By: Holly Vanderhaar
Many moms—especially single moms—in my circle will list Anne Lamott among their favorite parenting authors. Not because she gives parenting advice, per se, but her memoir Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year has saved many a new mom’s sanity. She gave me the courage to become a writer myself, and when I was teaching creative writing in grad school, I taught Bird by Bird, her book on writing. And I could write an entire post about how Anne’s approach to spirituality made me look at my own spirituality through fresh eyes, eyes of love and compassion and forgiveness.
My daughters were about 18 months old when I first read Operating Instructions, so we were past the every-three-hour-around-the-clock feedings, the crippling (no, crippling isn’t a strong enough word) sleep deprivation, the fierce maternal protectiveness coupled with an absolute unmooring from everything that had ever made me feel secure and confident. And when the attachment parenting books made me feel inadequate for not being utterly besotted with these wriggling, angry, liquid-spewing organisms every second of the day, it was a blessed relief when Anne described her colicky baby—a baby she clearly loved—“raising its loathsome reptilian head again.” I love my children more than my own life, but I think idealizing anything—even parenthood, especially parenthood—is not productive. What’s more, I think it’s dangerous to every new parent who beats him- or herself up over not being perfect and feeling abject adoration every second of every day.
I’m woefully out of touch with publishing news, which is odd considering that writing about writers is what I do for a living. So I was surprised to hear that Lamott has a new book out. And I was gobsmacked to realize that that gritchy little baby from Operating Instructions is now a grown man and a father in his own right. I found out about Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son’s First Son last weekend, and realizing that new books usually mean book tours, I did some quick Googling and found out that she would be reading and signing at a Barnes and Noble in my area the very next evening. Unfortunately “in my area” didn’t mean in the Twin Cities proper, which is where I live; it meant in a rich, white suburb about 35 minutes away, not accounting for rush hour traffic. The reading was on a Monday night, and it was too late to get a sitter. Monday nights are busy for us anyway, and this Monday was already overscheduled, but I couldn’t miss a chance to meet Anne over the signing table, even if our whole conversation consisted of “Who should I make it out to?” and me spelling my name. Even if I never got to tell her what I wanted to, that she was my angel when I really needed her.
So what I’m calling my Single Parent Reality Check, AKA Monday, went like this: I worked from home, picked the girls up after school, rushed them home, force-fed them a snack and supervised homework like a drill sergeant. They changed into leotards and tights and I took them to their dance class at the local parks and rec. Another mad dash home to change into warm clothes, because a freezing drizzle was now underway, then off to drop off the cookie money. Hit the drive-thru at Wendy’s, and then onto the slippery rush hour freeway out to the suburbs. We made it to the Barnes and Noble about 15 minutes before the reading started, only to circle the Range-Rover-crammed parking lot in a futile search for a spot. Finally found one by stalking a woman who was wandering around looking for her car, and dashed into the store, only to be told by the store employee that it was “hearing room only,” and “the chairs were taken two hours ago” and I “should have gotten here earlier.” I nearly—what’s the phrase?—choked a bitch. Stopped off to buy a copy of the book for Anne to sign and trudged downstairs dragging two 8-year-olds and enough paraphernalia to keep them occupied for a couple of hours.
The reading and Q & A were great; I could hear almost every word, and once in a while I even got a glimpse of Anne’s famous dreads. But the store was a mob scene, and when they announced the signing with some cryptic comment about how “only Marches could line up,” I had to start asking questions. It seemed that they had been handing out desk calendar pages to the people who had their shit together and had gotten to the store early. The woman with the calendar all but rolled her eyes at me when she tore off my page: October 21. And they were on March. I looked at my patient daughters, whom I’d dragged out in the rain, who were already going to be out an hour past their bedtime on a school night, and I knew I couldn’t ask it of them.
I led them through the crush of people, blinking back tears of exhaustion and frustration and self-pity, when Isabelle pulled her hand from mine. I turned, annoyed, and then saw what she’d stopped for. A downy feather was floating down from the ceiling, and she caught it, delighted.
For the last several years, feathers have had meaning for me. When I find them at odd times, or in unlikely places, I believe it means that someone is looking out for me. Someone is telling me there’s a plan, that even if I don’t see it now, more will be revealed. The feather that appeared out of thin air in a Barnes and Noble in Edina, Minnesota, was the only thing that could have snapped me out of my self-pity spiral.
More will be revealed.