Thursday, March 22, 2012

Bird by Bird Motherhood (with acknowledgement to Anne Lamott)

Yesterday, I read a  blog post by Lisa Belkin where she recounted an exchange with author Anne Lamott. It came at the perfect time. Somehow the universe must have known that I would need a new Anne Lamott book release (and all the Anne Lamott coverage that comes with it) right around March 20, 2012. For the last few weeks, I have been feeling pretty dry. But whether it is a quote or an interview or a blog post or a book (or now even a tweet), I always seem to find just the proper measure of inspiration in Anne's words (I'm calling her by her first name because I feel like she's a friend). This time it was a simple reminder drawn from one of her books that I actually have not yet read (it's on order though, so I'll read it soon!).

In her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne gives a piece of writing advice centered on the book title. Lisa Belkin explains Anne's advice in her blog, "It comes from a moment when her brother was sitting at the dining room table decades ago, surrounded by stacks of books for a report about birds. He was overwhelmed and drowning. So much to do. So far to the completed product. "Son," she quotes her dad as saying, "just take it bird by bird."

Last night, I was feeling like Anne's brother as I was driving home from a late night work meeting on Long Island, missing my son, exhausted from a long day, and caught up in the million things I had to do. These days there is a never-ending list of household tasks ranging from the mundane tasks of laundry, dishes, bills, and oil changes to the less routine tasks of settling medical bills, canceling credit cards, arranging flowers to bring to the cemetery, and following up on unpaid life insurance. Each task, whether mundane or less routine, has the potential to become completely overwhelming. Add to it the fact that I've been battling the poor memory and fuzzy brain that I'm told is common with grief and you have a recipe for task paralysis.

Then, I read Lisa's blog and those amazing words from Anne Lamott's dad. "Son, just take it bird by bird." My friend had just given me the same advice when I had called her crying on the phone, but for some reason the bird by bird image made it stick.

Bird by bird is what I did today. I cuddled with my son after our morning breastfeeding ritual. I got us both dressed and fed. I checked some items off my to do list for work. I put gas in the car. I went to the doctor to have my knee checked out. I checked a few more items off my to do list for work. I called my sister in law. I took my son to lunch for some really tasty Indian food. We stopped at Bellies & Booties, one of my favorite kid stuff stores. I took him for a haircut. I checked yet a couple more items off my to do list for work.

I did a few loads of laundry. I put my son down for a nap. I sorted through 3 large stacks of mail. I made a list of all my bills so I can set some up for autopay (that poor memory thing again). I cooked dinner. I ate dinner. I arranged child care so I can go out to dinner on Friday night. I chatted with my Aunt. I fed my son dinner. I responded to some FaceBook messages. I gave my son a bath. We cuddled. I finished the laundry. I wrote my blog.

There was nothing earth-shattering about what I did today - except maybe my attitude. Taking things bird by bird made all the difference when it came to my enjoyment of the day. In the end, it was a special day because each moment felt like a little victory. Each moment was truly a moment of my life and I made the best of it. I'm going to have another long day tomorrow and I'm already praying that I'll find the strength to take it bird by bird. That's the best I can do.


  1. I like that. Bird by bird. I have heard so much about Anne Lamott, I'll have to give her a try. I completely relate to the fuzz brain, piles of laundry and plants that scream, "please can we just have one drop, just one?" Most of the time I just close the door to the laundry room and snarl at the plants. I don't know if the bird by bird method would work well for me. Personally, the Nike method seems to be more my style. No lists, no thinking, just doing.
    Btw, I think you are pretty remarkable which ever method you use.

    1. Lynda - do give Anne Lamott a try. I doubt you will disappointed. She is so real. I would start with Bird by Bird or maybe Traveling Mercies. She is a thoughtful and humble writer with a sense of humor and a connection to life in all its pain and glory.

    2. Anne - I probably already mentioned to you that I am on the pre order list for Anne Lamott's new book. I do take such inspiration from her. And, today, I am taking inspiration from YOU - how easy it is to forget to take life one moment at a time. Thanks for the reminder.