Some twenty years ago, Anne Lamott chronicled in "Operating Instructions" her first year as a single parent. It's been a mothering favorite--it has an almost cult-like following--since it appeared. Now comes the bookend, "Some Assembly Required," which lets us know how the baby, Sam, who's at the center of O.I., became a father himself at 19--making Lamott a grandmother.
In discussing the new book, an olnline panel of New York Times readers (Motherlode book club panelists) talked about how they were drawn to the question the book raises: acceptance of what grown children choose to do with their lives. "The peculiar thing about it, and the thing that makes Some Assembly Required so different from Operating Instructions," they suggest, is that "the parent of an adult child with a problem is 'one step removed from desperate.'”
It can be the harder step. It's so difficult to stand by and see our grown children make their way through troubling situations or suffer the consequences of an unfortunate event or from an illness. It's harder to watch than to be the one in a position to act--and we're the watchers now. This was brought home to me recently when a friend's daughter was diagnosed with a chronic and debilitating illness. My friend's suffering is palpable and yet, she writes in an email, her daughter "is being so brave--unrealistic?--and is pushing herself to be active. It's painful to observe. I'm trying hard to compartmentalize and force some thoughts out and others in. And I have to think positive thoughts and hope that wonderful new treatments can be effective. I'm not always so morbid. It comes and goes."
The Motherlode panelists make a similar point: “Accepting” that your son will be a father at 19, or that he will travel the world without your help, is a different kind of acceptance" than memoirs usually deal with. Which dovetails with the real-world acceptance my friend has had to find with regard to her daughter. And the pain she feels being "one step removed from desperate."
While the crux of Operating Instructions was unexpected single motherhood, Some Assembly Required is in itself "one step removed": Lamott has less power to control events. This time around, it's her story to tell from the outside looking in--it is, after all, her son's life (and he writes some chapters of the book). But it's just another way in which, no matter how close we are to our grown children, we move off--forced or voluntarily--from the center of their lives.