December 16, 2017

Anne Lamott on her baby having a baby

When my book A Sense of Place came out a few years ago I got compliments about being a good interviewer. But here’s the secret: I interviewed people — the world’s leading travel writers — who had something to say. I had a similarly delightful experience interviewing author Anne Lamott who recently published Some Assembly Required about her son Sam and his girlfriend having a baby when Sam is 19.

Here’s a link to my conversation with Annie as well as the full text of the story below.

Lamott on Letting Go

By Michael Shapiro

In 1993, Marin author Anne Lamott published “Operating Instructions,” a painfully honest account of the joys — and the trials — of single motherhood. Less than two decades after that book about her son’s first year, 19-year-old Sam announced that he and his girlfriend Amy were pregnant and intended to have the baby.

Lamott, whose devotion to keeping a journal began partly as a way to seek equilibrium in a tumultuous world, wrote extensively throughout her grandson’s first year.

In a phone conversation earlier this month, Lamott said, “My editor asked me if I would consider doing a sequel, writing about Sam and his new baby. I said, ‘Well, I think that would be exploitive,’ and the editor said, ‘Not if you didn’t exploit anyone.’”

She asked her son about creating a book together, she said, and “Sam loved the idea. His energy was really what got this book to happen.”

In keeping with Lamott’s other non-fiction books, “Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son’s First Son,” is comprised of lightly edited journal entries.

Much of the material is in its raw form or close to it, Lamott says. The editing is mostly shaping.

“You have to cut away your precious prose and find the core, the kernel that resonates,” she said. “It’s kind of like a treasure hunt.”

The book is filled with treasure; the insights from this seasoned writer can make readers laugh and cry on the same page. And Sam emerges as a remarkably self-aware young man in the email “interviews” with his mother.

He writes that “with Jax’s birth, Samland (where he lived as a free and independent teenager before the birth of his son) has been permanently breached. … Now it’s Sam-and-Jaxland.”

“We as parents have the illusions that we make our kids stronger, but they make us stronger,” he writes. That’s a remarkable insight for a college student who’s struggling to do his homework, salvage his relationship with his girlfriend and provide for his child. All before he’s old enough to legally drink.

Fortunately, he doesn’t turn to the bottle to cope; like his mother, he finds salvation in faith: “Sometimes when you’re a parent you’re hanging on by a pinkie finger, and you say to God, ‘Trusting you, Dude — I trust you have a plan for us.’”

That sounds a lot like a sentence Lamott might have written in “Operating Instructions,” until Sam refers to God as “Dude.”

Lamott appears Thursday in Sebastopol for an hour-long talk followed by a Q and A. She said she hopes Sam attends, too, but she’s not sure he’ll have time since they will just be returning from a tour together.

When Sam initially told Lamott he was going to be a father, her heart dropped as she realized his life would become “infinitely harder.”

But then she got excited about being a grandmother. After the baby was born, Lamott fell head-over-heels in love, but to her chagrin realized that grandparents are not in charge of much.
She writes about trying to accept that, and how it’s one more way she’s not fully in control of her life.

“Letting go is just not my strong suit,” she said. “There’s an old saying that everything we let go of has claw marks on it, and that was doubly true after I had a grandchild. You just have to let go thinking that it’s in any way your child or your business.

“And that just drove me crazy because I think I’m so old and wise, I’ve lived so much life. It’s their kid, but I just think I have such GOOD IDEAS in capital letters. It can make you have a crazy awful life if you let it.”

There’s abundant humor in “Some Assembly.” When Sam and Amy leave Jax with a babysitter instead of with her, a huffy Lamott writes: “I guess they just don’t care about the baby anymore. Otherwise they would have left him with me.”

Perhaps the ultimate challenge during her grandson’s first year was coming to terms with the deeper vulnerability she feels, a result of her bottomless love for the new member of her family.

She recalls years before hearing about the death of a grandson and saying how horribly sad that must be for parents. When Lamott became a grandmother, she realized she overlooked how endlessly painful the loss must have been for the grandparents as well.

“The thing about grandchildren is that they’re just like meat tenderizer; you’re so undefended against the love of a grandchild,” Lamott said.

“And yet that’s why we’re here, to open and soften. Grandkids are really grad school in being vulnerable.”

Michael Shapiro writes about entertainment for The Press Democrat. Contact: michaelshapiro@pressdemocrat.​com.

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