Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year

All these people keep waxing sentimental about how fabulously well I am doing as a mother, how competent I am, but I feel inside like when you're first learning to put nail polish on your right hand with your left. You can do it, but it doesn't look all that great around the cuticles.

And I felt like my heart had been so thoroughly and irreparably broken that there could be no real joy again, that at best there might eventually be a little contentment. Everyone wanted me to get help and rejoin life, pick up the pieces and move on, and I tried to, I wanted to, but I just had to lie in the mud with my arms wrapped around myself, eyes closed, grieving, until I didn’t have to anymore.

I cry intermittently, like a summer rain. I don't feel racked by the crying; in fact, it hydrates me. Then rage wells up in me, and I want to take a crowbar to all the cars in the neighborhood.

I don't remember who said this, but there really are places in the heart you don't even know exist until you love a child.

I guess he'll have to figure out someday that he is supposed to have this dark side, that it is part of what it means to be human, to have the darkness just as much as the light- that in fact the dark parts make the light visible; without them, the light would disappear. But I guess he has to figure other stuff out first, like how to keep his neck from flopping all over the place and how to sit up.

I have these secret pangs of shame about being single, like I wasn't good enough to get a husband. Rita reminded me of something I'd told her once, about the five rules of the world as arrived at by this Catholic priest named Tom Weston. The first rule, he says, is that you must not have anything wrong with you or anything different. The second one is that if you do have something wrong with you, you must get over it as soon as possible. The third rule is that if you can't get over it, you must pretend that you have. The fourth rule is that if you can't even pretend that you have, you shouldn't show up. You should stay home, because it's hard for everyone else to have you around. And the fifth rule is that if you are going to insist on showing up, you should at least have the decency to feel ashamed.
So Rita and I decided that the most subversive, revolutionary thing I could do was to show up for my life and not be ashamed.

I heard an old man speak once, someone who had been sober for fifty years, a very prominent doctor. He said that he’d finally figured out a few years ago that his profound sense of control, in the world and over his life, is another addiction and a total illusion. He said that when he sees little kids sitting in the back seat of cars, in those car seats that have steering wheels, with grim expressions of concentration on their faces, clearly convinced that their efforts are causing the car to do whatever it is doing, he thinks of himself and his relationship with God: God who drives along silently, gently amused, in the real driver's seat.

I’m probably just as good a mother as the next repressed, obsessive-compulsive paranoiac.

I think we're all pretty crazy on this bus. I'm not sure I know anyone who's got all the dots on his or her dice.

Oh, but my stomach, she is like a waterbed covered in flannel. When I lie on my side in bed, my stomach lies politely beside me, like a puppy.

...one of the worst things about being a parent, for me, is the self-discovery, the being face to face with one's secret insanity and brokenness and rage.

one thing about having a baby is that each step of the way you simply cannot imagine loving him any more than you already do, because you are bursting with love, loving as much as you are humanly capable of- and then you do, you love him even more.

Part of me loves and respects men so desperately, and part of me thinks they are so embarrassingly incompetent at life and in love. You have to teach them the very basics of emotional literacy. You have to teach them how to be there for you, and part of me feels tender toward them and gentle, and part of me is so afraid of them, afraid of any more violation.

Peg came over with dinner tonight and told me about this dumb schmaltzy poem she heard someone read at an AA meeting.  It got me thinking.  It was about how while we are on earth, our limitations are such that we can only see the underside of the tapestry that God is weaving.  God sees the topside, the whole evolving portrait and its amazing beauty, and uses us as the pieces of thread to weave the picture.  We see the glorious colors and shadings, but we also see the knots and the threads hanging down, the think lumpy patches, the tangles.  But God and the people in heaven with him see how beautiful the portraits in the tapestry are.  The poem says in this flowery way that faith is about the willingness to be used by God wherever and however he most needs you, most needs the piece of thread that is your life.  You give him your life to put through his needle, to use as he sees fit.

So how on earth can I bring a child into the world, knowing that such sorrow lies ahead, that it is such a large part of what it means to be human?
I'm not sure. That's my answer: I'm not sure.

So Rita and I decided that the most subversive, revolutionary thing I could do was to show up for my life and not be ashamed.

When Sam’s having a hard time and being a total baby about the whole thing, I feel so much frustration and rage and self-doubt and worry that it’s like a mini-breakdown. I feel like my mind becomes a lake full of ugly fish and big clumps of algae and coral, of feelings and unhappy memories and rehearsals for future difficulties and failures. I paddle around in it like some crazy old dog, and then I remember that there’s a float in the middle of the lake and I can swim out to it and lie down in the sun. That float is about being loved, by my friends and by God and even sort of by me. And so I lie there and get warm and dry off, and I guess I get bored or else it is human nature because after a while I jump back into the lake, into all that crap. I guess the solution is just to keep trying to get back to the float. This morning Sam woke at 4:00, so