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

( 18 )

Overview

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 ...

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Overview

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.

It seems no mother of a newborn has ever been more hilarious, more honest, or more touching than Lamott is within these pages. As a single parent she struggles to support her little family by her wits and writing, learning that blessings and losses come together.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“An enormous triumph. . . . Charming. . . . Powerful. . . . Funny.” –San Francisco Chronicle

“A funny, self-mocking, vivid account.” –The Washington Post

“Smart, funny, and comforting. . . . Lamott has a conversational style that perfectly conveys her friendly, self-deprecating humor.” –Los Angeles Times Book Review

“Lamott is a wonderfully lithe writer. . . . Anyone who has ever had a hard time facing a perfectly ordinary day will identify.” –Chicago Tribune

“First class all the way. . . . Lamott, along with her novelist’s eye and often poetic prose, has a terrifically black sense of humor. . . . Deeply honest.” –The Detroit News

“Wonderfully candid. . . . Even non-parents will enjoy this glowing work.” –Publishers Weekly

“Lamott here shares her humor, faith, friendships, and irreverence. . . . Operating Instructions is enhanced by Lamott’s colorful and expressive language, her philosophical reflections, and her descriptions of many eccentric friends.” –Library Journal

“One need not be a new parent to appreciate Lamott’s glib and gritty good humor in the face of annihilating weariness. She’ll nourish fans with her entries, and give birth to new ones as well.” –Kirkus Reviews

“Painfully honest, laced with humor and poetry and moments of profound insight. It captures the intense fluctuations of feeling, the rapid alternation of exhilaration and fury, love and despair, that characterizes new parenthood.” –San Francisco Examiner

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Magazine columnist and novelist Lamott All New People captures both the poignancy and comedy of her first year as a single mother in this wonderfully candid diary. Her quirky humor steadily draws the reader into her unconventional world as she describes her friends and neighbors in northern California, her participation in a local church, her experiences as a recovering alcoholic and--best of all--her infant son, Sam, born in 1989. She covers maternal emotions from rapturous bliss to bare fury ``In the middle of the colic death marches, I end up looking at the baby with those hooded eyes that were in the old ads for The Boston Strangler ''. Throughout, she airs her strong political and religious beliefs. And when her best friend, Pammy, is diagnosed with terminal cancer, Lamott conveys her anguish with the same depth of feeling and sense of the absurd that characterize her observations about her son, God, recovery, writing, Republicans, men and life as usual. Even non-parents will enjoy this glowing work. May
Library Journal
This account is much more than a parent's chronicle of her initiation into parenting. Lamott, a 35-year-old novelist e.g., All the Right People , LJ 8/89, recovering alcoholic, and single parent, here shares her humor, faith, friendships, and irreverence. Her descriptions alternate between joy and despair as she tells of nursing her young son and watching him grow. Lamott also describes what it means to be a single parent, the sobering reality of being alone with financial responsibilities, and the trials of life as an older parent. Intertwined with the parenting account is a parallel story of the serious illness and impending death of the author's best friend. Operating Instructions is enhanced by Lamott's colorful and expressive language, her philosophical reflections, and her descriptions of many eccentric friends. Although this book may not appeal to all readers, those who enjoy diaries and first-person narratives will savor it. For most collections.-- Kay Brodie, Chesapeake Coll., Wye Mills, Md.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400079094
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/8/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 137,183
  • Product dimensions: 5.18 (w) x 7.98 (h) x 0.57 (d)

Meet the Author

Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott is the bestselling author of Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, and Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, as well as six novels, including Rosie and Crooked Little Heart. Her column in Salon magazine was voted Best of the Web by Newsweek. A past recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, Lamott lives in northern California.

Biography

Anne Lamott's recovery from alcoholism and drug abuse helped her career in two ways. First, it marked an artistic rebound for the novelist; second, she's become an inspirational figure to fans who have read her frank, funny nonfiction books covering topics from motherhood to religion to, yes, fighting for sobriety.

Early on, Lamott's hard-luck novels were impressive chronicles of family strife punctuated by bad (but often entertaining) behavior. Everyone in Lamott's books is sort of screwed up, but she stocks them with a humor and core decency that make them hard to resist. In Hard Laughter, she tells the (semi-autobiographical) story of a dysfunctional family rocked by the father's brain tumor diagnosis. In Rosie and its 1997 sequel, Crooked Little Heart, the heroines are a sassy teenage girl and her alcoholic, widowed mom. Another precocious child provides the point of view in All New People, in which a girl rides out the waves of the 1960s with her nutty parents.

Lamott's conversational, direct style and cynical humor have always been strengths, and with All New People -- the first book she wrote after getting sober -- she turned a corner. Reedeming herself from the disastrous reviews of her messy (too much so, even for the endearingly messy Lamott) 1985 third novel Joe Jones, Lamott's talent came back into focus. "Anne Lamott is a cause for celebrations," the New Yorker effused. "[Her] real genius lies in capturing the ineffable, describing not perfect moments, but imperfect ones...perfectly. She is nothing short of miraculous."

That said, Lamott's sensibility is not for everyone. The faith, both human and spiritual, in her books is accompanied by her unsparing irony and a distinct disregard for wholesomeness or conventionality; and God here is for sinners as much as (if not more than) for saints. Her girls are often not girls but half-adults; her adults, vice-versa. She finds the adolescent, weak spots in all her characters, making them people to root for at the same time.

Among Lamott's most messy, troubled characters is the author herself, and she began turning this to her advantage with the 1993 memoir Operating Instructions, a single mom's meditation on the big experiment -- failures included -- of new parenthood. It was also in this book that Lamott "came out of the closet" with her Christianity, and earned a whole new following that grew with her subsequent memoirs, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life and Traveling Mercies. However gifted Lamott was at conveying fictional stories, it was in telling her own stories that her self-deprecating humor and hard-earned wisdom really made themselves known, and loved by readers.

Good To Know

Lamott's Joe Jones, which is now out of print, was so poorly received that it sent the alcoholic Lamott into a tailspin. "When Joe Jones came out I really got trashed," she told the New York Times in 1997. "I got 27 bad reviews. It was kind of exhilarating in its way. I was still drinking and I woke up every morning feeling so sick, I literally felt I was pinned to the bed by centrifugal force. I wouldn't have very many memories of what had happened the night before. I'd have to call around, and I could tell by people's reaction whether I'd pulled it off or not. I was really humiliating myself. It was bad."

Lamott's father was a writer who instilled the belief in her that it was a privilege in life to be an artist, as opposed to having a regular job. But she stresses to students that it doesn't happen overnight; that the work has to be measured in small steps, with continual efforts to improve. She said in an NPR interivew, "I've published six books and I still worry that the phone is going to ring and [someone] is going to say, 'Okay, the jig is up, you have to get a job..."'

In an essay accompanying Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, Lamott described her decision to begin writing in earnest about Christianity: "Thirteen years ago, I first lurched -- very hung over -- into a little church in one of the poorest communities in California. Without this church, I do not think I would have survived the last few years of my drinking. But even so, I had written about the people there only in passing. I did, however, speak about the church whenever I could, sheepishly shoehorning in a story or two. But it wasn't really until my fifth book [Operating Instructions], that I came out of the closet as a real believer.... I started to realize that there was a great hunger and thirst for regular, cynical, ragbag people to talk about God..."

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    1. Hometown:
      Fairfax, California
    1. Date of Birth:
      November 30, 1953
    2. Place of Birth:
      San Francisco, California
    1. Education:
      Attended Goucher College in Maryland before dropping out to write

Read an Excerpt

SOME THOUGHTS ON BEING PREGNANT:
A PREFACE OF SORTS

I woke up with a start at 4:00 one morning and realized that I was very, very pregnant. Since I had conceived six months earlier, one might have thought that the news would have sunk in before then, and in many ways it had, but it was on that early morning in May that I first realized how severely pregnant I was. What tipped me off was that, lying on my side and needing to turn over, I found myself unable to move. My first thought was that I had had a stroke.

Nowadays I go around being aware that I am pregnant with the same constancy and lack of surprise with which I go around being aware that I have teeth. But a few times a day the information actually causes me to gasp—how on earth did I come to be in this condition? Well, I have a few suspicions. I mean, I am beginning to put two and two together. See, there was this guy. But the guy is no longer around, and my stomach is noticeably bigger every few days.

I could have had an abortion—the pressure to do so was extraordinary—and if need be, I would take to the streets, armed, to defend the right of any woman for any reason to terminate a pregnancy, but I was totally unable to do so this time psychologically, psychically, emotionally. Just totally. So I am going to have a baby pretty soon, and this has raised some mind-boggling issues.

For instance, it occurs to me over and over that I am much too self-centered, cynical, eccentric, and edgy to raise a baby, especially alone. (The baby's father was dramatically less excited than I was to find out I was pregnant, so much so that I have not seen or heard from him in months and don't expect to ever again.) At thirty-five years old, I may be too old and too tired to be having my first child. And I really did think for several seconds that I might have had a stroke; it is not second nature for me to believe that everything is more or less okay. Clearly, my nerves are shot.

For example, the other day one of the innumerable deer that come down here from the mountain to eat in the garden and drink from the stream remained where it was as I got closer and closer. It was standing between me and my front door. I thought, Boy, they're getting brazen, and I walked closer and closer to it, finally to within four or five feet, when suddenly it tensed. My first thought was that it was about to lunge at me, snarling. Of course it turned instead and bolted through the woods, but I was left with the increasingly familiar sense that I am losing my grasp on reality.

One moment I'm walking along the salt marsh listening to sacred choral music on headphones, convinced that the music is being piped in through my ears, into my head, down my throat, and into my torso where the baby will be able to hear it, and the next moment I'm walking along coaching the baby on how best to grow various body parts. What are you, some kind of nut? I ask myself, and I know the answer is yes, some kind of nut, and maybe one who is not well enough to be a mother. But this is not the worst fear.

Even the three weeks of waiting for the results of the amniocentesis weren't the most fearful part, nor was the amnio itself. It was, in fact, one of the sweetest experiences of my life. My friend Manning drove me into San Francisco and stayed with me through the procedure, and, well, talk about intimate. It made sex look like a game of Twister. I lay there on the little table at the hospital with my stomach sticking out, Manning near my head holding my hands, a nurse by my feet patting me from time to time, one doctor running the ultrasound device around and around the surface of my tummy, the other doctor taking notes until it was his turn with the needles.

The ultrasound doctor was showing me the first pictures of my baby, who was at that point a four-month-old fetus. He was saying, "Ah, there's the head now . . . there's the leg . . . there's its bottom," and I was watching it all on the screen, nodding, even though it was all just underwater photography, all quite ethereal and murky. Manning said it was like watching those first men on the moon. I pretended to be able to distinguish each section of the baby because I didn't want the doctor to think I was a lousy mother who was already judging the kid for not being photogenically distinct enough. He pointed out the vertebrae, a sweet curved strand of pearls, and then the heart, beating as visibly as a pulsar, and that was when I started to cry.

Then the other doctor took one of his needles and put it right through my stomach, near my belly button, in a circle that the ultrasound doctor had described with the end of a straw. I felt a pinch, and then mild cramping, and that was all, as the doctor began to withdraw some amniotic fluid. Now you probably think, like I thought, that this fluid is some vaguely holy saltwater, flown in from the coast for the occasion, but it is mostly baby pee, light green in color. What they do with it then is to send it to the lab, where they culture it, growing enough cells from the tissue the baby has sloughed off into the amniotic fluid to determine if there are chromosomal abnormalities and whether it is a boy or a girl, if you care to know.

During the first week of waiting, you actually believe your baby is okay, because you saw it scoot around during the ultrasound and because most babies are okay. By the middle of the second week, things are getting a bit dicey in your head, but most of the time you still think the baby is okay. But on the cusp of the second and third weeks, you come to know—not to believe but to know—that you are carrying a baby inside you in only the broadest sense of the word baby, because what is growing in there has a head the size of a mung bean, with almost no brain at all because all available tissue has gone into the building of a breathtaking collection of arms and knees—maybe not too many arms but knees absolutely everywhere.

Finally, though, the nurse who had patted my feet during the amnio called, and the first thing she said was that she had good news, and I thought I might actually throw up from sheer joy. Then she talked about the findings for a while, although I did not hear a word, and then she said, "Do you want to know its sex?" And I said yes I did.

It is a boy. His name is Sam Lamott. Samuel John Stephen Lamott. (My brothers' names are John and Steve.)

A boy. Do you know what that means? Do you know what boys have that girls don't? That's right, there you go. They have penises. And like most of my women friends, I have somewhat mixed feelings about this. Now, I don't know how to put this delicately, but I have never been quite the same since seeing a penis up close while I was on LSD years and years ago. It was an actual penis; I mean, it wasn't like I was staring at my hand for an hour and watched it turn into my grandfather's face and then into a bat and then into a penis. It was the real thing. It was my boyfriend's real thing, and what it looked like was the root of all my insanity, of a lot of my suffering and obsession. It looked like a cross between a snake and a heart.

That is a really intense thing you boys have there, and we internal Americans of the hetero persuasion have really, really conflicted feelings about you external Americans because of the way you wield those things, their power over us, and especially their power over you. I ask you once again to remember the old joke in which the puzzled, defensive man says, "I didn't want to go to Las Vegas," then points to his crotch and says, "He wanted to go to Las Vegas." So it has given me pause to learn that there is a baby boy growing in my belly who apparently has all the right number of hands and feet and arms and legs and knees, a normal-size head, and a penis.

Penises are so—what is the word?—funky. They're wonderful, too, and I love them, but over the years such bad things have happened to me because of them. I've gotten pregnant, even when I tried so hard not to, and I've gotten diseases, where you couldn't see any evidence of disease on the man's dick and he claims not to have anything, but you end up having to get treatment and it's totally humiliating and weird, and the man's always mad at you for having caught it, even though you haven't slept with anyone else for months or even years. It is my secret belief that men love their penises so much that when they take them in to show their doctors, after their women claim to have caught a little something, the male doctors get caught up in this penis love, whack the patient (your lover) on the back, and say thunderously, "Now don't be silly, that's a damn fine penis you've got there."

A man told me once that all men like to look at themselves in the mirror when they're hard, and now I keep picturing Sam in twenty years, gazing at his penis in the mirror while feeling psychologically somewhere between Ivan Boesky and Mickey Mantle. I also know he will be someone who will one day pee with pride, because all men do, standing there manfully tearing bits of toilet paper to shreds with their straight and forceful sprays, carrying on as if this were one of history's great naval battles—the Battle of Midway, for instance. So of course I'm a little edgy about the whole thing, about my child having a penis instead of a nice delicate little lamb of a vagina. But even so, this is still not the worst fear.

No, the worst thing, worse even than sitting around crying about that inevitable day when my son will leave for college, worse than thinking about whether or not in the meantime to get him those hideous baby shots he probably should have but that some babies die from, worse than the fears I have when I lie awake at 3:00 in the morning (that I won't be able to make enough money and will have to live in a tenement house where the rats will bite our heads while we sleep, or that I will lose my arms in some tragic accident and will have to go to court and diaper my son using only my mouth and feet and the judge won't think I've done a good enough job and will put Sam in a foster home), worse even than the fear I feel whenever a car full of teenagers drives past my house going 200 miles an hour on our sleepy little street, worse than thinking about my son being run over by one of those drunken teenagers, or of his one day becoming one of those teenagers— worse than just about anything else is the agonizing issue of how on earth anyone can bring a child into this world knowing full well that he or she is eventually going to have to go through the seventh and eighth grades.

The seventh and eighth grades were for me, and for every single good and interesting person I've ever known, what the writers of the Bible meant when they used the words hell and the pit. Seventh and eighth grades were a place into which one descended. One descended from the relative safety and wildness and bigness one felt in sixth grade, eleven years old. Then the worm turned, and it was all over for any small feeling that one was essentially all right. One wasn't. One was no longer just some kid. One was suddenly a Diane Arbus character. It was springtime, for Hitler, and Germany.

I experienced it as being a two-year game of "The Farmer in the Dell." I hung out with the popular crowd, as jester, but boy, when those parties and dances rolled round, this cheese stood alone, watching my friends go steady and kiss, and then, like all you other cheeses, I went home and cried. There we were, all of us cheeses alone, emotionally broken by unrequited love and at the same time amped out of our minds on hormones and shame.

Seventh and eighth grades were about waiting to get picked for teams, waiting to get asked to dance, waiting to grow taller, waiting to grow breasts. They were about praying for God to grow dark hairs on my legs so I could shave them. They were about having pipe-cleaner legs. They were about violence, meanness, chaos. They were about The Lord of the Flies. They were about feeling completely other. But more than anything else, they were about hurt and aloneness. There is a beautiful poem by a man named Roy Fuller, which ends, "Hurt beyond hurting, never to forget," and whenever I remember those lines, which is often, I think of my father's death ten years ago this month, and I think about seventh and eighth grades.

So how on earth can I bring a child into the world, knowing that such sorrow lies ahead, that it is such a large part of what it means to be human?

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First Chapter

Operating Instructions


By Anne Lamott

Random House

Anne Lamott
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1400079098


Chapter One

SOME THOUGHTS ON BEING PREGNANT:
A PREFACE OF SORTS


I woke up with a start at 4:00 one morning and realized that I was very, very pregnant. Since I had conceived six months earlier, one might have thought that the news would have sunk in before then, and in many ways it had, but it was on that early morning in May that I first realized how severely pregnant I was. What tipped me off was that, lying on my side and needing to turn over, I found myself unable to move. My first thought was that I had had a stroke.

Nowadays I go around being aware that I am pregnant with the same constancy and lack of surprise with which I go around being aware that I have teeth. But a few times a day the information actually causes me to gasp-how on earth did I come to be in this condition? Well, I have a few suspicions. I mean, I am beginning to put two and two together. See, there was this guy. But the guy is no longer around, and my stomach is noticeably bigger every few days.

I could have had an abortion-the pressure to do so was extraordinary-and if need be, I would take to the streets, armed, to defend the right of any woman for any reason to terminate a pregnancy, but I was totally unable to do so this time psychologically, psychically, emotionally. Just totally. So I am going to have a baby pretty soon, and this has raised some mind-boggling issues.

For instance, it occurs to me over and over that I am much too self-centered, cynical, eccentric, and edgy to raise a baby, especially alone. (The baby's father was dramatically less excited than I was to find out I was pregnant, so much so that I have not seen or heard from him in months and don't expect to ever again.) At thirty-five years old, I may be too old and too tired to be having my first child. And I really did think for several seconds that I might have had a stroke; it is not second nature for me to believe that everything is more or less okay. Clearly, my nerves are shot.

For example, the other day one of the innumerable deer that come down here from the mountain to eat in the garden and drink from the stream remained where it was as I got closer and closer. It was standing between me and my front door. I thought, Boy, they're getting brazen, and I walked closer and closer to it, finally to within four or five feet, when suddenly it tensed. My first thought was that it was about to lunge at me, snarling. Of course it turned instead and bolted through the woods, but I was left with the increasingly familiar sense that I am losing my grasp on reality.

One moment I'm walking along the salt marsh listening to sacred choral music on headphones, convinced that the music is being piped in through my ears, into my head, down my throat, and into my torso where the baby will be able to hear it, and the next moment I'm walking along coaching the baby on how best to grow various body parts. What are you, some kind of nut? I ask myself, and I know the answer is yes, some kind of nut, and maybe one who is not well enough to be a mother. But this is not the worst fear.

Even the three weeks of waiting for the results of the amniocentesis weren't the most fearful part, nor was the amnio itself. It was, in fact, one of the sweetest experiences of my life. My friend Manning drove me into San Francisco and stayed with me through the procedure, and, well, talk about intimate. It made sex look like a game of Twister. I lay there on the little table at the hospital with my stomach sticking out, Manning near my head holding my hands, a nurse by my feet patting me from time to time, one doctor running the ultrasound device around and around the surface of my tummy, the other doctor taking notes until it was his turn with the needles.

The ultrasound doctor was showing me the first pictures of my baby, who was at that point a four-month-old fetus. He was saying, "Ah, there's the head now . . . there's the leg . . . there's its bottom," and I was watching it all on the screen, nodding, even though it was all just underwater photography, all quite ethereal and murky. Manning said it was like watching those first men on the moon. I pretended to be able to distinguish each section of the baby because I didn't want the doctor to think I was a lousy mother who was already judging the kid for not being photogenically distinct enough. He pointed out the vertebrae, a sweet curved strand of pearls, and then the heart, beating as visibly as a pulsar, and that was when I started to cry.

Then the other doctor took one of his needles and put it right through my stomach, near my belly button, in a circle that the ultrasound doctor had described with the end of a straw. I felt a pinch, and then mild cramping, and that was all, as the doctor began to withdraw some amniotic fluid. Now you probably think, like I thought, that this fluid is some vaguely holy saltwater, flown in from the coast for the occasion, but it is mostly baby pee, light green in color. What they do with it then is to send it to the lab, where they culture it, growing enough cells from the tissue the baby has sloughed off into the amniotic fluid to determine if there are chromosomal abnormalities and whether it is a boy or a girl, if you care to know.

During the first week of waiting, you actually believe your baby is okay, because you saw it scoot around during the ultrasound and because most babies are okay. By the middle of the second week, things are getting a bit dicey in your head, but most of the time you still think the baby is okay. But on the cusp of the second and third weeks, you come to know-not to believe but to know-that you are carrying a baby inside you in only the broadest sense of the word baby, because what is growing in there has a head the size of a mung bean, with almost no brain at all because all available tissue has gone into the building of a breathtaking collection of arms and knees-maybe not too many arms but knees absolutely everywhere.

Finally, though, the nurse who had patted my feet during the amnio called, and the first thing she said was that she had good news, and I thought I might actually throw up from sheer joy. Then she talked about the findings for a while, although I did not hear a word, and then she said, "Do you want to know its sex?" And I said yes I did.

It is a boy. His name is Sam Lamott. Samuel John Stephen Lamott. (My brothers' names are John and Steve.)

A boy. Do you know what that means? Do you know what boys have that girls don't? That's right, there you go. They have penises. And like most of my women friends, I have somewhat mixed feelings about this. Now, I don't know how to put this delicately, but I have never been quite the same since seeing a penis up close while I was on LSD years and years ago. It was an actual penis; I mean, it wasn't like I was staring at my hand for an hour and watched it turn into my grandfather's face and then into a bat and then into a penis. It was the real thing. It was my boyfriend's real thing, and what it looked like was the root of all my insanity, of a lot of my suffering and obsession. It looked like a cross between a snake and a heart.

That is a really intense thing you boys have there, and we internal Americans of the hetero persuasion have really, really conflicted feelings about you external Americans because of the way you wield those things, their power over us, and especially their power over you. I ask you once again to remember the old joke in which the puzzled, defensive man says, "I didn't want to go to Las Vegas," then points to his crotch and says, "He wanted to go to Las Vegas." So it has given me pause to learn that there is a baby boy growing in my belly who apparently has all the right number of hands and feet and arms and legs and knees, a normal-size head, and a penis.

Penises are so-what is the word?-funky. They're wonderful, too, and I love them, but over the years such bad things have happened to me because of them. I've gotten pregnant, even when I tried so hard not to, and I've gotten diseases, where you couldn't see any evidence of disease on the man's dick and he claims not to have anything, but you end up having to get treatment and it's totally humiliating and weird, and the man's always mad at you for having caught it, even though you haven't slept with anyone else for months or even years. It is my secret belief that men love their penises so much that when they take them in to show their doctors, after their women claim to have caught a little something, the male doctors get caught up in this penis love, whack the patient (your lover) on the back, and say thunderously, "Now don't be silly, that's a damn fine penis you've got there."

A man told me once that all men like to look at themselves in the mirror when they're hard, and now I keep picturing Sam in twenty years, gazing at his penis in the mirror while feeling psychologically somewhere between Ivan Boesky and Mickey Mantle. I also know he will be someone who will one day pee with pride, because all men do, standing there manfully tearing bits of toilet paper to shreds with their straight and forceful sprays, carrying on as if this were one of history's great naval battles-the Battle of Midway, for instance. So of course I'm a little edgy about the whole thing, about my child having a penis instead of a nice delicate little lamb of a vagina. But even so, this is still not the worst fear.

No, the worst thing, worse even than sitting around crying about that inevitable day when my son will leave for college, worse than thinking about whether or not in the meantime to get him those hideous baby shots he probably should have but that some babies die from, worse than the fears I have when I lie awake at 3:00 in the morning (that I won't be able to make enough money and will have to live in a tenement house where the rats will bite our heads while we sleep, or that I will lose my arms in some tragic accident and will have to go to court and diaper my son using only my mouth and feet and the judge won't think I've done a good enough job and will put Sam in a foster home), worse even than the fear I feel whenever a car full of teenagers drives past my house going 200 miles an hour on our sleepy little street, worse than thinking about my son being run over by one of those drunken teenagers, or of his one day becoming one of those teenagers- worse than just about anything else is the agonizing issue of how on earth anyone can bring a child into this world knowing full well that he or she is eventually going to have to go through the seventh and eighth grades.


The seventh and eighth grades were for me, and for every single good and interesting person I've ever known, what the writers of the Bible meant when they used the words hell and the pit. Seventh and eighth grades were a place into which one descended. One descended from the relative safety and wildness and bigness one felt in sixth grade, eleven years old. Then the worm turned, and it was all over for any small feeling that one was essentially all right. One wasn't. One was no longer just some kid. One was suddenly a Diane Arbus character. It was springtime, for Hitler, and Germany.

I experienced it as being a two-year game of "The Farmer in the Dell." I hung out with the popular crowd, as jester, but boy, when those parties and dances rolled round, this cheese stood alone, watching my friends go steady and kiss, and then, like all you other cheeses, I went home and cried. There we were, all of us cheeses alone, emotionally broken by unrequited love and at the same time amped out of our minds on hormones and shame.

Seventh and eighth grades were about waiting to get picked for teams, waiting to get asked to dance, waiting to grow taller, waiting to grow breasts. They were about praying for God to grow dark hairs on my legs so I could shave them. They were about having pipe-cleaner legs. They were about violence, meanness, chaos. They were about The Lord of the Flies. They were about feeling completely other. But more than anything else, they were about hurt and aloneness. There is a beautiful poem by a man named Roy Fuller, which ends, "Hurt beyond hurting, never to forget," and whenever I remember those lines, which is often, I think of my father's death ten years ago this month, and I think about seventh and eighth grades.

So how on earth can I bring a child into the world, knowing that such sorrow lies ahead, that it is such a large part of what it means to be human?



Excerpted from Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 17 of 18 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 18, 2003

    An extraordinary effort

    As a new mother, I was recently told to read OPERATING INSTRUCTIONS immediately! I had never heard of Anne Lamott, but now I plan to read all her work. It was just extraordinary. The pages crackle with life and an effervescent sense of humor that compels. This book is so popular; surely the poignancy is what readers respond to, as well as the unvarnished truth of motherhood. I highly recommend this, along with THE ZYGOTE CHRONICLES by Suzanne Finnamore, which was also a great read and so moving and funny, just like OPERATING INSTRUCTIONS.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2003

    Inspiration and laughs

    If you have children, and especially if you have children having children, this book is a delight. Ms. Lamott really captures the essence of a new mother's frustrations and joys. I actually started reading it just because it was in the house and I was bored. I had a hard time putting it down though! Ms. Lamott's honesty when it comes to describing the trials, tribulations, and strange smells that accompany a new infant would make any new mother feel better! If you are a grandma, like I am, it will revive a lot of memories, both delightful and funny, because she really connected to the common experience of new mom's everywhere. Buy the book! Read it! And pass it on! You'll be glad you did.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 18, 2002

    THIS BOOK SAVED MY SANITY

    When I first brought my little baby home from the hospital, I couldn't believe how overwhelming it all felt. And I had a husband and we had prayed for 8 years for this baby. Here I was at 45, a first time mother, with my little miracle child...and suddenly I realized I was STUCK with a completely dependant person who only knew how to communicate by screaming and who completely dominated every aspect of my life. All the while interupting my sleeping, eating, showering, visiting with friends, home life. And forget about writing - that was out of the question. Anne Lamott's book OPERATING INSTRUCTIONS, gave me insight to the fact that I was not alone in my feelings of despair, and made me laugh, and be grateful I had a husband who came home in the evening and held the little one, while I showered for the first time all day. I would have to say, Anne saved my sanity...during that first year. God is Good...and I have Proof: it's Anne Lamott.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 26, 2009

    My wife loved it!

    She usually only reads books Oprah recommends, but she thought this was wonderful.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 21, 2002

    A book for EVERY new mom

    OK, so they might not have a lot of time to read if they are REALLY NEW new moms. Give it to them, anyway. This is a MUST READ. Anne Lamott's journal of her son's first year will DEFINITELY make you feel better about your own parenting skills, even as you recoginze yourself in many of her adventures. She is laugh-out-loud funny at times, strikingly poignant at others. I cannot say enough good things about this book. I have given it to every mom and mom-to-be that I know.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 31, 2002

    Read this book, it's good for your health!

    I read this book for the first time as a teenager, and instantly fell in love. The brutal honesty with which Lamott writes is beautiful and refreshing. I still think of scenes from the book and laugh out loud. This is a little jewel, especially for mothers with great senses of humor.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2000

    Not a good read for everyone

    I received this book as gift--it did not look like something I'd like since I have children already, but I read it anyway... This book is supposed to be about the first year of a little boy's life, but instead it focuses more on his single mother's therapy and past problems with drugs and alcohol. If you are in the same boat as she, you may find the book humorous. However, I fell into the category of those with husbands (she seems to like putting down women who have partners), so I didn't find it amusing. This would have been a great opportunity to tell it like it is, but most of the book didn't focus on the title matter at all. I would not recommend this book, especially if you find crude language inappropriate (she uses some pretty foul descriptive words)...

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 1, 2000

    Hilarious and Honest!

    This book is incredibly funny at times. Anne is very honest about herself and how she feels. I don't believe she unjustly tramples on other people. She's telling her experience. I just went through those first few months of motherhood - with a partner - and we both felt like we were going crazy with sleep deprivation. It was wonderful to read about it by someone who was in the same boat - and who tells it in such hilarious way

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