Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions

by Lauren Kay Weber

Since classes have let out for summer, I have been working full-time.  Still, in the evenings, while Josh is diligently toiling away at his Hebrew homework or writing his daily blog post, I have grown weary of having nothing to occupy my brain space.  Don’t get me wrong, while I am near certain that I will never get burned out on my beloved Chopped, the Food Network has recently taken to playing Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives for hours on end.  I personally find Guy Fieri utterly repugnant, so I’m realllllllly left with nothing to do.  The solution?  I’ve been trying to always have a book nearby.

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The most recent book that I’ve finished was Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott.  I was introduced to the book at Cup of Jo. She has talked about the book twice, once in 2011 and then once just a few weeks ago.  She quotes a lovely passage in the more recent post; I encourage you to click over and read it.  The book is a really lovely, raw, witty account of her son Sam’s first year.  At the time of writing, Lamott was a more recently recovering addict – from addictions to everything from alcohol and hard drugs to food and men.  I didn’t know if I would really be able to connect with Anne’s voice in this memoir, but the rawness of her narrative drew me in.  There really was no filter on her truest thoughts – even if they were cruel or sarcastic.  It was refreshing to hear someone else have – and share so boldly – those thoughts that all of us have, but that we scramble around day-to-day trying to hide or erase with one of those big pink erasers from elementary school.  And then to hear these thoughts expressed so wittily…?  Sheer perfection.

Take this example, where she recounts having anxiety when bringing her son home from the hospital.  It made me laugh, and hard.

There are a couple of things I want to remember about Sam’s earlier days, his youth, now that he’s an old guy with no umbilical cord.  The first thing happened the day my friend Peg and I brought him home from the hospital, during what for me felt like the most harrowing ride a person could take through San Francisco.  The first time we hit a pothole, I thought, Well, that’s that, his neck just snapped; we broke him.

I’ve thought a lot about that car ride home that we’ll have with Asher in July.  I’ve run over in my mind many times the possibilities for the safest way to get that little guy home.  So, to read the above passage made me guffaw with laughter.

One of the bigger struggles Anne expresses in the book is her son’s lack of a father.  She repeatedly obsesses over which men in her life could fill the gap and help him when he becomes conscious of his lacking a dad.  It’s heartbreaking to read, while simultaneously making me both grateful for Josh’s consistency in our lives and also endearing me to the narrator.  She spends the book measuring herself up to these standards, continually finding herself to be wanting, but by the end of the book I could only find admiration for her and the work she had done to keep her life – and her little man – together as a cohesive family unit made of family and friends so close that they become an adopted family.

She has also prepared me in a funny way for post-birth.  Her candidness with the real after-effects of labor and the time that follows has definitely given me a warm feeling that this will, in fact, happen to me… and that it’s alright, that I will, in fact, pull through the changes to my body and to my sleeping schedule and to my heart.  I nearly died when she shared early on in the book the following:

People kept trying to prepare me for how soft and mushy my stomach would be after I gave birth, but I secretly thought, Not this old buckerina.  I think most people undergoing chemo secretly believe they won’t lose their hair.  Oh, but my stomach, she is like a waterbed covered with flannel now.  When I lie on my side in bed, my stomach lies politely beside me, like a puppy.

In short, the book showed me that motherhood is going to be glorious, wonderful, difficult, maddening, transformational, humbling… all of the above and so much more.  On top of that, Operating Instructions showed me that the roller coaster is a wonderful thing – the best thing – and made me feel up for the ride.

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