Anne Lamott's latest book Some Assembly Required , which she co-authored with her son Sam, chronicles the unexpected birth of his first child, Jax. Beliefnet spoke with the author about what it's like to be a grandmother and what she's learned from being thrust into a new season of parenting.
You’ve said that this book is a collaborative gift from you and Sam to Jax. What do you want your readers to experience from this book?
I want to share my sense of life with my readers–that it is beautiful and hard, sometimes as funny as clowns, sometimes barely survivable, and sometimes breathtaking in its complexity and mysterious beauty and capacity to leave us scratching our heads with amazement. I love to make people laugh. I love to get people to slow down and pay attention to the moments that are the mosaics of our lives.
Grandparents often see a new side to their own children by watching them raise children of their own. What did you learn about Sam through this experience that you didn’t know before?
Well, of course it's amazing to watch your smashing, bashing, exasperating boy grow into fatherhood–into being someone who can make sacrifices, and put someone else's needs ahead of his own. But one thing I really loved was reading and hearing his descriptions of his spirituality, which is so different from mine–thank God. Otherwise I would wonder if it was authentic, or if he was trying to please me. For him–at 19 and 20–to be able to articulate his dependence on God, side by side with fierce independence AND his sense of being shackled to his new, permanent identity of a father–pleased and continually surprised me. I was very moved by his descriptions of the depth of his love for Jax, and his frustrations with me when I tried old controlling behavior with him–in general, his hero's journey fits and starts, breakthrough, and doldrums.
In the same vein, what did you learn about yourself as you stepped into the new role of grandmother?
I think I keep learning the same things–how both beautiful and pathological I am, and we as a species are. What I am capable in terms of huge new feelings, and a growing ability to bear being in the present, the now. How afraid I still am fairly often. How touching I am and what a pain in the neck I can be.
Sam and Jax's mother Amy’s relationship was troubled in the book, and in recent interviews you’ve said that they have since split. Has grand-parenting changed for you now that your grandchild’s parents are no longer together?
It's so much easier now, but that may also be because Jax is such a big happy independent boy now. I am NEVER in favor of couples staying together "for the sake of the children.” My parents doing this caused me enormous confusion about what love looks like and even who I even WAS–caught between the quiet clipped misery and blame of the two people I loved most. Jax is being raised by two parents who live within an hour of each other, who are doing their best, and who have been freed from the burden of making each other crazy. His parents have been given wings to fly–one of the hugest gifts children can have.
Based on what you’ve learned, what would you tell parents who were similarly surprised by their young son or daughter’s unexpected pregnancy?
I'd say, Buckle up!... which is also what I say to people who get sober, married, or published. It's going to be a journey where half the time, you don't know what you're doing or what to expect, or how you're going to bear the pressures, or as Blake put it, learn to endure the beams of love. I would say, it's one day at a time–it's bird by bird. It's Doctorow saying that writing is like driving at night with the headlights on where you can only see a little ways in front of you, but you can make the whole journey that way.