Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Weekly reading

As I have mentioned before, I am deeply indebted to the writer Anne Lamott for writing about her son’s first year in a memoir aptly titled: “Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year”. I had read the book prior to ever even dating my husband; mostly because it was the only thing on my sister’s bookshelf that looked even remotely interesting and that I hadn’t already read, and I loved it immediately. Since being pregnant, I am now on my fifth reading of the book and will probably keep reading and reading it for many years to come.

I love the book not only because of its very realistic account of what having a newborn is like, but because she also explores her faith and many other things within the book. I think Anne Lamott and I are cut from very similar cloth when it comes to our type of faith, our worship, our self doubts, our honesty and our humor.

There are many parts of the book that I have earmarked and underlined and called out with exclamation points, but there are two specifically that I would like to share here since they are very meaningful to me right now.

December 5

Pammy showed me a picture that someone took at the baptism of her holding Sam out toward the camera. He definitely looks like he was blown away by the proceedings, too, somehow sort of blank and surprised at the same time, like he had just that moment been plucked from a huge pie.

All these people keep waxing sentimental about how fabulously well I am doing as a mother, how competent I am, but I feel inside like when you’re first learning to put nail polish on your right hand with your left. You can do it, but it doesn’t look all that great around the cuticles. And I think that because I’m so tired all the time, people feel like I’m sort of saintly. But the shadow knows. The other night I was nursing the baby outside, underneath the redwoods, and you could see the full moon in the clearing of the treetops. Everything smelled so clean and green, and the night birds were singing, and then I started feeling a little edgy about money or the lack thereof. I started feeling sorry for myself because I’m tired and broke, kept thinking that what this family needs is a breadwinner. And pretty soon my self-esteem wasn’t very good, and I felt that maybe secretly I’m sort of a loser. So when my friend John called a few minutes later from L.A. and mentioned that a mutual friend of ours, whose first book was out (for which he had been grossly overpaid, if you ask me), had gotten a not-very-good review in Newsweek recently, all of the sudden, talking on the cordless phone and nursing my baby in the moonlights, I had a wicked, dazzling bout of schadenfreude. Schadenfreude is that wicked and shameful tickle of pleasure one feels at someone else’s misfortune. It felt like I’d gotten a little hit of something. It made me feel better about myself. “Do you have it?” I asked innocently, and he said that he didn’t think so because it was a week or so old. I then found myself clearing my throat and saying in a flat, innocently curious voice, “Why don’t you go look?” So he did, and returned to the phone with it, and I said, nice as pie, “Now read it.” And when he was done, I said, “Man, that was like Christmas for me.” Then we laughed and it was ok for a minute.

God, it was painful though, too, and the hangover was debilitating. I was deeply aware of the worm inside of me and the grim bits that I feed it. The secret envy inside me is maybe the worst thing about my life. I am the Saddam Hussein of jealousy. But the grace is that there are a couple of people I can tell it to without them staring at me as if I have fruit bats flying out of my nose, who just nod, and maybe laugh, and say, Yep, yep, I get it, I’m the same. Still, I feel like it must drive Jesus just out of his mind sometimes, that instead of loving everyone like he or she is my sibling, with a heart full of goodwill and tenderness and forgiveness, I’m secretly scheming and thinking my dark greedy thoughts. I say to him, Bear with me, dude. He does give me every single thing I need, but then I still want more, and I picture him stamping around like Danny DeVito, holding up these gnarled beseeching hands of frustration, saying, “Oy fucking veh.”

January 30

It’s great to have so many friends who had babies right around the time I did – even if it did make me bitter and resentful that they also got to have husbands and nurseries – because they all have extremely bad attitudes and sick senses of humor like me. It would be intolerable to call a friend, a new mother, when you were really feeling down and for her to say some weird aggressive shit like “Little Phil slept through the night yesterday, isn’t that marvelous since he’s only eight weeks old, and guess what, I’m already fitting back into my prepregnancy clothes.” You’d really have no choice but to hope for disaster to rain down on such a person.

Obviously there are many other points Anne makes between the December 5 and January 30 posts…about 27 pages worth, actually. But these two really speak to me these days because I am dealing with a certain person in my life that projects a certain amount of perfection and I just cannot help but let it get to me; in fact, I can barely keep it from consuming me. So it is nice to read that someone else not only feels this way too, but expresses it the way I would. It is refreshing to hear someone admit they aren’t perfect. It is validating to read that someone else struggles with the same issues that I do and it is hopeful that someone else considers it grace to have friends who “I can tell it to without them staring at me as if I have fruit bats flying out of my nose, who just nod, and maybe laugh, and say, Yep, yep, I get it, I’m the same”. Which isn’t to say that the feelings are good or moral or right; but to know that I am not the only one who believes in a God who saved me not just for the big sins but for just the sin of being human is comforting and fills those dark voids where the demons hang out with joy and peace and love.

Have you read anything lately that you really identified with?


  1. I am not pregnant and I haven't really identified with anything I have read lately, but I totally agree with you that it is comforting to hear other people echo things I have thought myself.
    When I was planning my wedding, there were often times I was sick of it and upset by it and it always made me feel so much better to hear other people say "Yeah, this sucks sometimes!" instead of pretending like it was the most fun thing in the world.
    I will definitely keep this title in mind for when my baby time comes . . .

  2. I was given Operating Instructions just after I had my first child. I would pick it up throughout her first year and my husband and I would laugh out loud with Lamott's words. Especially when she uses her baby to pick up oranges from the floor. We had all sort of "baby tricks" like that too! This book started my longtime (and still ongoing) love of all Anne Lamott's writing. One of my all-time faves is Bird by Bird.