Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year Paperback – 8 Mar 2005
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It's not like she's the only woman to ever have a baby. At thirty-five. On her own. But Anne Lamott makes it all fresh in her now-classic account of how she and her son and numerous friends and neighbors and some strangers survived and thrived in that all important first year. From finding out that her baby is a boy (and getting used to the idea) to finding out that her best friend and greatest supporter Pam will die of cancer (and not getting used to that idea), with a generous amount of wit and faith (but very little piousness), Lamott narrates the great and small events that make up a woman's life.
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Mums, old & new - this is a must-read book.
I laughed out loud a thousand times, and often had to wait for my eyes to clear of tears before I could read on.
Anne, you're an AMAZING author. I've also read "Bird by Bird" and loved that too.
Pammy gives her time, love and attention unconditionally to Anne and Sam, and doesn't seem to get much in return (though she does seem to have a wonderful relationship with Sam). When Pammy goes away for a break from constant caring (even when she's not round at the house, Anne is calling her up to pour out her feelings), Anne is angry with her, not happy that she gets some time out with her husband, some relaxation. Anne's bitterness towards women in happy relationships runs throughout a book about bringing up a child as a single parent. Even when Pammy is diagnosed with cancer and undergoing chemo, it is her own reactions and feelings that Anne describes. She seems completely unable to put herself to one side, even for a fleeting moment, and wonder what Pam herself might be going through.
Pam still comes round to deliver groceries; Anne can't even be bothered to buy her M&Ms at the theatre after her friend's endless devotion; when the news comes back that it's terminal, it's Anne who cries in the car and has to be comforted. There is a moment when Anne's brother comes around and does her chores (Anne has an endless round of willing chore-doers) and she reflects that it would be nice if she did something like that for Pammy who is very sick at this point, but there is no further mention of her putting this idea into practice. Briefly, Anne touches upon Pammy's own grief - the fact she and her husband have been trying for a child for ten years - and just as quickly dismisses it with, 'well, she's got a husband so she should be grateful'. It was here I really lost interest and sympathy with the book, and I just wanted to reach in and give Pammy a hug. She never gets to fulfil her dream of being a mother. I know I am bringing my own feelings into this, because I have had friends with children who just do not take the time to understand the very real grief of not being able to fulfil your deepest desire: to mother. When Pammy gets 'very sick from the latest round of chemo', Anne tells us that HER - Anne's - 'heart is broken' and then moves swiftly on with a description of her interest in a man she's met.
What's lacking here is any empathy, awareness, any pause for thought that Anne isn't the only person who has experienced hardship.
I couldn't understand this blindness to others, any of it, and it just stopped me in my tracks. I can't fault Anne's writing, which is fresh and zingy even after all these years, and I think her descriptions of new motherhood are real and raw and honest, which I like her for, but her navel-gazing and complete inability to look up from her own life sometimes and be there for others grates too much for me to wholeheartedly recommend this book. That's not to say I don't want to recommend it, because it's a very good read, but it has left me with a deeply sad feeling. One good thing: I wrote a card to my best friend just telling her how much I love her, and why.
God features a good deal in this book as Ann Lamott is a committed liberal Christian, and a politicised woman - what I found heartbreaking was that she wrote Operating Instructions at the time of Bush I's Desert Storm fiasco - it seems that in the intervening 15 years, little has changed.
That said, it is an interesting take on the early stages of motherhood.
It brought back lots of memories, brought on a few tears, and made me wish I'd kept a journal of my son's first year, to share with him once he's older.
I'd recommend this not only to mommies but especially for mommies-to-be because this is one of the few books that doesn't sugar-coat new mommy-hood but still makes you feel that it's well worth it.
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