Tuesday, April 10, 2012

What I Read: "Some Assembly Required," Anne Lamott with Sam Lamott


Writer Anne Lamott had one of those conversations with her 19-year old son that most parents dread.  He told her that he was going to be a father.  And he had barely started college.  Anne handled it the way she approaches most things – she wrote about it.  The result is the poignant yet hysterically funny memoir, Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son’s First Son.  The book is a literary duet between her and her son, Sam Lamott, as they come to grips with the new directions their lives have taken.

When Anne was a single mother pregnant with Sam she had journaled the first year of her own son’s life in the book Operating Instructions.  She spoke honestly of all her insecurities, her fear of failure, the days she hated her little baby for ruining her life and the days she was excruciatingly in love with him.  She also wrote about all the people who helped her make it through.

With this new book she comes full circle.  It seemed a natural choice to record the first year of her grandson’s life.  She hesitatingly asked Sam if he wanted to be part of the project.  He agreed immediately because of the effect the story of his first year had had on him: “To this day, that book is the greatest gift anyone has given me . . . . I hear [in Operating Instructions] and feel my mother’s love for me.”  Although he has chosen art and design as a career, he has the same gift for language (and sense of humor) as his mother.

I always love reading Anne’s essays.  Her quick-witted voice never changes.  She’s open and honest about all her foibles – her compulsive behavior, her intense desire to manage everyone’s life, her obsessions about how the political climate will eventually lead to extinction of the human race.  And she was absolutely certain her grandson was going to pick up ticks as he rolled around on the floor with the dogs. In the end, all of her well-detailed but hilarious fears are ours. 

In this book she’s just as honest about how hard it is to learn how to be a grandmother.  In other words, she constantly wants to rush in and give advice to Sam and his girlfriend about raising their son because, she admits, she has “great ideas.”  She struggles to make that shift from seeing her son as the teenager he was six months before the baby was born to seeing him as a father. 

The greatest lesson she learned (great, but so difficult to master) as she fought her own nature was that she didn’t have to “correct” Sam and his girlfriend.  “Life is the correction,” she shares with us.  We also see Sam mature and grow more confident throughout the year as he balances fatherhood and his college studies as well as stands up to his mother who has those “great ideas.”  He’s learned that the buck stops with him.  “The problem has to stop at this chain of command.  I’m not going to turn over my problems to you – to my mother – and say ‘I just can’t take it anymore,’” he reflects.

Considering that many days my 20-something son and I can’t communicate clearly enough to even make a decision about where we’re going to eat lunch, I have to wonder if we’d survive with the same grace as this mother and son have.  By the time I had children I didn’t have parents.  I didn’t have to struggle with either depending too much on them or rejecting all offers of help.  Watching Anne Lamott and her son navigate these new boundaries in their own relationship made all things seem possible.  The hardest thing for a parent to do always is to do nothing.  She shows us how that works.

Have you read any of Lamott’s books?  Which is your favorite?  As you moved into adulthood, where did you have skirmishes over boundaries with your parents?  What lessons did you learn for negotiating them?  Share your bits of wisdom and handy hints in the comments box.

Spring in my garden is always marked by bearded irises


Elaine Smothers said...

I've never read any of Anne Lamott's books but after reading this post, I may have to. They sound fascinating!

Gloria Richard said...

I haven't yet read any of her books, but that's about to change.

What a great commentary.

When my then 28-year-old single stepson showed up at the house to tell us his girlfriend was pregnant, his dad dropped into a chair, wiped his brow and asked, "Son, how did this happen?"

Sara Walpert Foster said...

Somebody gave me Operating Instructions when I was pregnant with my first child and I fell in love with Anne Lamott and her writing immediately. Her honesty is so pure and real that I want to climb into her world somehow. My copy of Bird by Bird is so dogeared that I probably should buy a new one just to make sure I don't one day find that book has disintegrated. Can't wait to read this new one. Somebody just mentioned it to me this morning, said something about an article in this week's NYT Book Review because she talks about Twitter (and I'm the only person anybody I know knows who actually uses twitter). Anyway, thanks for the info and I'm off to download the book.

Nadine Feldman said...

Looks like a fascinating read. I have read Bird by Bird and love it, but have not read her other books. Thanks for the recommendation!

Tami Clayton said...

I love Anne's Bird by Bird but haven't read any of her other books. This is now added to my TBR pile. Thanks for reviewing this and bringing it to our attention.

Julie Farrar said...

I have to admit that while I own all of her non-fiction, I still haven't read her fiction. Bad Julie.

Cora said...

One of the hardest lessons a mother can have is "hands off" so a child can find his/her own way. I see too many mothers that meddle--it usually ends badly. Isn't that why we come into this life, to learn our own lessons? Love Anne Lamott. I haven't read this book-must read. Thanks.

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