Friday, November 03, 2006

Even Prisoners Have Book Readings

This post was originally posted on Blog Mamas on July 3rd, 2006.

In April my friend Bea invited me to a book reading with Anne Lamott. She had arranged for a family member to watch her kids and was looking forward to time off, spiritual intellectualism and a few laughs. My only experience with Anne Lamott was a quick skim of “Operating Instructions,” but listening to an author who has wrestled (somewhat irreverently as I recall) with both mothering and faith appealed to me.

I work a demanding job in addition to the demands of motherhood. I feel caught in the stereo-typical “mommy wars” - judged for working by friends, family and strangers who are/were “stay-at-home” mothers and also pressured by society and economics to be a successful professional woman. So when I read about Lamott online, I was drawn to the description of Anne “exhorting readers to go easy on themselves and with each other.” I look forward to hearing “essays that are howlingly funny mini-sermons” and a “quirky, funny perspective [that is] nothing short of a salve for tired souls.”

The day of the event I realize I haven’t confirmed that my husband can pick up our son so when I learn he has to work late, I’m disappointed . I call Bea and tell her I’m tempted to bring Jeep and stay until he cries. She encourages me to try it and agrees to get there early to save us a place.

Jeep (10 months old at the time) is in a good mood and flirts with Bea as the crowd files in. There is no cry room so we sit in the back row near the hallway. Anne reads about Easter and cancer and it is as funny and poignant as I had hoped. Jeep giggles when anyone laughs at Anne’s wisecracks and turns with wide eyes every time the audience applauds. How refreshing to stretch my mind and soul while sitting on the floor with my wiggly, happy son! Although on occasion he spouts baby gibberish, I feel relieved and grateful to have the best of all worlds.

After reading, Anne takes comments and questions from the audience. While she tries to come up with an answer to “How do you connect with Christians in red states?” a gray-haired curmudgeon from two rows ahead turns to glare at me. “Get that kid out of here!” he barks. I’m caught off guard for a moment, then retreat to into the hall with bouncy babe in arms.

From the lobby I listen to a woman describe how "Operating Instructions" helped her get through life after the birth of her son. My eyes fill with tears that don’t stop. I return to the auditorium and whisper good-bye to Bea. She helps shove gear into the diaper bag and whisks me outside where she offers sweet words and hugs.

I cry on the drive home as Jeep chatters about the passing trees, cars and whatever else occupies the mind of a pre-toddler. Some tears are angry tears at my husband for having to work late, some are frustrated tears for the man who couldn’t relax and hear the wisdom of a writer/mother because he was too distracted by a few happy sounds from a baby, others are tears of embarrassment because I should have known not to bring a baby to a book reading.

Then I recall a recent NPR program about authors hosting book readings in a women’s prison. Sound like a good program, but what about moms? Like many parents, I struggle to juggle a life that includes a kid and society’s expectations and norms. The lines are fuzzy and I don’t always know where to comply and where to protest. And while I believe it is perfectly fair to ban babies from symphony concerts, I also believe that grumpy old men should be banned from Anne Lamott book readings.

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