told me she would likely refer my son to it at the conclusion of the first nine weeks. He keeps telling me that the math they are studying is all stuff he learned last year in private school.

Between you and me, I think he's been enjoying the coast. I don't blame him. The non-academic lessons of adopting a new school culture are challenging enough. Grade four math is probably the most familiar and easy thing in his day, and now he's worried about being pushed even further out of his comfort zone.

My son has a lot of ego invested in being smart. Within a few months of starting kindergarten, his classmates were already identifying him as the brainy one, and he soaked it up like a sponge. This has cast me in the role of Mother Gump.

"Smart is good," I tell him, over and over. "Kind is better."

Smart is as smart does, Forrest.

I value intelligence, but I don't really believe you get points just for having it. It's an attribute like good looks, health or wealth: it comes easy to some and hard to others. It's what you do with it that counts. And if it happens to come easy to you, I think you are called to do more with it.

I am soft on my children in a whole lot of areas. But not this one. I am raising three white, American men. As a woman who grew up outside this country, watching the impact of white, male American privilege around the globe, you better believe I take the job very seriously. I am glad they are intelligent. But I want them to grow wise.

I gave it to my son straight.

"Look," I said, using my Kyran-not-Mom voice. "You have a good brain. It doesn't make you better than anybody else, but it's a gift, and it comes with a responsibility. It's like a muscle. You have to keep exercising it, and when the exercises get too easy, you have to find new ways to challenge it."

"I think you can do the ETC. If it's truly too hard, you won't have to stay in it, and I'll still love you just as much anyway. But you can't let fear stop you from trying."

It's a speech I know well, because I have to give a variation of it to myself every day lately. Sometimes in the middle of the night.

I'm working on the first few chapters of a book, and it's really pushing me outside my comfort zone. Just when I've begun to feel in command of this instrument, I have to learn a new one, writing much longer personal narrative offline. It's unfamiliar and hard. It takes me in directions I wasn't expecting. In places, I feel utterly lost, and then I stumble through the weeds and realize that the story knows where it's going even when I don't.

There's a part of me that would like to just stay with what I know. I've got to remind that part everyday that I have an opportunity that others dream of, that I spent a long time dreaming of myself, and that I've got to go for it, even if it doesn't work out.

I promised myself I'd finish Chapter One on Tuesday. Tuesday night, after the kids were finally in bed, I wanted nothing more than to turn on the television and drift off. "I don't like writing a book anymore," I thought.

Too bad. Get up. Make coffee. This is your moment. Show up for it.

I finished the chapter a little past midnight. I feel pretty good about it. I wish I could stay there.

When I finally got to bed, I dreamed about a giant snake that I was afraid might be poisonous (in addition to being 50 feet long), that turned into a girl who became my friend. I'll take that as a green light from the unconscious.

My son also had a scary dream that night. He said a goblin reached out and grabbed him by the ankle and then turned into a basket of toys that was spilling over the floor. "The goblin was little, but it shocked me," he said.

"Do you think it was trying to hurt you?" I asked.

He thought for a minute. "No."

"Sometimes a dream is your brain's way of working on a problem while you're sleeping," I told him. "It's like a game of charades, using pictures of things to show you something about the situation."

I asked him what the toys were. He said, "Paintbrushes, and baseballs, and things from hobbies. Things I've used before."

We rumbled around some ideas, and then I offered up the obvious.

"So, do you think the dream is saying anything about ETC?"

He jolted slightly with the kinetic surge my dreamwork training has taught me to notice— the body's "a-aha."

"It's like it's shocking at first," he said, snatching the air with his hand.

I don't share my son's kind of smart. I'm no good at math. Like Sam Cooke sang, I don't know much about history, geography, or trigonometry. (Actually, I know nothing at all about trigonometry. I had to look up how to spell it.) My intelligence is all tied up in symbol and intuition. I am good at diving into the unseen, tying it on to something concrete and hoisting it up. This is pretty much useless for anything practical in life. It sometimes makes me good at writing. It occasionally gives me insight into dreams.

"So maybe the thing you're scared of turns out to be stuff you've used before," I said. "Stuff that's fun and creative and familiar."

"Yeah," he said, smiling. His mind was as happy chewing on this thought as a puppy with a new squeaky toy. I could see him nuzzling the idea, running down the corridors of his mind with another way of thinking to add to his basket.

I hope he will always be adding to it, that it will always be spilling over with ideas, talents and interests, and that he won't let fear—goblin- or anaconda-sized— keep him from going to it. That he and his generation of American men—all colors— will have keen minds, deep souls, courageous spirits and big hearts.

What a wonderful world that will be.


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Monday, September 22, 2008

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The longest journey

It was our eleventh anniversary on Friday, and we watched our wedding video in its entirety for the first time. All four of our parents stood with us on that day. In less than six years, three of them were dead, and we never could bear to watch it.

Friday night, while the pizza was baking, I walked back to our bedroom and found the cassette where I've kept it for eleven years, in a suitcase, next to the ream-deep stack of email transcripts that records our courtship. We called the kids into the family room, piled up on the sofa, and hit play.

It was so much more sweet than bitter, though I wept to see my father walking down the garden path with me. I was amazed by all I'd forgotten about it. Mostly I was struck by what babies Patrick and I still were, even though we were just shy of 35 and 28, and going into our second marriages. And I thought the hard part of life was all behind us!

That made me smile and cry. As did the moment when my father took the stage at the reception, and read this poem that he wrote me when I left Newfoundland, nearly thirteen years ago:

To Kyran in Full Flight

The borders you must cross to get to Mexico
are nothing compared to the borders
you’ve crossed to get where you are.

Going toward yourself
is the longest journey of all.

There are instruments to help you
get to San Miguel de Allende.
But the southbound bird winging
its way south without map or compass
holds within its heart some knowing
unknown even to itself.

Your lover awaits your arrival
in full knowledge that you have been
his destiny all along. The artist
who painted your portrait portrayed you
as a bird imprisoned on its perch.
Your expression there –
the grim anticipation of flight.

Now (fold upon fold of that feathered grip let go)
you’ve taken to wing. Now you have no instruments
to guide you. And now your destination
has nothing to do with Mexico.

The horizons tumble away as they leap-frog
forever forward in front of you. Your journey
is the journey that has no end.

I will miss you. And I will envy your lover
his destiny under the ancient Aztec sun.
But as long as you travel the endless skyways
to (and ever toward) your heart’s delight
I’ll be there with you, soaring somewhere
alongside – winging it all the way.

Al Pittman, copyright held by the estate of Al Pittman, all rights reserved.

That poem was included in his last published collection, Thirty for Sixty.


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Friday, September 19, 2008

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Hollywood Legend

Gary "Hollywood" Ray, 1950-2008. My "special" shoes, 1997-2007.

I'm pretty sure it's against all kinds of rules to post an excerpt from a work in progress on your blog, and I'll probably have to take it down tomorrow, but I want to show you something I wrote yesterday morning that gave me occasion to think about an old friend we haven't seen in years. I paused for a minute while writing it, debating whether or not to use his "real" name, Hollywood. I decided it would be okay, and that he would probably be tickled to wind up in a book. I tried to figure out how old he was when we were hanging out, and wondered how he was doing these days.

When I got up this morning, eleven years out from our wedding day, Patrick had placed the obituary section of the newspaper on my place at the table. Hollywood died yesterday.

If you've never had breakfast with a fully bearded man wearing a trucker cap and a ladies' silver lame blouse wholly unbuttoned, you've merely scraped the surface of life. If it weren't for him, at least one chapter of my story would be a whole lot less colorful:

...I put the word out among our drinking associates that I’m looking for something that pays cash, under the table. Our drummer friend, Hollywood, a weathered and whiskered reprobate in the mold of Levon Helm, sends me to a blues shack down by the tracks, the venerable Whitewater Tavern.

As far as anyone knows, the Whitewater has been in Little Rock longer than Jesus, and its “corner crew,” the shift of hardcore regulars who cling to the corner of the bar with the tenacity and devotion of old world Catholics at daily Mass, sprang out of the red dirt with it. Its hymnal is the blues. Hang around a while and you will hear “Stormy Monday” in more variations than Goldberg had on Bach.

The place cycles through phases of vogue. Every few years, a new generation of white college kids rediscovers it, and it becomes the fashionable place to demonstrate one’s authenticity and hipster cred. New management comes in with new ideas. Stormy Monday goes out, replaced by punk, or pop, or rap or whatever music the hot new band in town is playing. The corner crew hunkers down; smokes, drinks, waits. The band gets signed and goes on tour, the kids move on, the band breaks up, the place burns down. Someday plays Stormy Monday. Repeat. The Whitewater Tavern is the blues.

The trough between “kids move on” and “place burns down” is the place where I come in.

Thank you, Hollywood. Peace, baby.

Me and Hollywood, God knows where, 1997.

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Still Rock and Roll To Me.


When I brought him to school the next morning, all his classmates dropped what they were doing and came to stand in a circle around him, staring with mouths open.

It was a bit like the end of Tootsie, when Dustin Hoffman pulls off his wig. I don't think they knew he was a boy.


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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

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No Carb Left Behind

In our house, supper time is time for family, not fighting about food. We have three boys. I figure they are in for a lifetime of nutritional makeovers from their future girlfriends and wives. Me, I try to have something on the menu for everyone, but if you don't like it, go fix yourself a sandwich, kid.

(Not you, Patrick. You eat that vegetable, mister, and you don't get up from the table until you do.)

Remember I told you my middle son subsists (and apparently thrives) on a diet that is 85 per cent beige?*

The rest of us had spaghetti and meatballs last night. This is his sandwich.


*The other 15% is dark brown—chocolate. Child does not eat meat, save for chicken. He once tried to tell me he was a vegetarian, but I told him that wasn't going to fly unless he ate a vegetable. Thank god for protein-enriched pasta and multi-vitamins.


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Monday, September 15, 2008

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Clap if You Believe

I know many of you bought the August issue of Good Housekeeping and even subscribed to the magazine when my story came out. YAY YOU! You are my favorites. Unlike someone who told me he was waiting for it to come in at the library. A person who aspires to be paid for writing. How he think that works, I'm not sure.

Note to friends or fans of writers: God knows, we love and use the public library, too. But not as much as we love to eat. Even if you must rely on a library copy, please never tell us. We keel over dead, like Tinkerbell, when you do that.

Unlike that feckless someone, some of you might have honestly missed it, or could not afford the two and a half dollars at the time. You are still my favorites. How could I, of all people, let procrastination and/or empty pockets come between us? Two and a half dollars has often been two dollars and fifty cents more than I have. So I'm happy to tell you that I just found out that my article, Mommy Wears Prada, is online in its entirety. Here you go.


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Thursday, September 11, 2008

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Yes, you can.

One evening four years ago, I wandered into the family room where the television happened to be on, and someone I'd never seen or heard of before happened to be speaking. I stood listening for a few minutes before I yelled for Patrick.

"Get in here, quick."


"Just come."

He came in, alarmed now. "What?"

I hushed him, pointed to the screen. "That man," I said, "that man is the next President of the United States."

That man, of course, was Barack Obama, and I hope with all my heart that the prophecy of my goosebumps comes to pass.

I've been debating for several weeks now, how much to say about that here. For one thing, I can't vote in this election, so it seems a little out of line to tell anyone else how they should cast their ballot. And even if I were a citizen, if I had a platform of millions, instead of hundreds, I couldn't tell anyone how to vote. Every person must vote their conscience. This I believe to the bone.

I keep that belief tucked next to my faith that America will come around to the right thing finally, though that faith wavers at times, as it has this past week or so. I've found myself slipping into fear. Fear that slightly more than half the electorate might not believe as I do, share the values that I do, think the same as I do. I've watched more television news in the past month than I have in the past four years, and there's a direct correlation between that and the fear.

It's time to change the channel. No matter what happens in this election, we all have to wake up and live together the next day. It's not as if the losing side gets voted off the island. The ideas represented by Sarah Palin and her most ardent followers scare the hell out of me. I'm guessing mine would scare the hell out of them. But I bet if we met each other as people and neighbors, not idealogies, most of us would do alright.

Ideas are important. Ideals, too. Don't get me wrong. It's good to ask yourself what you stand for. But then it's just as important to ask if that idea is something that works offscreen, in the context of living, breathing humanity. Is it a value you can embody at ground level, in one-on-one, face-to-face, encounters with real people? What if this were an island? What if you were stuck there with people who believe differently, act differently, think differently, and you had to make it work? How would that change the way we get behind ideas?

Because this world really is an island. We really are stuck with each other. And we really we have to make it work.

I won't tell you how to vote. I know you can and do think for yourselves.

Craig Ferguson does too:

P.S. Obama people, Dwight Yoakam's version of "Let's Work Together" would make a kick-ass campaign song, don't you think? McCain people, you didn't see that. ;-)


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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

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Goodbye Tony

(I was rifling through old folders today when I came across this poem, written in 1997. I never did get it to where I thought it really worked on paper, but I always had fun reading it. "Tony" was Tony Heilman, my best friend and sweetheart from kindergarten. He moved away that summer to Minneapolis, and I never heard from him again. I wish I had a picture of him. This one is me with my boyfriend the summer before kindergarten. His name was Christopher. He was nice too.)


I like you Tony. I really like you—really much— and some days, I like you too much. I might marry you when I grow up. Goodbye, Tony.

—transcript of a voice recording of me, age five.

Tony, you had already moved away
when I gave my five-year-old heart's testimony
to the microphone of my parents' Sony recorder
but you knew I'd stand by you always,
right from the day I walked over
to where you stood crying,
alone among strangers, your mother's back
fading to a speck in the distance.
I took your hand and told you
all we had now
was each other.

We made a life for ourselves then,
in the little cardboard house.
You went out to fight fires
and came home each day to me,
aproned and wifely. I remember
you were gentle with the babies
and could refuse me nothing.
I made you sleep naked with me,
your damp curls pressed to my cheek
and got you in trouble with your family.

I haven't learned much better since
but I feel if anyone could love me for who I am,
Tony, it would be you.

You would know that there had to be others
after you. That I could never let any lost boy
be alone among strangers, and you wouldn't
blame them either for the things I put them up to.

You would even understand how I could state
my best intentions in the same breath as goodbye.

Tony, I love too much.
I hope to find you someday
when I grow up.

© Kyran Pittman, all rights reserved


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Monday, September 08, 2008

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"Mom! Mom! Boxy's back! And he brought a friend!"

"Who's Boxy?"

"The box turtle we found last week! He has a friend! He was stuck on top of him, but we got them apart!"

"Wow. I bet Daddy knows how much he appreciated that. Don't you, honey?"


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Friday, September 05, 2008

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Back to whatever passes for normal around here...


Is it sending mixed signals to pause mid-reprimand to take a picture for the blog, do you think?


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Thursday, September 04, 2008

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A few weeks ago, I walked into Patrick's office to make an announcement:

"Merlin Mann is my new internet boyfriend."

Patrick shrugged. Last month it was this guy. The month before that it was someone else. It's always someone. Leapfrog in reverse for fifteen years and you go all the way back to Patrick, my first.

I can't ever tell if the shrug means "whatever," or "this too shall pass," or "good luck to that poor bastard." I think all of the above.

I was infatuated with Merlin Mann at that particular moment (yes, I've already moved on) after stumbling on his site 43 Folders, where he writes about attention management, an area in which I can always use more help.

Recently, I fell into a google rabbit hole that led me to take an online diagnostic test for adult Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder.

I didn't just test for some of the symptoms, some of the time. My clicks clustered around "all the time," "usually," and "frequently." I was staggered.

"I have adult ADHD," I announced to Patrick (this is more or less the rhythm of our days: me walking into his office to make a dramatic pronouncement, him shrugging). He shrugged.

"And this is news to you?"

Well, you think in twelve years, he would have said something.

Of course, I'm not going to definitively self-diagnose myself with anything based on a visit with Dr. Google. I don't believe my issues are so much pathology as they are personality. Still, it was strangely comforting to read through a list of areas in which adults with attention challenges frequently run into problems, and identify so much with it. And really satisfying to read the list of management strategies and see that I've already figured lots of this stuff out. Like the Zen of 3X5 index cards.

List making, breaking down big projects into small tasks, using a calendar, remembering to look at my calendar, making the way my mind works work for me: I know all these things. But then I forget them sometimes, and that's why I was so happy to come across Merlin.

I really need all the help I can get right now.

Because this person I dreamed up? Has appeared. If I were any happier, we'd be registered at Tiffany's.

This dream agent didn't say she'd take me on only after I'd figured out all the hard stuff by myself. She didn't hand me the ACME Formula for a Book Proposal and ask me to let her know when I'd filled in the blanks. She's not asking me to spend the next several months of my life writing about what I'm going to write about and pretending I'm in an expert in market research.

"Just write," she told me.

Just write.

She and the universe are going to take care of the rest.

Who knows what will happen? Someone will read what I've written and want to publish it or they won't. People will want to buy it or they won't. I know this much: worrying about the outcome does not fit on today's 3X5 list.

Writing the next five hundred words does.

So if the posting is a little light around here over the next while, I hope you'll understand why. And as deeply as I believe that this project will unfold exactly as it should, a few crossed fingers (novenas, burnt offerings, divine collective bargaining agreements or whatever else you've got) couldn't hurt a thing.


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