It's been awhile since I've been able to really read. (Like, a long while). With all my faculties and teeth and brain firmly sunk in. I'm not sure why that is, particularly given I've always been a fairly voracious reader, but wonder if maybe my not being able to pick up books has been one small symptom of feeling and being disconnected. And also, not having any brain left at the end of the day - but that probably goes without saying.
Anyways - lately I've become a bit of a reading machine. And to that end, I've just finished reading, and holy fucking loving, Anne Lamott's Operating Instructions. A huge, big love developing for Anne Lamott. Big. The biggest. Like when she says things like this: "I tell my writing students to get into the habit of calling one another, because writing is such a lonely business, and if you're not careful, you can trip off into this Edgar Allen Poe feeling of otherness. Turns out that motherhood is much the same" (97), and I find myself wondering "How I have not read this before?" (What with being all Edgar Allen Poe-y myself and all). Had a lot of those moments reading this book. Especially since, this is like the mother of all mommy memoirs, really.
Anyhow - Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year of Life, is, you know, like a journal of the first year of her son Sam's life. And though realize that it's wholly trite and also self-centred, I feel like she is speaking directly to me. (Probably why this baby is a bestseller, hmmm? Anyhoo). We are incredibly different. She is a single mama, me partnered. She is straight, I am queer. She's a recovering addict, I'm not. She's into religion. Me - not so much. She's broker than broke - I'm less broke (but it's still a bit of a squeaker). She's a writer, I'm a.... (I guess that's the proverbial question, isn't it?). And still,across our differences her journey feels achingly familar and comfortable. Turns out that Anne Lamott and I speak the same mothering language (okay - hers is probably much prettier). But we share a very dark sense of humour, a profound sense of frustration with the state of the world, peaks and valleys of pretty high anxiety and near-ridiculous amounts of self-doubt.
Lamott really manages to capture the massive push-pull of emotions involved in the mothering project, like when she declares resolutely: "I'm not even remotely well enough to be a mother. That's what the problem is. Also, I think I don't like babies" (114), and then later announces "[h]e's so goddamn beautiful it breaks my heart" (196). And that's it right there in a nutshell, isn't it? It's all that. And more.
And then there's the massive impact of self-doubt and beating up one ones' self that occurs after various levels of mothering 'failures' (the kind I fall prey to daily and then proceed to beat myself to a pulp before proclaiming that I beat myself up too much and should really stop and be more kind to myself.... well, you know how it is. I think this kind of self-flagellation can be a particularly persistent issue for those of us who have a bit of the, you know, crazy. Lamott does too: "I'm trying to be extremely gentle and forgiving with myself today, having decided while I nursed Sam at dawn this morning that I'm probably just as good a mother as the next repressed, obsessive-compulsive paranoiac" (95). Um yeah. What she said. Also, it seems to me as though the process and results of being a stay at home mama has, for me, been a bit like having a massive crush on someone who doesn't know you're alive (I've had a lot of those in my time, so you'll have to just trust me there). Remarkably the same, actually. You know, at least in your moments of better resolve, that you might be a fairly decent specimen of humanity, reasonably cute and reasonably smart. And you hold onto this belief for as long as you can. But the longer you aren't noticed, or the frequency with which you have "I carried a watermelon" moments -something I have also had a great deal of experience with - (get thee to a TV to watch Dirty Dancing if you do not know what I mean here), the less and less you are able to believe in your own worth. The same holds true for parenting. You can hold onto the belief that you are a reasonably good parent who is contributing both to your child and the world, but the longer you're stuck doing this invisible loving sort of work, the more you do or say things you regret, the more difficult it gets to hold onto that belief. Self-doubt. It's a biggie.
And then, just when I think I couldn't connect more - she somehow manages to tap right into where I am. Now. As the mama of a two and four year old. Apparently, some folks hit this wall earlier than me:
The slow pace and all this rumination wear me down and bore me and make me desperately want a hit of something, of anything. Adrenaline, say, or a man to fantasize about or have drama with, or some big professional pressure, like a deadline I'm just barely able to make. I want to check out. I do not want to be in the here and now with God and myself and all that shit. . . . I want to learn to live in the now, I want to learn to breathe my way into it and hang out there more and more and experience life in all it's richness and realness. But I want to do it later, like maybe sometime early next week. Right now, I'd like a rush. 173Of course, I read this bit and think something along the lines of "SHAZAAAM!" or whatever people say when they really connect to a sentiment with some extra oooomph. It's so funny how much less alone you feel when a total stranger can articulate clearly a moment in time you are experiencing. For the most part, this book felt like a marker of where I've moved through, but some places, like this one, felt all kinds of fresh in the 'right here and now' way.
I cannot recommend this read enough. I loved the voice. I loved the honesty and fearlessness. It should be given out in hospitals and by adoption agencies. For real.
Okay - off to my next read...