Operating Instructions

When I found out that Bethany and I were pregnant, I instantly felt the need to start planning. I started pinning nursery ideas on Pinterest like a mad man (yes, real men use pinterest), and I started an Amazon baby registry. I googled reviews on strollers and car seats and tried to find the perfect bottles and pacifiers for Tommy(e). I realize that I’m a neurotic control freak and I wanted to feel like I was somehow contributing to the growth of the little fetus incubating in Bethany’s uterus. I wanted to feel like I was preparing, but honestly, I struggled to figure out what I was supposed to be reading. I started googling book recommendations for first time dads, but it was hard to find something designed exactly for my personal niche. Most of the “first time dad” books talked about coaching the wife through labor, what to expect in the delivery room, and how to be supportive to a hormonally charged woman whose body is changing and she doesn’t know how to handle it.

I probably sound like a pompous jerk, but I wasn’t finding any information being presented that I didn’t already know. I mean—I’m a doctor. (Yeah, I sound like an jerk.) But, I know what to expect in the delivery room. I’ve delivered lots of babies. I’ve coached women through pushing. I’ve held up legs, held hands, and fanned a pushing mom’s sweating face until I thought my arm would fall off. I’ve put in an epidural. I’ve performed exams on newborn babies and sewed up episiotomies. I’ve taken tests entirely composed of questions about pregnancy.

I desperately wanted to call my dad and get his recommendations on parenting books, but Bethany and I both wanted to wait until we were a little bit further along in our pregnancy before we told our families.

I tried to hold off on reading any books for a few days and do other pregnancy related things, but Bethany still refuses to let me paint the nursery until we hit at least the second trimester. Her reasoning is sound. We’re both pretty realistic about the realities of miscarriage, and the chances are highest during the first trimester. Even in her hormonally charged state, she has the soundness of mind to know that we shouldn’t make any huge changes to our house or make any huge purchases now because if we do miscarry, we don’t need more reminders of what we lost.

Once again, I was left searching for books. I was going to buy a few Christian parenting books, but then I realized once again that I should wait on my dad since he’s a counselor and has shelves full of Christian parenting books. I like free stuff, so again, I was left waiting.

I finally turned to the one person who I can always turn to in moments of desperation. Anne Lamott. Anne became my friend around the time I had my nervous breakdown in college when I read her book Traveling Mercies. Anne is a wildly irreverent, God loving, liberal feminist. While digging around for the perfect parenting book, I remembered that a few years after publishing Traveling Mercies she published Operating Instructions, her journals that she kept during the first year of her son’s life.

If anything, her book makes me more terrified to be a parent, but I don’t care. She writes the way I want to write. Her blatant honesty is refreshing, and when I read Traveling Mercies it makes feel like everything will be okay. I’ve read that book countless times, and sometimes when I hit my low points, I sit on the floor with my mug of tea/glass of wine, open to a random spot, and start reading. After a few paragraphs I start to gain some perspective on life again.

I think that Operating Instructions provides a nice contrast to the other books on my reading list like Grace Based Parenting and Love and Logic. Rather than a book of theories or advice, it’s the journals of a neurotic, recovering alcoholic who is trying to raise a baby as a single mom on a writer’s salary in California. After reading about Anne suffering another momentary breakdown and spending the night on her futon crying with her baby and dreaming of cocaine and bottles of wine, I realize that if she could keep her baby alive then so can Bethany and I.

While I love Anne, there are many areas where she and I differ in opinions on life. She’s a raging, liberal feminist who is a little bit too relativistic for my tastes. To me, however, she is like that old aunt who is terribly inappropriate, makes embarrassing comments about sex, and buys you skimpy Superman underwear for Christmas, but who you can’t help but love in spite of all this.

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2 thoughts on “Operating Instructions

  1. Being a first time Dad last year i can takem relate to your post very much, honestly found blogging one of the best ways to learn about parenthood. Will maybe give the book a try too..

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