Commonplace: Anne Lamott (Operating Instructions)

commonplace graphic

I’m working on tracking down a few of my own thoughts to record here, but time to think, much less time to sit at the computer and write sentences, is still a rare commodity.  For now, these thoughts of Anne Lamott are pretty close to what I would say, if I could.

Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year is my favorite book about having a new baby AND my favorite book by Anne Lamott.  Of the books I’ve read about parenting, this one best captures the spectrum of emotions that a new baby brings. Everyone talks about the sweetness and euphoria of staring into the unblinking eyes of your new offspring, but far fewer are honest about how those first few days weeks months are seriously traumatic as well.

(I don’t recommend this book to every new mom I know, because there’s quite a bit of language in it, and lots of annoying (and now seriously dated) political jabs. But if you can overlook that sort of thing, this book is brilliant and strangely comforting.)

People kept trying to prepare me for how soft and mushy my stomach would be after I gave birth, but I secretly thought, Not this old buckerina…Oh, but my stomach, she is like a waterbed covered with flannel now. When I lie on my side in bed, my stomach lies politely beside me, like a puppy.


I wonder if it is normal for a mother to adore her baby so desperately and at the same time to think about choking him or throwing him down the stairs…When he woke me up at 4:00 this morning to nurse, I felt like I was dying. I felt like getting up to pull down the shades and wave good-bye to all my people, but I was too tired.


I wish he could take longer naps in the afternoon. He falls asleep and I feel I could die of love when I watch him, and I think to myself that he is what angels look like.  Then I doze off, too, and it’s like heaven, but sometimes only twenty minutes later he wakes up and begins to make his gritchy rodent noises, scanning the room wildly. I look blearily over at him in the bassinet, and think, with great hostility, Oh, God, he’s raising his loathsome reptilian head again.


Maybe he’s not really capable of loving me per se. I think maybe I can only love or understand God in that same baby way. I don’t know. Donna says that when our babies see us they say, Oh, good, the chuck wagon’s here again.


I have a deep belief that I know what is best for me, and now, by extension, what is best for Sam. The fact that I have spent my life proving that just the opposite is true does not keep me from acting like a schizophrenic traffic cop with a mission and a bullhorn…[I heard this old man say] that he’d finally figured out a few years ago that his profound sense of control, in the world and over his life, is another addiction and a total illusion. He said that when he sees little kids sitting in the backseat of cars, in those car seats that have steering wheels, with grim expressions of concentration on their faces, clearly convinced that their efforts are causing the car to do whatever it is doing, he thinks of himself and his relationship with God: God who drives along silently, gently amused, in the real driver’s seat.


2 responses to “Commonplace: Anne Lamott (Operating Instructions)

  1. Carolyn Dickinson

    Seriously laughed out loud at these quotes!! “Loathsome reptilian head”!!!

  2. I laughed too! And I can totally relate. 🙂 I loved, “Oh good. The chuck wagon’s here again.”

    Those first few months can be ROUGH.

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