I read Anne Lamott's book about her son Sam's first year of life (Operating Instructions) back during my first year of motherhood. So, in some twisted and narcissistic way, I had it in my head that her son Sam was about the same age as my son—as that is when I became aware of him. (It could also have been a persistent "mommy brain" notion that never quite left me.) So it was with a bit of a shock when I saw Lamott's new memoir, Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son's First Son. "How could little Sam possibly have a child?" I marveled to myself. Of course, Sam isn't 7 like my son. He is 19. (Still pretty young to be a father but certainly within the realm of believability.) Always wanting to find out "how things turned out" in any story, I eagerly started the book—excited to catch up with Anne and Sam's life since we last spent time together.
Within a few pages, I was reminded of just why I love Anne Lamott. She has a brutal honesty about herself and her life that is both self-depreciating, amusing and authentic. She writes from her heart, and she isn't afraid to show us all aspects of herself—from her neurotic and selfish sides to the spiritual and open searching soul she works on so assiduously. Her writing is never fancy or condescending. Rather, it is heartfelt yet with a sly irreverence and joking tone that always lets you know she is aware of her frailties and flaws. I'd love to have her as a friend.
The subject of her son's first son is fraught with all kinds of emotional minefields that challenge Anne in a myriad of different ways. Not only does she struggle with the idea becoming a grandmother at the age of 55, but her son's complex and volatile relationship with his girlfriend Amy adds a tricky new dimension to Anne's relationship with her grandchild Jax. Anne falls hard and fast for Jax and has clear ideas about how things can and should be for this young couple. Yet Amy is a strong-willed young woman who decided to have Jax regardless of what anyone else felt ... and she has her own ideas about how things will be. Worse yet, Amy's roots are not in the San Francisco area where Anne and Sam are deeply ensconced. As Amy struggles with her identity as a mother and her need to be with her own family, this threat of Jax being "taken away" hangs over Anne's (and Sam's) head like a piano held by the thinnest of threads.
When a young couple who are not established in the world or with each other (Sam is still in art school when Jax is born and Amy is staying with Sam in his tiny apartment; they have a volatile relationship and had broken up several times before Amy became pregnant) decide to have a child together, it isn't easy for a mother (including one who pays many of the bills) to simply step aside and watch them. Throughout the book, Anne struggles with how involved to get, how much she can say, how much support to offer. It is a tricky balancing act that requires all of Anne's spiritual maturity to sort through—and even then she is plagued with moments of needing to control things that overwhelm her and threaten to engulf the precarious new relationships developing between everyone. Yet with her considerable support system, Anne manages to work through her new identity as grandmother and forge a kind of peace with the role.
In addition to getting Anne's point of view (which includes everything that is going on in her life during this year, including a trip to India and a book tour), the book also includes sections written by Sam Lamott about how he is viewing fatherhood at the tender age of 19. It was enlightening and heartening to get a glimpse inside Sam's psyche and his obvious delight and love for Jax. It is very clear that Anne and Sam have a mother-son bond that is solid and tightly woven with strands of love, understanding and respect.
Anne Lamott has led an interesting life (having overcome alcoholism, family dysfunction and taken on single motherhood when she was financially and emotionally unprepared) and managed to come through with grace and good spirit. I love how she is utterly herself (including her trademark dreadlocks) but is so completely relatable that you feel like you know her already. Her writing has a directness and beauty to it that is characteristic of someone who is writing from their authentic self. Besides this book, I'd also recommend Operating Instructions and her excellent writing book, Bird by Bird. Her memoirs on her spiritual journey (although Traveling Mercies is the only one I've read so far) are also well done. Although I've read two of her novels, and found that I prefer her memoirs more.