A Journal of My Son\’s First Year
by Anne Lamott
Rather like Great with Child, this book is gathered from journal entries the author wrote, from the time of her son\’s birth until he was a year old. But that\’s where the similarity ends. Where Great with Child was full of introspection and nearly-philosophical musings, Operating Instructions is much more light-hearted, candid and often funny. It\’s the voice of a single mom struggling to get by, weathering the bumps of new motherhood without the support of the baby\’s father. At first she feels very alone, often frustrated and fearful; but soon comes to realize that there are plenty of people around her willing to shower her son with love. Friends, family and church members are all there when she needs them. Her journal entries jump around a bit, often with big gaps of time- there\’s almost nothing about the first few weeks, for instance- but then, who has time to write a lot with a new baby, colicky and up crying all night? It also seems like her insecurities, worries and surges of anger take over the pages- but when you think about it, that\’s when writing is more cathartic, when you\’re feeling blue, so I\’m not surprised that a journal would be heavier on the negatives than the good days. And there are shining moments when she expresses her deep love for her son and her gratitude for her friends. This was one of my favorite passages, I read it several times:
He\’s so beautiful, so funny, so incredibly dear, and he smells like God. When Mon or Dudu have to hand him back over to me when they are about to leave, they lean into his airspace and sniff one last time, trying to memorize him, maybe storing a little hit for later.
We all lean into him, soaking him up. It\’s like he\’s giving off a huge amount of energy because he hasn\’t had to start putting up a lot of barriers around it to protect himself. He hasn\’t had to start channeling it into managing the world and everybody\’s emotions around him, so he\’s a pure burning furnace of the stuff. This is my theory, anyway, that he radiates it; it\’s probably affecting us all like a spray of negative ions, like being in a long hot shower or t the seashore.
For instance, I notice that the kitty, who like all cats, is a heat freak, stands right next to him all the time. She basks in him…
Some readers might be dismayed at her frequent mention of a difficult past- before having the baby she used drugs, smoked and was an alcoholic. She bemoans missing the relief that drugs and smoking used to give her; it\’s admirable to me that she managed to kick all those habits and do what was best for herself and her baby. As you might have gathered by now, the book is actually more about the author\’s own ups and downs than the day-to-day miracles of watching her baby hit his milestones, per se- but I liked reading it all the same. It felt very honest.
I borrowed this book from the library. I feel like I tried to read it several times before, many many years ago; but none of the content was familiar so I must have given up really early way back then. Lamott also writes fiction but I\’ve never read any. Can anyone tell me about them? I liked her voice in this book, so I\’m thinking I might enjoy her novels, too.
Rating: 3/5 ……… 251 pages, 1993