Enjoy GRAND Magazine

for grandparents & those who love them

Anne Lamott: Confessions of a Slightly Controlling, Madly in Love Nana

Anne Lamott, “the people’s author,”  gets real about being a new grandmother and mothering a teen parent

 By Colleen Sell

“A grandchild is like a fine jewel set in an old ring.”
Operating Instructions

Twenty years ago, novelist Anne Lamott raised a few eyebrows, ruffled some feathers, and struck a resonant chord with millions of mothers with her memoir Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year. In this classic bestseller, Lamott chronicled the joys and perils of having a baby — at 35 and as a single mother — with unflinching honesty and self-deprecating humor.

Anne raised Sam alone, her faith and a tight circle of family and friends getting her through the lean years and rough patches. When Sam left the nest to study industrial design at a local university, Anne said a prayer of thanks. Now, she could go for longer walks with the dogs, spend more time with friends, breathe a little easier. She began work on a new book, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers.

Then, the day before Thanksgiving, Lamott got the call: Sam, 19, and his 20-year-old girlfriend, Amy, were having a baby. In July 2009, Jax was born, and Anne, 55, became his delighted, if angst-ridden, paternal grandmother.

“They were both a little young, but who asked me?” Lamott writes in Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son’s First Son. Co-written with Sam, the book includes his observations as a new dad but focuses primarily on Anne’s first year as a grandparent and the mother and mother-in-law of teen parents.

“I had to grip myself by the wrist not to pitch one good idea after another at them.”
Operating Instructions

Upon first learning of Amy’s pregnancy, Anne told during our interview, her first thought was, “Oh no. It’s so hard to get through college with an infant. It’s so hard to raise an infant without being in college. . . . He’s going to have to do both at once.” She feared it would be impossible.

She also worried that Sam and Amy’s on-again, off-again relationship would fall apart. Then what? Would Amy take Jax away, to live across the country near her family? The fear of that potential outcome plagued Anne the entire first year of her grandson’s life.

So did the parental urge to control. “I did better some times than others,” she admitted.

Some Assembly Required contains a great acronym: WAIT — Why am I talking? Anne practiced WAIT throughout that first year. Slowly, she learned to just watch and witness, to be there if Sam and Amy asked for help and not to foist her help on them.

“I had the full-body conviction — after twenty months of feeling terrorized by the very thought — that it would be okay if Amy and Jax, or Amy and Sam and Jax, moved to Chicago. . . . Well, that was fun while it lasted. Now I must think of new ways to persuade Amy to want to live in California.”
Operating Instructions

“Being a grandparent is the most wonderful experience. But it’s also stressful. . . . It’s not a Hallmark card. It’s real-life with feelings, incomes, head colds on a 12-pound infant and a crabby 20-year-old, and a slightly nervous, controlling grandma in the wings.”

Sam-Anne-LamottSam did take a year off college, and he and Amy did split up. Sam is back in college now, and the two young parents are raising Jax together, in separate houses. Everyone — including Anne, whom Jax calls Nana — lives within 30 minutes of one another. Anne gets plenty of Nana time with her grandson, now a preschooler. They attend Sunday school, go to parks, have sleepovers, read, and just be goofy together.

“Being a grandparent reactivates your sense of playfulness and wonder . . . and that radical silliness of laughter. It’s just heaven.”

It’s also easier than being a parent. “It’s amazing how close you are to a grandchild, so deeply in love and drawn into their world. Then, at some point, they leave and you get to pick up your house and take a nap.”

According to Anne, grandparents are “esteemed” by grandchildren because they don’t thwart them with a lot of rules and regulations like parents do. When children aren’t resisting or mad at you, it’s easier to teach and enjoy them.

“One of the most amazing things about being a grandparent is watching your child become a parent. It’s astonishing to see a rough and tumble boy changing diapers and feeding an infant a bottle. And the way your child gazes into his child’s eyes, it’s just so touching, it nearly brings me to tears.

“The gift of a grandchild is huge. The gift of Jax to his dad, my son, Sam, is incalculable.”

“Through it all, though, the ups and the downs,
Jax shines like a pearl.”

Operating Instructions




Colleen Sell is editor-in-chief of GRAND Magazine, a seasoned freelance writer and editor, and the former editor / anthologist of the bestselling Cup of Comfort book series. She is truly, madly, deeply in love with her six grandchildren.

Christine Crosby

About the author

Christine is the co-founder and editorial director for GRAND Magazine. She is the grandmother of five and great-grandmom (aka Grandmere) to one. She makes her home in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Only $ 6.95

A Special eBook for New and Expecting GRANDparents

My Grand Baby ebook cover