I absolutely adore Anne Tyler. She is my favorite author ever and if I could only read 1 author for the rest of my life, it would be her.
For some reason, 1 of her books really resounds with me and as I listened to the audio this last week over vacation (for the umpteenth time) I started making notes on my phone as I walked to it. I realized that so much of what I was hearing was ‘me’; that it expressed things I maybe didn’t see, or couldn’t put into words.
In “Breathing Lessons” a man and his wife, Ira and Maggie, take a day trip to go to a funeral. As the day progresses, you get a glimpse into their lives and histories, and meet others along the way. The entire book takes place in a 10 hour period, and the insights that are revealed about this couples’ lives are so impactful.
Maggie reminds me of myself. Awkward. Wanting to always please. Wanting to hold onto things that may need to be let go of. Worried about her looks. Not always confident in her worth.
One of the biggest struggles Maggie has is saying goodbye to her daughter who will be leaving for college the next day (her son already lives on his own), and wanting to reconnect with her 7 year old granddaughter who she hasn’t seen for years. She wants to start over; be needed by a child again. Have the family she reveled in. Not hear the silence when she walks in her door. I feel for her. I know how difficult it can be to want to take steps backwards and not forwards. To be back in that time when Ollie was young and I was the most important thing on the earth to him. I remember subbing in his Kindergarten classroom, and he couldn’t stop holding my hand throughout the afternoon and calling me “MOM” in a voice that told every other kid in there, that I was HIS mom and only their sub! There was another time when he went to a sleep-away church camp (at which I cussed when I found out he forgot his Bible, then cussed again after I cussed…it was obvious the leaders felt Ollie really needed them, growing up with a mom like me!) to spend 4 nights. This seemed like forever to me but like every mom, decided that having those days to myself would be heaven. I got a call the morning after his first night…it was Ollie telling me he threw up and I needed to get him. I raced to the camp with a bucket in tow, and he was really quiet during our drive home. I plopped him in bed and told him I’d fix some Jello and check on him while he was napping. About an hour later, he came into the kitchen, with tears streaming down his face. He said “Mom…I LIED TO YOU!!! I wasn’t sick!!! I just wanted to be with you!!!” I laughed and said he never had to lie about wanting to be home! And we went to the pool and had a great day!
Ollie lives with me now after being on his own for 6 years, and we have fun together, but he’s not my boy anymore. He’s his own person with so many centers in his world now. And that’s the way it should be! Of course! But like Maggie, I wish I could rewind and do it all over again, and savor those moments even more. Why does growing up happen so fast?
In another part of the book, Maggie is trying desperately to get her son and his ex-wife back together so she can be with her grandchild. The problem is, their relationship was horrible from the start, although Maggie can’t seem to accept that. Or even see it. Her son was just too immature and self-centered to be a good husband, and her daughter-in-law was too demanding and childish. One of my favorite quotes from the book is Ira talking about Maggie to their son: