Book Review: Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott

https://tryingtofollow.com/wp-content/linkedimages/upload//images/I/51TXV4QK5RL.jpgIf you’ve had a baby or are going to have a baby then Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott is a must read. It’s a journal of the first year of her son’s life and a true to life parenting story to balance all the “Parenting in Three Easy Steps” types of books.

I won’t bore you with my consistent praise for Lamott, I’ve read a ton of her books this year and have loved every single one. She’s so true to life and makes you recognize the beauty in the little things.

Instead of raving about it I’ll leave you with some quotes and excerpts from the book (Some long, cause I was a huge fan). I’ll start with a couple whole sections:

Have I mentioned how much I hate expressing milk? I do it nearly every day so there will be bottles of milk on hand for whoever comes by to take care of Sam, but I hate the fucking breast pump. It’s the ultimate bovine humiliation, and it hurts, the suction is so strong. You feel plugged into a medieval milking machine that turns your poor little gumdrop nipples into purple slugs with the texture of rhinoceros hide. You sit there furtively pumping away, producing nebbishy little sprays on the side of the pump bottle until finally you’ve got half a cup of milk and nipples six inches long. It’s so incredibly unsexy and secretive, definitely not something you could ever mention on “Wheel of Fortune,” nothing you’d ever find in a Costoo piece about ten ways to turn on your lover — crotchless underpants and a breast pump. I sit there in the kitchen miserably pumping away, feeling like Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby, pumping out a bottle of milk for the little infant Antichrist. Yesterday the refrigerator wasn’t working, so after I produced a small bottle of breast milk, I had to store it in a wide-mouth thermos filled with ice, like it was a severed finger that I was about to rush to the hospital to have sewn back on. It was too ridiculous for words.

And another…

“Last night I decided that it is totally nuts to believe in Christ, that it is every bit as crazy as being a Scientologist or a Jehovah’s Witness. Then something truly amazing happened. A man from church showed up at our front door, smiling and waving to me and Sam, and I went to let him in. He is… named Gordon, fiftyish, married to our associate pastor, and after exchanging pleasantries he said, ‘Margaret and I wanted to do something for you and the baby. So what I want to ask is, what if a fairy appeared on your doorstep and said that he or she would do any favor for you at all, anything you wanted around the house that you felt too exhausted to do by yourself and too ashamed to ask anyone else to help you with?”

‘I can’t even say,’ I said. ‘It’s too horrible.’

“But he finally convinced me to tell him, and I said it would be to clean the bathroom, and he ended up spending an hour scrubbing the bathtub and toilet and sink. I sat on the couch while he worked, watching TV, feeling vaguely guilty and nursing Sam to sleep. But it made me feel sure of Christ again, of that kind of love. This, a man scrubbing a new mother’s bathtub, is what Jesus means to me.”

She has this great line about apologizing to her son for saying mean things about guys.

“I nursed him for a long time tonight. He’s so beautiful it can make me teary. I told him I was sorry for thinking such sexist stuff about his people.”

And this last story is just a touching example of God’s love.

There’s a woman named Anne who took her two-year-old child up to Tahoe during the summer. There stayed in rented condominium by the lake. And of course, it’s such a hotbed of gambling that all the rooms are equipped with those curtains and shades that block out every speck of light so you can stay up all night in the casinos and then sleep all morning. One afternoon she put the baby to bed in his playpen in one of those rooms, in the pitch dark, and went to do some work.

A few minutes later she heard her baby knocking on the door from inside the room, and she got up, knowing he’d crawled out of his playpen. She went to put him down again, but when she got to the door, she found he’d locked it. He had somehow managed to push the little button on the doorknob. He was calling to her, “Mommy, Mommy, and Anne was saying to him, “Jiggle the door knob, darling,” and of course he couldn’t even see the knob to know what she was talking about. After a moment, it became clear to him that his mother could not open the door, and panic set in. He began sobbing. So Anne, his mother ran around like crazy trying everything possible, like trying to get the door to work, calling the rental agency where she left a message on the machine, calling the manager of the condominium where she left another message and running back to check in with her son every minute or so. And there in the dark, this terrified little child. Finally she did the only thing she could, which was to slide her fingers underneath the door, where there were a few centimeters of space. She kept telling him over and over to bend down and find her fingers.And somehow he did. So they stayed like that for a really long time – connected, on the floor, him holding her fingers in the dark. He stopped crying…

I keep thinking of that story, how much it feels like I’m the two-year-old in the dark and God is the mother and I don’t speak the language. She could break down the door if that struck her as being the best way, and ride off with me on her charger. But instead, via my friends and my church and my shabby faith, I can just hold onto her fingers underneath the door. It isn’t enough; and it is.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott”

  1. It was an amazingly funny yet touching piece of writing. I loved it too. If you ever get a chance to see her (I didn’t see her in person but on TV), do it! She’s a great speaker! Shelley

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