Why Anne Lamott Makes Me Feel Like I am an Okay Human Being

A friend (okay, well a person who was a good friend before he became a boyfriend and then became the worst of the ex-boyfriends) gave me Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird many moons ago. I am finally reading it while reading Operating Instructions, a memoir of Lamott’s that jumped off the bottom shelf of the Goodwill’s cramped bookshelf the other day. When I picked up the book in my hands, I knew, beyond a doubt, that God wanted me to take that book home and read it immediately. While reading it, I’ve thought, my God, this is the nearly identical experience to my daughter’s first year of life–it just happened three years after her son’s first year. The two were even born in the same season so the whole book resonates with me in every sense of every word. Why didn’t i have this little instruction book when I was muddling through my first year of parenthood? (I don’t think it had published yet in ’92)

I could quote the entire book to you–it’s all quotable–but you may as well read the book yourself, especially if you have a new baby at home or one on the way. Anyway, here is a passage from Operating Instructions that I can so completely relate to that I thought I’d share it:

Little by little I think I’m letting go of believing that I’m in charge, that I’m God’s assistant football coach. It’s so incredibly hard to let go of one’s passion for control, It seems like if you stop managing and controlling, everything will spin off into total pandemonium and it will be all your fault.

Yep Ms. Lamott. I feel exactly that way. I finally was packing off all of the junk my daughter left stacked in our dining room when she  came home after graduating college and took off for California one week later. It sat in our leaving room (sometimes, I read my typos later and just shake my head–I meant dining room here but have to leave the leaving room because everyone needs a leaving room in their house, I think) for three weeks and one morning this past week, I thought, I’ve got to get this stuff out of my house. She’ll never be able to advance in this new life she’s chosen unless I stop clinging. At least, I think I am clinging. And when I was finally packing up all of that stuff for the Goodwill, I came across a little chalk board that she’d had in her dorm room and on it she’d written two words, “Let Go.” I knew then that I was on the right track with hauling all of her discarded goods off to the Goodwill (where I was, in exchange, given Lamott’s book). I’d had my sign.

It’s hard though–this letting go. I remember when Hannah was born and I was just kicked in the gut with this awful sense of responsibility. I had to grieve for months the loss of just living for myself because I knew then and there, that everything in my life was that much more cling-worthy. Before Hannah was born, I didn’t worry about death–mine or another’s. I’ve never doubted God folks. Even if at times, I don’t act like it. But now, I feared my own death, because it would take me from this precious creature who needed me so much AND I feared even more so about every conceivable possible bad thing that might ever befall her. And already, at age 22, I was smart enough to realize that this fear would likely be my constant companion until the day I died. So she’s off now in California and somehow, across the distance, she managed to tell me that I need to Let Go.

More than anything else, this blog seems to always come back to this theme of letting go. Motherhood. Open yourself as wide as possible, push a baby out, open your heart as wide as possible, let this little one into the heart’s deepest crevice while doing the best you can to protect this little life and, at the same time, let go, a bit more everyday, so that you both can live.

Here’s the other reason I am so in love with Anne Lamott right now. I am, after three long years, finally nearing the completion of my manuscript about my first few post-divorce, single-parenting years. The manuscript is much too long right now and kind of unwieldy and half of it is pure crap. Ethan told me last week that F. Scott Fitzgerald edited his books by saving only the best sentences. So soon I will be birthing this fourth baby of mine and then I will be starting the process of letting go, a little every day. To that end, I am embracing these words of Lamott from Bird by Bird: Some Instruction on Writing and Life:

Write an incredibly shitty, self-indulgent, whiny, mewling first draft. Then take out as many of the excesses as you can.

Okay. I’ve got the incredibly shitty, self-indulgent, mewling part nearly done. Now to cut out the excess and just like with our perfectly good Britax carseats that we’ve just replaced with two booster seats, there is no Goodwill that will take that excess. I guess some things just have to go in the trash.

How did I get to be so human? How did I finally start to feel okay about this humanness just today?

Old Grain Elevator Upcycled into Coffee House; Crappy Dating Life of Single Mother, Upcycled into Book
Old Grain Elevator Upcycled into Coffee House; Crappy Dating Life of Single Mother, Upcycled into Book

The above picture was taken this morning at coffee with my al-anon friends who had to listen to all of my bad ex-boyfriend stories today (I was in a mood). Like the Best Buy executive who demanded that I write him a check to cover the super high-end coffee pot he’d just given me a few days before I broke up with him. I’m like, “Dude, you make about 5 times the salary I do and I didn’t want this expensive, snooty coffee machine.” Nonetheless, I wrote him a check for $212.00 (that would buy my kids one month of groceries) because I wanted him out of my life. He was a real winner.

After all that groveling in the muck (my post-divorce, pre-second marriage dating life was like a journey towards Mordor without Tom Bombadil’s house and Rivendell), I’m grateful life that Chris was at the end of the journey instead of a bubbling pit of fire.

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