Authors: Anne Lamott,Sam Lamott
I feel so happy and hopeful that Sam and Amy have been given this tool. A miracle, and one I wish I had had. All of me is happy and relieved for Sam and Amy. You want your kids to have every break that might make life even slightly easier, because you know that no matter what, there are going to be very hard times. Yet sometimes I notice a swirl of jealousy in me, like a ribbon of caramel marbled into vanilla ice cream, that they have much more than I did when Sam was an infant. They have three parents who have done all right in the world, who have disposable income. They sometimes seem
to take this for granted, if you ask my tiny personal self. They both have good cars, Amy an SUV she inherited from her grandparents, with only fifty thousand miles on it, and Sam a great six-year-old truck with a minuscule cab that I helped him buy for his eighteenth birthday. I had such a rattletrap car when he was born, my mother’s battered two-door Corolla, which I called the Joadmobile. Of course, I also had fantastically generous friends, as well as St. Andrew and other fellowships where I could take Sam. And I did meditate, in my frenetic and worried way, “
Om mane padme hum,
I wonder if the baby is breathing,
Om mane padme hum,
I hate that guy’s moustache at church,
Om mane padme hum,
my butt itches, I wonder if it is cancer.”
Twenty years ago, against many odds—age, being alone, scarcity—I got to have the one thing I wanted more than anything else on earth, a child. It was hard, and it is still hard, and it shall be hard all the days of our lives.
Sam called to say that he and Amy have been fighting and she has a one-way ticket to North Carolina to live with her parents. This is his version, at least.
I am experiencing sickening fear, the need to control, and the ubiquitous litany of good ideas. I thank God again and again that my mind does not have a public address system or an open mike every evening.
I guess Amy’s leaving is predictable—to expect them to keep it together in a tiny apartment was unrealistic. Babies are hard enough for couples in love who have college degrees, and homes, and help. But this way is wrenching.
I was so miserable after talking to Sam that I had to call horrible Bonnie, my mentor. She was no help at all. She said that Amy would go to North Carolina to find out what she needed to know—namely, what it will be like to live with her parents as an adult, and how long she can be away from Sam, me, St. Andrew, our life here.
Bonnie pointed out that all three of them are kids, in what feels like an untenable situation. Sam and Amy don’t have big coping skills yet. And, Bonnie added, “they don’t actually even have fully developed cerebral cortexes yet.” They are ground down constantly by the pressures of their lives, exhaustion, and the needs of this little baby.
For Sam there will be grief, and a measure of relief, because of the demands of school, and that he’ll feel guilty about.
The situation is so Amy—the same impetuous, fiery, hardheaded quality that is also the miraculous force that created Jax, insisted on having him, and worked through the heroic labor.
Bonnie persuaded me to focus on the good, just for today: tomorrow I can call back and we will wallow in the total awfulness of Amy’s behavior, which will surely lead to permanent estrangement and dead bodies. Just for today, I was supposed to try to remember three things:
The baby is not falling off the earth, or headed to Afghanistan.
So many things are going well: Everyone has good health. Jax is perfect.
Even though I have acid and sewage and grippage in my stomach, which I have had many times before and will have many times again, I can build faith muscles by bearing my feelings of misery and powerlessness—a kind of Nautilus. Rumi said that through love, all pain would turn to medicine. But he never met my family. Or me.
I took the one action I could think of, besides calling Bonnie and praying. I wrote Amy’s name down on a bit of paper and put it in my god box, an old Sunshine Biscuits tin that I use as a mail drop to God. “Here,” I said to Jesus, with enormous hostility, “have a go at it,” and closed the lid.
Inwardly I believe that by this grippage, this not letting go, I am holding people safe, although a critic might point out that I am holding them in a death grip. It doesn’t help them to stay safe! It doesn’t let them move around. Or learn their lessons. Or grow up. So there’s that. Fine. I am impeding the flow of spirit for everyone else, and creating psychic indigestion for me. God, it’s awful to see what crap we have inside us. It all feels too hard right now, certainly for Amy.
She won’t know that she has to move through her discomfort, not escape from it, until she flees. To me it feels heedless and cruel. She sees it as steeliness, not meanness or panic. She needs more help than Sam gives her.
I called Bonnie again—statistically, it has been proven nine times out of ten that
talking to a trusted person helps in most tough situations. Saying my problems out loud is the main way I am ever able to let go. People say in chipper voices, “Let go and let God,” and I think, “Oh, fuck you.”
Now I can’t remember for sure if that has been proven statistically.
Bonnie said that Amy has to do what she has to do; that I can’t control, absorb, fix, or change her inside process. I
that, I told Bonnie, and said I wouldn’t call her anymore.
“Good night, dearest,” Bonnie said, laughing. “You know, I’m up reading for at least another hour if you need me.”
I woke up in extreme mental distress. It was barely six; I must have been flopping around, because Lily was standing over me, peering down from a few inches away, to see if I was even alive after my fall to the canyon floor.
The only person I know who is awake this early is Neshama, so I called her. After filling her in on the latest, I said, “I have a splitting headache, and what if Amy really moves for good, and I hardly ever see Jax again? Motherhood trumps everything—the courts will decide in her favor….”
“Wait,” Neshama said nicely. “Which courts are we talking about?”
I sighed and managed a quiet laugh. She said in the course
of our talk that I was remarkable, having used all possible spiritual tools, of breath, prayer, putting it all on a note in the god box, and, as now, the thousand-pound phone. (Why is it so hard to pick up the phone and reach out for help? My arm muscles tremble as I lift it, like it’s a shot put.)
“Plus your animals are solace and won’t flee.”
“The dogs have gone back to sleep. Fat lot of good they do me.”
“They just feel useless in the face of your tears. They have no hands, or pockets for their money and ID. Besides, crying is good—it’s a steam spigot, pressure relief, but you have to turn it off so you don’t move into—heaven forbid!—bathos. So dogs, breath, prayer, phone, crying, god box, aspirin, and chocolate as needed. And call me in the afternoon.”
I had been commemorating Mitts off the Kids Day, not calling either of them to nudge, pry, prey. Instead I was trying to release them to the care of their higher powers, to trust that everyone’s greatest good was always being revealed, even if it was a nightmare for me until then. This was going poorly, until we had an apocalyptic lightning storm—fantastic, like the first moments of Earth—and Amy called so we could ooh and aah at the same time. That crashing explosion brought us together. She reported that Jax was sleeping through it in Sam’s arms. He didn’t even twitch at the thunder, safe in
Sam’s warmth. And there was a small upturn—wait, wait, make that a great and major improvement. Amy and Jax are still leaving, but now they have a round-trip ticket, and will be back in about three weeks. Thank you, Jesus, thank you thank you thank you. Will never doubt You again, et cetera, this is the new me.
A friend of Tom’s says that grace is a small white butterfly, and life is a semi trailer careening up 101.
I called Bonnie to check in, and tell her that Jax and Amy were gone, and how high my psychic viral load was. I have these morbid, terrifying fantasies—but I had the same ones before Jax was born, that the baby would die and Sam would commit suicide. It’s the wild horses ready to tear apart the whole world.
But you created these horses, Bonnie pointed out. Then you tied them to the trees and gave them a flick on the butt. They’re figment horses, false-evidence-appearing-real horses. If you don’t tie the horses up, they just racket around, and that’s not so bad, because they burn up the wild energy. So don’t tie up the anxiety fantasies, either.
Bonnie asked, “Just for today, would you be willing to look at all the goodness that is present as a result of this mess?”
Okay, fine. The most important thing is that everyone is
about to get more knowledge, that he or she will then be able to use—Amy, Sam, Nana.
But I told Bonnie I could not bear the pain that Sam was in, and would face the next few weeks. She wondered if I didn’t think I could bear my
pain. She said that Sam was strong, spiritual, and very, very busy. So, I asked, the good part of my pain would be… ? She said, “You’ve got to learn to let go and let your children fall, and fail. If you try to protect them from hurt, and always rush to their side with Band-Aids, they won’t learn about life, and what is true, what works, what helps, and what are real consequences of certain kinds of behavior. When they do get hurt, which they will, they won’t know how to take care of their grown selves. They won’t even know where the aspirin is kept.”
She apparently thinks the good part is that God has such huge, great love for them, whereas I think it is unaddressably bad news that they will get so badly hurt in life.
One thing I figured out for myself is that Jax’s life, parents, grandparents, and teeny fragile body are a clumsy, messy container for the very precious soul, as is true for all of us. Jax needs a mother who doesn’t feel she is going to flip out. So it’s great that Amy got in touch with what she needed to do for her own mental health.
The miracle for me would be to go from clench and sick stomach, to release and a little bit of faith. Unfortunately, I do not want the miracle. I want Jax, and Jax is gone.
“How are you doing, Little Bear?”
There’s a silence, a bad silence. “Mom? I’m twenty, I have a child. Do you think it might be possible for you to stop calling me Little Bear?”
Garbled death noise from Annie, stabbed-through-heart noises, mortification.
“Mom? Are you there? Could you just not call me Little Bear
Another garbled sound of self-loathing; also, maybe throat cancer.
Sigh: “Mom, it’s really okay. I’m really rushed, I have a project due. Okay, in answer to your question: Half of me feels devastated, screwed over, fucked up. Sometimes I ache, like when I was in withdrawal from cigarettes; and I hurt every time I think about him, and your legs start going crazy, like you might have to run for a long time just so you won’t lose it. But then you have to tell your body to relax, and get back to homework. I have a gigantic workload, and without Jax I actually have about ten extra hours a day. So to be honest, I’m not so judgmental about men who run off. I used to think, ‘How could anyone
leave their baby or child? Just take off and pretend it never happened?’ I would never, ever run—I’ve made my decision. But I get it now. I’ve got an
empty house, it’s nice and quiet, or I get to play loud music at all hours, and get to have friends over whenever I want. I remember what freedom feels like. And I saw the appeal of running.”
“Sam, in what way are you like me as a parent that you are glad about?”
“Oh, that’s hugely easy. I’m glad I’m hardworking like you, and that I naturally love to play with my kid, and that I’m sort of flexible for such a rigid, uptight guy. I’ll eventually go with whatever might just work.
“What Jax will thank you for giving me is my ability to forgive and start over. Not everyone has it, and I can’t believe I do. I’m glad for two reasons. One, that I can do it, even though it’s hard, because you’re doomed if you can’t, and two, when you can do it, you start finding people in the world like you, who can start over, too, and these are the people you want to be with. People who can forgive.
“It’s so incredibly humbling when someone forgives you—I can’t ever believe when people forgive me, because you know how badly you’ve screwed up, and how you’ve hurt them, and how hard it is for them to be brave enough to find it in themselves to reexperience the pain
caused, and the humiliation that is in them because of you—and for
someone to be willing to refeel that much like shit again, reexperience it out of not wanting to lose you, means how deeply precious you are to them. And that’s pure gold.”
“And in what ways are you like me as a parent that you hate?”
“The worrying. I swore I’d never be like you, have the obsessive psycho worry about my kid. But I can put Jax in his stroller, he’s totally safe, warm, with protective me beside him, and I go to put my socks on, and instantly I imagine his face too close to his Mr. Bear blanket, and think of how you’re not supposed to put anything plush or fluffy near babies’ mouths and noses—it’s an instant death sentence, because fluffy things capture the CO
, and the baby suffocates in that—and I can see that the blanket is only
away from his face, and I have to pull it down because otherwise it’s a lethal object, full of death air, like when a kidnapper holds a rag of chloroform over your face to knock you unconscious. But here it’s only a fleecy blanket someone made for us, with a cute little silky bear head in the corner.”
I organized a field trip to the ashram in Los Altos with Sam and Neshama, partly to share the experience with Sam, partly because I knew it would help him stay strong; it’s also maybe a tiny unattractive moment of revenge against Amy.
She has already been gone for well over a week, and won’t be back for a week and a half or so. Sam told me on the way down, “What tipped me off the first night on Geary that Dada and Ragu were not going to kill me was that there were all these people, repeating in Sanskrit that love is all there is, love is all there is,
Baba nam kevalam
. Plus, there was no charge.” That’s my boy.