Operating Instructions

by Anne Lamott

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Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 758

Single Motherhood
Lamott faces the trials of raising a child without a partner and Sam, though he is unaware of this, faces life without a father. Soon after the discovery of her pregnancy, she knows that Sam’s biological father will be of no help to her. Even before Sam’s birth, Lamott faces the difficult future as well as a sense of ‘‘aloneness.’’ Although she acknowledges to herself that she will probably feel isolated for awhile, the issue of single motherhood remains of great concern to her.

Lamott often feels jealous of her friends who are raising their children with husbands. These women have someone with whom to share their worries, frustrations, and emotional ups and downs. She wonders about her ability to understand and raise a boy. She also worries about the ramifications for Sam of not having a father, which is ‘‘a huge thing not to have.’’ She fears that Sam will grieve over his lack of a father. Since she is unable to change this circumstance, she can only hope that her friends and family will provide significant masculine role models for her son.

As a single parent, Lamott also experiences the stress of being responsible—emotionally, financially, and completely—for another human, particularly an utterly helpless one. Her confidence in herself wavers, for instance, in January, after she gets the Mademoiselle book reviewer’s job. At first she is jubilant and believes that the worst of her insecurities are over, but by March she writes, ‘‘I’m just feeling stressed to the nu-nu’s today, very tired and unable to keep the house and our life together. It’s clear to me that we need a breadwinner.’’ Throughout the narrative, Lamott reveals the range of emotions that she experiences from day to day.

Despite the lack of a husband or partner, Lamott has an enormously helpful support system, includ ing her friends and family. Pammy comes over almost every afternoon. Her mother lives nearby, as do her so-called second parents, Dudu and Rex. Her brother Steve spends a great deal of time with Sam, and her friend Brian volunteers to be a Big Brother. All of these people love Lamott and Sam tremendously, and while they cannot be a father to Sam or a husband to Lamott, they do play an important role in giving Sam the necessary sense of security and helping Lamott get through this difficult year.

Religious Faith
Lamott’s faith in God and Jesus is a crucial component of her life and personality. Her faith stems from the simple decision, which she made a long time ago, to believe. For the past several years, she has found tremendous emotional support and love in her church. Her religious beliefs sustain her through difficult times and give her strength because she knows that God is protecting her. Although she acknowledges that believing in God is ‘‘sort of ridiculous,’’ she adheres to the conviction that God has a plan for her.

As an example of Lamott’s faith, she believes that God will bring a solution to her financial worries, and she sees the Mademoiselle job offer as proof of her faith. She also is aware of the fact that whenever her faith wavers, something happens to make her believe again. She records her misgivings about believing in Jesus in her journal, but the next day a man from her church comes over, offering to help in any way. As further testimony to her faith, Operating Instructions closes on her musings about whether Sam will grow up to believe in God.

The friendships that Lamott has developed throughout her life prove to be of crucial importance to her during Sam’s first year, and she celebrates the ‘‘minuet of old friendships.’’ She relies on her friends to help her in many different ways. Her friends watch over Sam so Lamott can take care of simple needs, such as bathing. They bring over food and do the laundry. Their most important function, however, may be as people with whom Lamott can share the wonder of Sam. Pammy, Lamott’s best friend, particularly takes on this role. Lamott has a great deal of respect for Pammy, calling her ‘‘unquestionably the sanest, most grounded and giving person I’ve ever known,’’ and she relies on Pammy’s dependability and love. In many ways, Pammy fulfills the role of partner or husband, as epitomized by Lamott’s statement, ‘‘Whenever Sam does anything new or especially funny, my first thought is, Oh, Pammy will love this.’’

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