Monday, March 26, 2012

On Not Being Defeated and Defining My Tribe

If you've been following the story of my ridiculously logistically intense day with Little G and the Ladybug (start at the beginning - here), you know that once we finally got everyone napping, I eventually had to wake them up to head to our next adventure.

You see, my all time favorite author, Anne Lamott, was speaking with her son, Sam, in Coolidge Corner and then there would be a book signing.  And I HAD to go.  I HAD to.  Reading Anne Lamott's Operating Instructions: A Journal of my Son's First Year was a little like seeing my insides, my mentalness, my crazy, my heart, my soul, my struggle, my joys and my tears in print - like someone had seen a vision of exactly who I was and how I felt and put it all into words more real and more lovely than I could ever attempt.  I had to go.  I had to meet her.  I had to see for myself that Sam had 'made it to the water'.  I had to thank her.

I signed up for tickets a couple of weeks ago and I knew that, logistically speaking, it wouldn't be the easiest for me to get to the theater by the start time of 6pm since my husband usually walks through the front door about that time.  But in the end it all worked out.  My husband met me in Coolidge Corner after work to take the kids - even though he had been up since 4am and already traveled to Providence and back AND then gone all the way into his office in the city just to turn around and meet me.  I left him with my friend, SRH's, husband and our other friend, Roberta's, three year old, and my group of three headed into the theater.

Anne and her son, Sam - the one she writes about in Operating Instructions who is now a bouncing 22(?) year old - were introduced and they spoke a bit and then they started reading excerpts from their new book, Some Assembly Required: A Journal of my Son's First Son.  At one point Sam referenced his mom writing once that the two best prayers she knew were,  "Thank you, thank you, thank you." and "Help me, help me, help me."  He said as a new parent, he wanted to add the prayer, "I am not defeated!", which I think is an amazing prayer that pretty much sums up my belief that for the most part God and I walk around in cahoots with each other -- so when I have a day like the first part of Wednesday, I give God a high five and She smiles at me and winks knowingly; or when I have not made it through the day with any semblance of grace, I can feel Her arms envelop me as she carries me through.

"I am not defeated."  -- It is my new war cry!!

Pretty soon Anne and Sam had spoken for thirty minutes so they opened up the theater for questions.  There were at least a million people in the theater and we were in the back, but I had a deep, burning desire to speak to Anne and thank her profusely for her book that I read three times before I had Little G and SIX times after!!  

Thankfully, I honed my how-to-get-picked-out-of-an-audience skills at a taping of David Letterman 15 years ago, so I raised my hand supah-fast and was called on.

Yeah...and then I turned into a blubbering fool.

No joke.

I believe my little speech went something like this:

"Hi.  I read your book Operating Instructions three times when I was pregnant with my sons and SIX times after he was born" 

(pause to actually start crying like a ninny and show off my most prized cry face)...



"it changed my life." 

Double sniff 

(insert audience "awwwww")  

"I'm sorry.  Ok.  Here I go."  

"My son, who is now 2.5 is clearly my hard one.  I know this because I have a four month old daughter who is the most zen baby on the planet.  My question is for Sam.  I like to write.  I have a smattering of a following on my blog.  At least four people read it.  And I have written about my son and our journey on my blog, and well... so... [voice of doom] 'that's forever'; so my question is: When you eventually read Operating Instructions, how did you feel about what your mom had written about you and did that change when you became a parent?"

And then I sat down and felt the blood rush back into my head and inwardly seethed at my inability to not be a moron in public.

But Sam responded so sweetly.  He did say that it was addressed in the new book, but that he considered the words his mother wrote as a love letter to him; that when she was gone, he would always have the words she wrote to him.

Anne added to what he said by saying that she has never published anything that would ever hurt Sam and she told a few anecdotes about some pieces that she wrote in the past - one that she ran by Sam as a teenager and he made her rewrite it so that it didn't make him seem like the enemy; another about a time Sam encouraged her to share a piece at a reading that would be attended by a lot of his friends because he knew that the mothers in the room would need to hear what she had to say. 

It meant so much to hear just that and then it got even better.  Another person in the audience asked a question that I can't remember (I was too busy regaining feeling in my face) but it apparently had something to do with what I had asked so Anne started talking about how things changed in 1970 with the women's movement and how all of the sudden it was ok to talk about feelings and to be honest.  She talked about how Operating Instructions was her, taking a chance on being real, because at the time the only books on babies that were available insisted that motherhood was easy.  

Anne talked about the mothers we all have and the 'other mothers' we have - the ones that lift us up and fill in the gaps that our own mother's can't fill - like a tribe of mothers all raising our kids together.  She encouraged us parents to create a tribe for our children. She talked about how becoming a parent is sometimes the first time a person is faced with who they are on the inside and how ugly that person can be - for some people it is feeling rage towards a baby, for others it is feeling nothing at all - and how scary and isolating that can be; especially when other mother's claim to never feel that way.  She talked about writing and about other writers and how so often we are the ones who were told earlier in our lives that we were too emotional, that we feel things too strongly, that we're too dramatic.

It was a beautiful moment in the theater as I listened to her voice and, as she is always able to do for me whether by prose or (now) in person, validated me.

The reading and question and answers came to a close and they announced that they would be signing books across the street at the book store.  Since we were seated in the back of the theater, we ended up getting to the book store pretty quickly.  I stood in line with my neighbor, K - who is quickly becoming an essential part of my kids' tribe-of-mothers - and spent the short ten minute wait sharing the story of the first part of my day with her.  The whole thing.  In detail.  In clear, funny, witty, intelligent sentences.  I mention this because AGAIN, when I got the chance to walk up to Anne and Sam, I turned into a blithering idiot.  I couldn't put a sentence together.  I told them I was the 'crazy lady' from the back of the theater that cried and they said, "Oh!  We LIKED you! We talked about it and decided it together".  Well then I was a goner.  Thankfully, K was able to speak for me and as I grunted at them and pointed at my book to be signed like an ape.  I did manage to say "thank you, again" as K shuffled me back away from the table so that I could stop frightening the authors.

So we walked out into the night and back to our little corner of Boston.  We headed to a local restaurant and talked about the wonderful event over refreshing cocktails and delicious food.  And then it was time to head home.

It was a long day.  God was with me all day long.  I was not defeated!!  And in the end, I was even rewarded with the opportunity to say thank you.

Thank you, Anne Lamott.  Thank you, Sam.  Thank you tribe.  Thank you beautiful babies of mine.  Thank you gracious husband.  Thank you, mom.  Thank you, other mothers.  Thank you, Jesus.  Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.


I have written about Anne before, though it has been a while.  You can read those posts here and here and here.


  1. Thank you.  thanks for going to this and writing about it and sharing it.  She is one of my heroes...I have fended off the crazies many times with her work.  Or been crazy and known it was okay, because of her. 
    Thank you.

  2. 1) One time I met Anne Lamott at the Brookline Booksmith!  It was awesome.
    2) I can *totally* picture you standing up, saying those things and then making your 'prized cry face'. Awwww.  I love that picture :)
    3) Gooooooooood question you asked.  That is a good questions.

  3. so, you didn't have a cry warning at the beginning of this piece.   oh!
    I can see all of this in my mind's eye...and I love this!  No Defeat!  And go Tribe!!!

  4. I LOVE Anne Lamott. I am so jealous that you got to meet her! Her book on writing, "Bird by Bird," is amazing, and I love all her other books as well. Now I feel like rereading them all...

  5. "She talked about how becoming a parent is sometimes the first time a person is faced with who they are on the inside and how ugly that person can be - for some people it is feeling rage towards a baby, for others it is feeling nothing at all - and how scary and isolating that can be; especially when other mother's claim to never feel that way. " 

    I can so relate to that. I think I need to reread Operating Instructions. I am starting to think I was in too much of a sleep deprived coma to get anything out of it the first time around.

    Good story, love. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Jennifer BuchananMon Mar 26, 06:19:00 PM

    I love Anne Lamott, but somehow never knew of "Operating Instructions".  Going to purchase today.  Thanks for sharing!

  7. Yeah...the 'been crazy and known it was ok' was a big part of my reading the book 9 times.  I've read many of her others and loved them just as much...but nothing prepared me for the cray-cray that is the season of parenting as much as Operating Instructions

  8. You know, she totally said she had been in Coolidge Corner before!!  She said speaking at the theater always made her feel like Cher.

  9. Your warning is that I always cry.  No really.  I cried at the end of Cool Runnings :)

  10. Yeah - I definitely need to read more...I don't think I've read her novels.

  11. Get thee to an independent bookstore immediately (or who are we kidding, Amazon).  You won't regret it.

  12. Yeah - the sleep coma is why I read it so many times afterwards...I could never remember the parts I needed but knew they were in there!