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.

4 thoughts on “Anne Lamott – Great Spiritual Advisor, Awful Mother-in-law?

  1. I absolutely love Anne Lamott, but then, she’s talking about my God, too. It’s an interesting question you raise about whether or not you’d be as receptive if the text discussed a different God. I bet you would. There’s a sort of “religious common ground” I’ve discovered, over the years, that those of us who believe in any sort of God at all, all have (and, even, surprisingly, I’ve found, some of those who profess not to believe in God). I haven’t read either of these books of hers yet, but I plan to.

  2. I found myself both loving and hating Some Assembly Required. There were parts where I found myself detesting Anne Lamott for the intrusiveness she had in her son’s life. But, then I loved that she shared that utterly flawed character, that part of oneself that most of us are not willing to share so openly. And out of that comes wisdom. But, even though it’s been only about 6 months since I read it, the part that sticks with me the most is not the parts about daily life with Amy/Jax/Sam, but about her trip to India — both what she did (and did wrong, like giving money to a beggar only to be surrounding by a throng of people wanting money) but about how she longed for her family when she was there. I can only imagine that being a grandmother is really tough work because it would be difficult not to hover, not to offer advice, not to want to smother that baby in so much love and comfort and keep them from any harm. Yes, as a parent you want to do that too, but as a grandparent I think you have all that experience about what you *should* have done that you want to not only protect your grandchild from — but your own child as well.

    As for Grace & church. Been there; done that. Funny, now that I don’t have small children, I find that I love sitting in the back of the church with the families with squiggly, squirmy, NOISY children. Don’t worry about being too disruptive, and let Grace decide when it is right for her to go to the Children’s sermon. I always thought that my son wasn’t paying attention in church until the day when I saw him imitating the priest during the consecration — using saltines that he managed to get over 2 or 3 different pews! Switched to TeddyGrahams after that — not as messy!

  3. Emily – I agree, there is definitely a religious common ground out there – I guess I’ve just been thinking that I probably don’t explore other thoughts on faith (or lack thereof) very much. But I have Christopher Hitchen’s memoir on the way so he should help with that.

    Anne – I completely agree. I think her willingness to share the less than stellar parts of herself are really what make the book so great – it’s a really honest portrayal of her feelings…like how desperately she wants Amy to get a job, and how she sometimes feels competitive with Amy and her friends (weird) – I also think she’s and Sam did a lot right by Amy if Amy didn’t just sweep that baby off to Chicago…it sounds like she would have been very happy to do just that!

  4. I can testify that I love Anne Lamott and I’m not Christian! I read Grace eventually, but not Some Assembly Required. I’m a bit sensitive (read: fiercely protective) on this issue of intrusive grandmothers, so I might pass on this one.

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