Anne Lamott: On Unexpectedly Becoming a Grandmother

Mom's relationship with her son changes upon becoming a grandmother.

Posted Mar 30, 2012

During the past two decades I've learned so much from Anne Lamott about parenting, writing, faith, and just learning to laugh more in life. Her latest book, written with her now 22-year-old son Sam, is Some Assembly Required: A Journal of my Son's First Son. Sam unexpectedly became a father at nineteen, and this is a frank—sometimes funny, always poignant—exploration of that first year of his son's life. Here's more from Anne and Sam:

Jennifer Haupt: I love this comment from Sam about parenthood: "We as parents have the delusion that we make our kids stronger, but they make us stronger." Anne, how has Sam made you stronger?

Anne Lamott: Having a child as a single mother was a crucible-maybe this is true for all parents. I got rid of so much stuff that didn't really matter in the scheme of things-like throwing stuff out of an airplane that kept me flying too low. What was left was essential, i.e. not a lot of extraneous stuff that had kept me busy and people-pleasing. I just didn't have the luxury of wasting my life force on so much stupidity and distraction. That made me strong. Raising a child, whether or not it is yours, is like Nautilus of the heart and soul.

JH: Sam-how did becoming a father at nineteen years old make you stronger?

Sam Lamott: Most men my age are working towards degrees, and creating careers, and figuring out who they are as an adult. It's an incredibly busy period of your life without a baby, so Jax made me dig deep into reservoirs that I didn't even know I had, for strength, energy, direction and the will to even just keep on going. Some days I could hardly meet the barest minimum of what needed to be done, instead of really achieving something, and I had to learn to be okay with that—which I wasn't always able to do.

JH: Sam, how has parenthood tested your relationship with your girlfriend Amy? Was there one "most difficult" decision that you two had to make together?

SL: Well, we separated in June, which was our most difficult decision, because we had to drop all illusions or hope of being a nuclear family, of being parents in the same household, but we had to do it because, well—we were no longer our loveliest. We both love the same person, and that's what he should get—our best selves, not OUR problems getting along with each other.

JH: Anne, what was your initial reaction when learning that you were becoming a grandmother? Was this reaction different than the one you showed to your son?

I was just stunned. I listened over the phone as he told me, and all I could say was, "Oh, Sam."

I really tried to keep my mouth shut, and let him and Amy find their way through the early days of Amy's decision to have this baby. Of course with my friends, that's another story. I said, "Oh, woe is me—they are too young. I bet he's going to drop out of college, and never get back on track... It's all hopeless." But pretty early on, I started to get excited about what an incredible blessing it was going to be, to become a grandmother.

JH: Sam, has being a young father at all impacted what you want to pursue as a career or study in college?

SL: I was always a mad scientist type—an inventor and just a generally inventive person, and that has remained the same. But one thing that *has* changed is that I've always been aggressively pro-business, with the mentality that whoever pays me, gets me—but now, I'd rather be broke than contribute to destroying the world he's inheriting-both the social fabric, and obviously the environmental.

JH: Anne, how has being a grandmother impacted your faith in a higher power?

AL: I started out with a lot of faith, but these three-plus years since the kids got pregnant really tested me. Like Sam and Amy, I fell desperately in love with Jax as soon as I saw the sonogram, so all of a sudden there was another person to whom I was sort of addicted. And another person whose life I secretly wanted to manage and control, which is when I most need God. We really are SO powerless over other people's lives and destinies, and I had to frequently ask God to draw nearer to me, Sam, and Amy, for discernment, when things got hard—as they always do in life—while at the same time, practicing the same horrible business of letting go and Letting God—which is not my strong suit.

JH: Sam, what's the one mother-son talk you hope that your mom doesn't also impart to your son? How about the talks you'd like her to have with your son?

The talk I hope she doesn't give to Jax is about how to be a stand-up guy—because this a man's domain, for a man to teach boys and young men—men and older boys need to teach young ones how to be men, not moms. I think it was nice of her to try, and in millions of households where kids were just brought up by moms, it's the same problem. But it's like a cat trying to teach a dog how to be a happy and fulfilled dog—the cat just does not have this information.

The best stuff she tried to teach me—the best talks—were that we get to make mistakes, we get to screw up and do horrible dark things, but humility and owning up and the courage to admit your wrong can lead to the miracles of forgiveness, and getting more maturity. If I hadn't learned this, I'd have a million more amends to make, but she taught me to keep my own side of the street clean, and while I'm not exactly going to EAT off it, it's pretty well swept, and is not pissing off the neighbors.

JH: Anne, what's the best thing about being a grandmother, as opposed to being a mom?

AL: It's so fun, and you fall so in love with your little grandchild, and you totally care about this innocent little being, but it's infinitely easier in most ways, because everyone goes home. With your own kid, when they're little, it's 24/7 and you're so fixated on every detail of the child's existence. Being a parent is absolutely exhausting and draining, along with all the joy and love. I see Jax three times a week, with one overnight, and it's just ideal—I get to miss him, AND get my fill.

JH: Sam, what's the one true thing you've learned from Jax during the first two and a half years of his life?

SL: I guess what I learned is that no matter how tired or stressed you are, just by getting dressed and rolling your sleeves up, you can accomplish almost anything. I'd think I was at the end of my rope, but it would be like, "Thanks for sharing, Sam—now get dressed." I've learned my feelings and thoughts are secondary to what needs to get done—that what matters is the next right action.

About the Authors:
Anne Lamott is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Grace (Eventually), Plan B, Traveling Mercies, and Operating Instructions, as well two other works of nonfiction and seven novels, including the trilogy composed of Imperfect Birds, Rosie, and Crooked Little Heart.  A past recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, an inductee to the California Hall of Fame, and a former columnist for Salon, she lives in Northern California.
Sam Lamott is currently studying industrial design.  He lives in San Francisco.