Review: Operating Instructions

Book Title: Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year
Author: Anne Lamott
Original Publication Date: 1993
Edition Read:
1993, Pantheon Books
Total Pages:
Reason Read:
Author writes about her son, Sam’s, first year. My son, Sam, just celebrated his first birthday. Came across the title on my Goodreads to-read list and couldn’t resist the irony.
4 out of 5 Stars

“I just can’t get over how much babies cry. I really had no idea what I was getting into. To tell you the truth, I thought it would be more like getting a cat.” – Page 66

I hear ya sister. Although I must say, my son Sam did not suffer from colic like Anne Lamott’s Sam did. But he still cried a hell of a lot more than I was prepared for. There are lots of things that surprised me this past year, his first with me on this Earth. Wonderful moments, horrible challenges, joyful days. Did I write any of them down? Nope. I kept more of a log of sorts – about when he did certain things, how his eating and sleeping habits changed. But I didn’t keep a journal of my internal emotions about it all. After reading Lamott’s journal of her Sam’s first year, I wish that I had. What a treasure it was to read through and learn from.

Lamott finds herself knocked up without a willing partner to help her bring this baby into the world. Her son is born without a father to acknowledge him, which breaks her heart. But throughout his first year she applauds and is in awe of Sam’s tribe, filled with the people from all walks of life, who love and support them through the good and the bad. Sam’s tribe features many men of high quality, love and strength which gives Lamott comfort that he will have good examples to guide him through the things a mother may not always be best suited for.

Lamott is a former addict with several years of sobriety at the time of Sam’s birth. Her journal entries show the never ending battle that people in recovery have with themselves. The doubts, the temptations, the fears and the faith to pull through them. I cannot fathom how the stress and pressure of raising a son as a first-time, single mother, struggling to make ends meet would be possible to survive when also fighting back the demons of addiction with a desperate hold on religion. The way that the world feels sorry for you or overlooks you when you feel like a big, fat sleep-deprived slob is hard enough on the self-esteem. But Lamott finds a way to express herself with humor and wisdom at the same time – high qualities in my book.

Lamott expresses the wonder and love that motherhood brings with exquisite descriptions. She comes up with the most beautiful parallels for the way a baby’s wide eyes make you feel. And then in the next entry she’s hitting the nail on the head by confessing a strong desire to run away and make it all stop when that sweetheart turns into a royal pain in the ass. But you will never find a more staunch defender of her child. What you witness through these journal entries is the growth not only of a little boy, but of a mother finding confidence, love and purpose through him.

I loved the fact that this book was super easy to pick up and put down to read in the short spurts that my son allows. But it was also really hard to put down. I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen next to Anne, Sam and their tribe. It didn’t hurt that I could relate so directly to their path, having traveled along it with my Sam just now. Best of all, it was comforting to know I’m not the only one to feel this way:

“Lots of other babies Sam’s age have been crawling for months. Their moms say, “Oh, Joshua was one of those babies who couldn’t wait to crawl,” and their tone suggests that this is some positive reflection on his moral character. I always want to say, Yeah, but your kid’s a spoiled little no-neck monster and your husband is a total dork. But hey – congratulations on the crawling!” – Page 195

My Sam – On His First Birthday

About thebumbles

In addition to online Freelance Writing, Molly blogs about books on Quirky Girls Read and about everything else on The Bumbles Blog. Visit her often and let her know what you think! Unless you are a Yankee fan - then there might be a problem ;0)
This entry was posted in Memoir, Nonfiction, Posts by Molly and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Review: Operating Instructions

  1. Terrific review, Bumbles. I read the book years ago and enjoyed it, too. I still remember her description of baby Sam, in awe of his tiny baby hands: “they are like birds.”

  2. trish422 says:

    I never read books like this, but now that I have a baby I must admit I love reading other parents thoughts on the whole experience.

  3. Janet says:

    I wish my honey’s daughter was a reader, because I think she’d get a lot out of this book! But alas. Altho, my friend Pat whose daughter just had a baby would probably love it. So yay! Also, just took pictures at the birthday of a one year old…no blue cake but lots of smearing! Your Sam is sure a cutie 🙂

  4. kaye says:

    I think I’ll recommend this book to my daughter-in-law. She was just wishing for a book to help her with her new baby.

  5. stacybuckeye says:

    Oh, that picture is soooo cute. I have this book and haven’t read it, but that last quote you included made me laugh out loud so I must get to it. Aren’t we so lucky to have such wonderful little guys? Within a few months you’ll realize that calling Sam your baby is wrong and that he’s really a little boy. Little boys are the best – even when they throw hissy fits with lots of dramatic toy throwing 🙂

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