Operating Instructions

by Anne Lamott

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Pregnancy and Birth
Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year begins during Lamott’s pregnancy. An unmarried, thirty-five year old writer, Lamott decides to keep the baby and raise it herself when the biological father makes it clear that he will not take part in the child’s life. In the months preceding Sam’s birth, Lamott faces her feelings of loneliness, as well as her joys and her fears.

Sam is born on September 7, 1989. Lamott’s best friend Pammy and her brother Steve are in the delivery room with Lamott. When Lamott holds Sam for the first time, she immediately becomes enraptured with her baby.

During the first month of Sam’s life, Lamott is exhausted. Sometimes she feels so stressed that she needs to leave the room to get away from Sam. Throughout the long days and nights, Lamott records Sam’s accomplishments: crying, losing his hair, smiling, laughing, sleeping through the night, and being introduced to her church. One highlight is Sam’s baptism, which takes place when he is nearly two months old. One of Lamott’s novels is published during this period.

By January, Lamott notes that Sam is changing every day. She also notices changes in herself. She feels that it is easier to take care of Sam, and she also finds herself less worried. However, her journal entries show the variability of her moods. For example, just five days after writing an optimistic entry about how much easier it is to take care of Sam, she writes, ‘‘I’m mental and defeated and fat and loathsome and I am crazily, brain-wastedly tired. . . . This is maybe the loneliest I have ever felt.’’

Lamott also feels a great deal of financial pressure as her savings dwindle precariously. However, she is confident that God will come through for her, and toward the end of January, Lamott’s miracle comes when she is hired to be the monthly book columnist at Mademoiselle magazine.

In April, immediately after returning from a month-long vacation, Pammy discovers a lump in her breast. She is diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. Early in May, Pammy starts chemotherapy, and although Lamott writes that this first round goes well, Pammy becomes very nauseated and tired. In August, the doctor tells Pammy that her cancer cannot be cured. Lamott is devastated by this news, but her journal entries show that she is gradually coming to an acceptance of Pammy’s inevitable death.

Sam’s First Birthday
Less than a week before his first birthday, Sam takes his first steps. On August 29, Lamott, Sam, Dudu, Rex, and Steve have a small birthday party; a larger one is planned for the weekend. On this day, Lamott reflects on the past year and Sam’s birth, as well as thinking about what the future will bring and what kind of person Sam will grow up to become. In an after-note, Lamott reports Pammy’s death two years later, in November 1992.

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