Anne Lamott – Great Spiritual Advisor, Awful Mother-in-law?

I’ve started off my 2013 reading in fine fashion, first by finishing the first two books in Justin Cronin’s terrifying trilogy The Passage and The Twelve and oh my God, was no one else scared sh*&less by the virals? When reviewers wrote that that these novels would keep readers up at night they weren’t kidding. I moved then to Some Assembly Required and Grace, Eventually by Anne Lamott, both of which I received for Christmas. Normally I wouldn’t read two pieces of nonfiction by Lamott back to back this way, but I found myself in deep need of her wisdom and insight if I was going to fight back the baggage from 2012 following be into the new year.

Grace, Eventually provided the kindness and grace I’ve grown to expect from Lamott – in this work she tackles the perils of aging, raising teenagers, despair over the former Bush administration and how one should never, ever send an email after eleven o’clock at night. On the surface, it doesn’t always feel like an awful lot is happening, but that’s the beauty of Lamott’s work – she doesn’t need to go on an Eat, Pray, Love kind of journey in order to find herself or deepen her spirituality – instead, she portrays what I so often feel – that grace and love can be found in every day life – in the fight you have with your husband, or an unanticipated hot fudge binge (of which I am lately guilty) or the way the sun falls through your living room window as you drift off to nap. Her thoughts on faith were the encouragement I needed, to get Grace and myself dressed and ready for church – Ian even eagerly joined us. We went to church – we checked out the nursery – Grace continued her steadfast rejection of it – and somehow we managed to keep her from running all over the church until the children’s sermon began. Old ladies cooed, our minister welcomed her, other little girls came over to introduce themselves and through it all Grace kept her face stony and cool until I walked her up to the front of the church for the children’s sermon, at which point she started screaming “NO!” with the force of the furies. We left church, and considered it a major win that we managed to sing two hymns, hear a scripture and say a prayer. For our family, this was incredible progress.

Some Assembly Required is a journal written by Anne Lamott and her son, Sam, over the course of her grandson’s (and his son’s) first year. Sam was only 19 years old when he became a father, and this journal does a pretty remarkable job of showcasing the struggles such young parents face, and also gives a voice to grandmothers everywhere. There were points in this book where I actually began considering whether or not I’ve done the very best I can to foster a strong relationship for Grace and her grandparents – I even wondered at points if I had been, a-hem, a little less than fair. It is certainly true that I do not always take advice from my mom or my mother-in-law, mostly because they live quite far away and don’t know the ins and outs of Grace’s personality the way Ian and I do, but I also recognize moments when I could have been less resistant to their expertise and definitely points where I could have left Grace with them for one-on-one time when chose not to do so.

It stinks to see some of your poorer choices played out in a book by one of your spiritual guides.

In other ways, though, I did find it entertaining just how much Anne Lamott ended up embodying some of the mother-in-law/grandmotherly traits I found most annoying during my daughter’s first year -from her belief that Amy (Jax’s mother) should be pumping bottles so other people can feed him to rejoicing when Amy finally (FINALLY) feeds Jax solids at four months (how she would have groaned over the nearly 6 months I waited!) – both my mother and my mother-in-law were desperate to feed Grace a bottle and solid food but I steadfastly believed nursing and postponing solids were the right choice for us – and I had basically the whole internet behind me agreeing.

I wonder sometimes if non-Christians read Lamott’s work? I think her thoughts on faith transend Christianity and the world would be a much better place if everyone read her work but then again, I am the audience she is preaching to and I am not sure I would be as receptive if this were a text discussing a different God. Probably I should challenge myself with this a bit. Regardless, I find her willingness to share her down moments, the moments when she behaves badly/feels badly/talks badly, to take remarkable courage. Lamott isn’t a saint, but like all of us she has moments where she acts saintly, and moments where she acts terribly – and reading her words reminds me to try and have the saintly, or even not-terrible, moments outweigh the awful ones.

MLK Day Meltdown

I have been trying desperately hard not to carry our baggage from 2012 into this shiny bright new year. With the exception of watching Grace thrive, and the joy that comes from parenting her, 2012 otherwise sucked goat balls, pretty much, and it was with wide open arms that I welcomed the new year. So far, though, 2013 isn’t turning out much better, with three out of the three of us sick with wicked colds throughout the month, the check engine light coming on in one of our cars and the rental car company Ian used for a business trip claiming damage it didn’t “catch” during the walk through when he turned the car in.

Today I broke down and cried about all of it in front of Ian. It feels like such a shameful thing, to cry about money, especially when in many ways we have more than enough. What we don’t have, it seems, is enough to get ahead in any sort of meaningful way ever since our savings was wiped out last year thanks to a startling number of household disasters. It’s frustrating because I don’t feel like my desires are anything extravagant – I’d like to finish paying off the loans we incurred for school and I’d like a solid savings account beyond our retirement accounts. I actually do not want MORE money, what I want is for ovens and ceilings and cars and cell phones to STOP BREAKING so I can allocate the money we do have to achieve our goals. I recognize we don’t really need more money – we need one-thousand dollar plus problems to stop cropping up.

I just finished reading Some Assembly Required by Anne Lamott (when you are too sick to make it to church it’s a good idea to read Anne Lamott) so I know that God is right here, in the middle of my small family, and a problem isn’t a problem if the solution requires money, but the truth is I don’t want God’s help for this – He should be in Algeria or Syria or Washington D.C. and yes, I know, He is everywhere all at once but I don’t want to use His grace for this – for something as base as money concerns. What I want is respite – even a few months would do, although more than that would be fantastic – of things to stop collapsing.

It feels so low, to cry on Martin Luther King Day, a day that is also doubling as Inauguration Day for our President. A day that I get paid to stay home from work, even. Ian and I watched the inauguration and tried explaining to Grace why she is so lucky to have been born in America, especially as a girl.

“There aren’t somany other countries where you’d want to be born a girl,” I said, even though I realize she isn’t even two years old yet. Grace stared at the television, pointed at Judge Sotomayor and asked “Is that a mama?”

Sadly, I couldn’t even answer her. My gut instinct says no, Judge Sotomayor is not a mama but the truth is I simply can’t remember whether or not she has children. I will have to look that up on wikipedia later. Instead, I said something along the lines of her being a mother to our country which ultimately ended up making no sense but had the best of intentions behind it.
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It is evening, and things are better now. Ian and Grace went shoe shopping (even when the check engine light is on in the car, people still need new shoes) and both returned happy – I was able to write the beginning of this post. Grace and I luxuriated in her bath and bedtime, taking extra time to glide her rubber ducky across the bathwater, reading extra bedtime stories. Ian is drinking a manhattan and I have a glass of red wine – he is stirring a risotto on the stove. In a way, it makes me even wonder why I started writing about money problems – what an awful topic for a blog post!

I know why, though. When I started this blog, I committed to the idea that it would be, as much as possible, real-time dispatches from life as I live it. I read blogs – LOTS of blogs – and I know there are authors putting together the most carefully crafted, beautiful posts – full of lovely constructed photos of their children and crafts and prayers and recipes – and there are just as many authors writing about finding grace and God in the every day of family life – and then, because the internet is endless – there are just as many authors writing about how HARD everything is, because in terms of relationships and blogging, HARD TRUTHTELLING is the new black, and I know I don’t have a tremendous amount to offer, on any of those fronts, because I am not constructed in any of those ways. Instead, I’ve learned that, as much as anything else, I can talk and write about the day-to-day, so that’s what I am doing here.

So. This month. I’ve managed, with my my 2013 Fiscal Responsibility New Year Plan, to actually save ten percent of one of my paychecks. We may have to pay out 4 times by the conclusion of the month, but what the heck. There are highs and lows in every day, but there is very little at the end of the day that a toddler’s bathtime, risotto, a husband who let’s you cry, and a glass of wine can’t fix.

An introduction

The first person I ever heard refer to the “sandwich generation” was a former boss of mine when I was working in Detroit. I only worked with her for a year but to this day she remains the best boss I ever had, and I’ve worked for some pretty wonderful people. She was in her early thirties, relatively young to be a director of a communications department for a hospital and she hadn’t yet had her son. Over the course of that year her father struggled with a debilitating cancer and we – her staff – watched her as she showed up to high-level meetings directly from accompanying him to radiation treatment. She seemed to manage all of her responsibilities beautifully and when I brought that to her attention one day she just shrugged her shoulders and said “Yes, well, these are sandwich years, right? Caught between our kids – or wanting to have kids, and our parents!” She said it almost happily.

I’ve heard the term off and on since then, of course, but its accuracy never really struck me until I read Judith Shulevitz’s column in The New Republic “How Older Parenthood Will Upend American Society.” In the article, Shulevitz explores many of the complexities surrounding the postponement of having a family:

“But the experience of being an older parent also has its emotional disadvantages. For one thing, as soon as we procrastinators manage to have kids, we also become members of the “sandwich generation.” That is, we’re caught between our toddlers tugging on one hand and our parents talking on the phone in the other, giving us the latest updates on their ailments.

Her point really spoke to me. I had our daughter, Grace, when I was thirty-three years old, and now that she is nearly two I hope to conceive our second child in the next year or so, but I’m thirty-five, the age where my fertility takes a disturbing nosedive. I’m not open to taking fertility drugs so the size of our family will be what it will be, but for this go around I forsee more temperature-taking and ovulation watching than I would necessarily prefer. At the same time, Ian and I are struggling with the fact that we live a day’s drive from both sets of our parents, all of whom are entering their late sixties and early seventies with various maladies, some of which you would expect and some of which you wouldn’t.

So, yes – we’ve passed our salad days and entered our sandwich days, and the phrase for me embraces more than just the generational issues I’m living through. In many ways I feel sandwiched between the young woman I was for years and years – an actress and writer, and the adult I’m becoming – a mother who works in public relations and thinks about subjects like brand recognition, taxable income and school districts. In many ways I am proud and comfortable with the adult I’ve become but there are also moments where I miss the artist.

I’ve been blogging for a long time – five years – at a different blog. I started it after completing my M.F.A. in creative nonfiction – I wrote about writing, reading and all manner of other subjects. I’m not entirely sure what is going to happen to that space but I know I felt the need for a new blog – a new space to work with. Too many co-workers, family members and friends read – and reacted – to my last blog, in a way that caused me (because of who I am – oversensitive, for one,overdramatic, for two) write from a less honest place. I began worrying about what *this* friend would think if I wrote about weaning Grace before she turned a year old, or what my aunt would think if I recreated conversations between her and my dad. It was no way to write.

I don’t expect my former readers to follow me here (but if you have, thank you and welcome) – nor do I intend to write solely about my child,my parents, my husband and my job – but I imagine a lot of my posts will focus on ideas that come up from being a part of today’s sandwich generation. Because of where I am now in life, posts on television shows are as likely as book reviews, responses to articles and pieces of news more likely than musings about the writing life. I’ve freed myself up a LOT by admitting, to myself and others, that I don’t like to cook often so it’s highly unlikely I’ll post about recipes – and it’s much more likely that I’ll write about Project Fiscal Responsibility, my new year’s resolution.

Regardless of the topic of my posts, I’ve decided on the following goal: I would like to write at least once weekly – twice would be great. Posts should run between 750 and 1200 words although more is okay too. At the end of the year we’ll see if I’ve succeeded or not. I’m not entirely sure if I’ll keep posting at my other blog or not – that remains to be seen. I hope I do.

There are a lot of so-called “mom” blogs out there – I am initimately familiar with many of them – a perk/curse of my job. They are as diverse as they are numerous – from the spiritual to the religious to the feel-good to too much truth telling. Some are sponsored and some are not – some are obviously designed for perfect search engine optimization, while others are not. I don’t think of this blog as a “mom” blog perse but motherhood will certainly be a central focus of my writing. Ultimately, I am writing this blog from the point in time I inhabit right now – that is, as a mom/wife/daughter/sister/in-law/PR person/former Michigander/current Pittsburgher/voracious-but-slow reader who loves college basketball, novels that take place in the South, fashion boards on pinterest and all kinds of bodies of water – rivers, creeks, lakes and oceans.

I look forward to getting to know you!