Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year by Anne Lamott

A Book Review by Zinta Aistars

# Paperback: 272 pages
# Publisher: Ballantine Books, 1994
# ISBN: 044990928X
# $12.95

I have long been a fan of Anne Lamott's work and I have been a mom even longer than that... and so I opened the cover of this book pregnant with expectations. Lamott came through again. My own brood has flown the nest by now, that first incredible year is but a memory... but oh, forever a vivid and undiminished one. I found mirror pieces throughout her account as I recalled those nights of unutterable exhaustion, those days smeared with baby food spatterings, charged with squeals and squalls, and my own speech turned to a weird kind of baby babble. More, I remembered searingly those moments of holding my own, holding them so that no whirlwind or storm might have torn them from my arms, breathing in the sweet fragrance of their baby skin, knowing for the first time in my previously self-centered life... I would die for these little beings. Gladly.

Lamott captures uniquely all of these motherly emotions and experiences, the good and the uproariously less saner ones. She nails down perfectly the doubts and the frustrations and the madness and the sheer amazement of it all.

"It's mind-boggling that my body knows how to churn out this milk that he is growing on. The thought of what my body would produce if my mind had anything to do with it gives me the chill. It's just too horrible to think about. It might be something frogs could spawn in, but it wouldn't be good for anything else. I've had the secret fear of all mothers that my milk is not good enough, that it is nothing more than sock water, water that socks have been soaking in, but Sam seems to be thriving even though he's a pretty skinny little guy. I'm going to have an awards banquet for my body when all of this is over."

Lamott's talent is to take the everyday and wrap it in a self-effacing humor that is refreshingly real. Mostly, I enjoyed this, if indeed didn't laugh out loud at it. But there were also a few reading moments... when I didn't care for the distraction of hearing about her boyfriend woes, or when her past substance abuse unnerved me... or that I didn't particularly want to read a treatise on politics (even if often I found myself in agreement with hers). Perhaps even the account of her best friend's battle with cancer seemed to belong in a book of its own and not necessarily in this one. I suppose it can be argued, however, that life is rarely, if ever, so neat. Messes coincide. Mothers are also women with boyfriends. And politics affect us all.

This is not my favorite Lamott book, but it is trademark Lamott nonetheless. Not to be missed.

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