Monday, January 22, 2018

Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott

No, the worst thing, worse even than sitting around crying about that inevitable day when my son will leave for college, worse than thinking about whether or not in the meantime to get him those hideous baby shots he probably should have but that some babies die from, worse than the fears I have when I lie awake at 3:00 in the morning (that I won't be able to make enough money and will have to live in a tenement house where the rats will bite our heads while we sleep, or that I will lose my arms in some tragic accident and will have to go to court and diaper my son using only my mouth and feet and the judge won't think I've done a good enough job and will put Sam in a foster home), worse even than the fear I feel whenever a car full of teenagers drives past my house going 200 miles an hour on our sleepy little street, worse than thinking about my son being run over by one of those drunken teenagers, or of his one day becoming one of those teeenagers--worse than just about anything is the agonizing issue of how on earth anyone can bring a child into this world knowing full well he or she is eventually going to have to go through the seventh and eigth grades. 
I've always loved Lamott's writing (didn't someone on the blog read Bird by Bird last year?). She's funny, thoughtful, and I've always admired her ability to honestly and accessibly voice her own insecurities. In this, her memoir of her pregnancy and her son's first year, she doesn't disappoint. Lamott gets pregnant relatively late in life; she is alone, early (and thus, relatively unsuccessful) in her career, and still impressively hopeful. The book follows her and Sam through his first year and all of its attendant joys and horrors.

Lamott is her sarcastic, vulnerable self throughout. Nothing is off-limits: her struggle with addiction, her laundry list of insecurities, the ways in which pregnancy ravages her body. While I'm not sure that the title really bears out--this is not an instruction manual--her honesty is reassuring, even in its infinite anxiety. She doesn't lay out what we should do as mothers, but she does make it okay to not know what we should do. Of all the books and articles and endless pieces of advice I've encountered in the past 8 months, this may have been the most reassuring takeaway: it's okay to be utterly and totally clueless (and occasionally terrified).

I'm lucky to have a massive support system throughout this insane process--a fabulous husband, a steady job, an amazing community of friends--but almost all of Lamott's fears rang true (although she does veer into a slightly scary anti-vaxx space a couple of times). I know some women enter motherhood calm and collected, emanating grace and confidence, but that is not even close to how I feel. Seeing my fears laid out on the page made them that much more manageable, and having Lamott's wit and wisdom to help dispell them made me feel just a little bit more ready.

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