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Kyran Pittman, author of Planting Dandelions.
Kyran Pittman, author of Planting Dandelions.

The Daily Review, Tues., May 24

The party's over, the fun begins Add to ...

Expatriate Newfoundlander Kyran Pittman is no prim Junior Leaguer, yet the party girl and Little Rock, Ark., resident is the devoted mother of three rambunctious boys.

Pittman's debut memoir, Planting Dandelions: Field Notes from a Semi-Domesticated Life, is Erma Bombeck redux. This series of linked essays shows how the author "jumped the white picket fence" and, like a good dandelion, reluctantly adapted to a life of domesticity.

As I rule, I avoid essays about domesticated life. I don't have children and it can be a thematic barrier to participation. Pittman is a self-confessed party girl who defies and circumvents the stale mum stereotype. The fact that she manages to slip her incendiary writing past the stodgy editors of Good Housekeeping is reason enough to seek out - and applaud - her.

Not every mother is an earnest Brown Owl. Some even have Goldie Hawn-esque polyester mini-dresses tucked away in the back of their closets. Besides, Pittman's maternal subject matter is really just a backdrop for her deadpan humour, self-deprecating jibes and astute social commentary.

Motherhood hasn't softened Pittman's spunky attitude. The daughter of the late Al Pittman, a Corner Brook, Nfld., poet, comes by her wicked wit honestly. Pittman writes eloquently and authentically about co-parenting with her charming Southern U.S. hubbie, Patrick, keeping the fiscal wolf from the door and honouring her marriage vows.

In her essay Mom, the Musical, Pittman takes on competitive birthday parties, infantilized adults and Valentine's Day. "If you've seen videotape montages of 'happenings' in the sixties, you've seen something like a modern day Valentine's Day classroom party. On the glycemic disaster index, Valentine's is second only to Halloween."

Mommy Wears Prada is the middle-American housewife's equivalent of Pretty Woman. Pittman has the devious freelancer's ability to generate story ideas from anywhere. While skimming a ladies' magazine in the bathtub, Pittman is struck by their impractical designer-wardrobe suggestions.

So she pitches a story to Good Housekeeping. They consent to finance Pittman's manic, chauffeur-driven New York shopping spree. "Magically, we've already bypassed several significant obstacles to a middle-income mom looking to dress herself from the must-have list: geography, child care, money and parking."

In the caustic essay Me, the People, Pittman tackles her ambivalence about her adopted country. "As far as I knew from watching television, the entire citizenry of the United States was armed to the teeth, running around shooting each other over imported vehicles or a bad day at the post office."

The stealthy shape-shifter meets the extreme culture head-on. "I was playing a part. I drank bourbon, smoked Marlboros, got fake nails and knotted my shirts below my breasts. I thought I was on TV. I thought I was Daisy Duke. I thought I was bad ass. Dumb ass, more like."

Pittman is no dumb ass. She concocts a fine wine from the unruly weeds that bloom inside her white picket fence. Read Planting Dandelions. It's a riotous and compelling glimpse of life after a perennial party girl crosses over to the other side.

Patricia Dawn Robertson is a Saskatchewan freelance writer and retired party girl.

Author Kyran Pittman reads at Toronto's Harbourfront Reading Series, along with Howard Norman and Emma Ruby-Sachs, on May 25 at 7:30 p.m. (harbourfrontcentre.com).

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