Mothers & Daughters & Daughters & Mothers+”My Name is Lucy Barton” by Elizabeth Strout

Last night I had a crazy dream. It started with me in some kind of office above a swimming pool, talking with some lady (in a position of authority) about towels with names on them. (Hint: I spend way too much time at the pool, and we lose a lot of towels). The lady was asking how old my swimmer (that would be Libby, my older daughter) was, and I said, “12. No 13. Wait, she’s now 14. 15. 16. 17!” I started crying as she aged before my eyes. “She just left for college. She was 12 just two minutes ago!!”thumb

I left this woman’s office in tears (because SUDDENLY my daughter didn’t live at home!), I walked down the stairs and was in my grandmother’s basement from childhood. I was about 14, and instead of dolls were my daughters as babies. I was a young teen, they were real live babies. They were my real live babies.

I woke up this morning thinking about the fluidity of time and how it runs like a very, very fast river. We (well at least I) can’t get a hold of it, we can’t slow it down without a dam, which ceases the stem of the river (like death). It flows whether we ready for it or not. And we’re forced to go along with it, or end up on the riverbanks with nothing.

Along with this, I think about being a mother, because I always think about being a mother. And my daughters, because they are always somewhere on my mind. And my mom, because she’s my mom. And being her daughter, and what she thought about when I was young.

149875_1714012851536_7798512_nI think about all the heartache and trouble I caused my mom, not really as a child or a teen (but now, as a mother, I can understand and appreciate that even though I was a pretty ‘easy’ child, she was always worried about me), but really in my 20s. I was a little bit of a lost soul through those years. I worked a lot of jobs (nanny, ski instructor, camp counselor, swim coach, waiter, bartender), and I was unsure of where I was going. But I figured it out, and now I’m sure she worries now about me in my role as adult, wife, and mother.

Just as I worry about her. Her health (which seems pretty good). Her mental health (which also seems good). I want her to have an easy row in this part of her life. I want to make it as easy on her as possible, because she took good care of me, raised me to be a pretty good woman (I think), all while married to not a great guy. She’s married to a GREAT guy now, and he takes good care of her (and visa versa).

One of the things I love as an adult daughter is the conversations I now get to have with my mom. Talking to her about family, friends, and life, past and present. Things that she never would have told me as a teen (when I thought I was an adult) are discussed, and I get to see her life, and my life, from a different point of view. I know where she was coming from as a mother, and I understand a bit more why I do the things I do as a mother.

I know my mom as a person, not just as ‘Mom.’

I do not want my girls growing up. I love them at every age, and thinking about them leaving my nest makes me ‘feel the feels’ and cry the cries (which I do at the drop of a hat any way). And it may be that I have my Katy, my younger daughter with Down syndrome, for years and years. (But there is always the possibility that she lives on her own and creates her own life, which is a whole other level of scary. But she is very independent, so . . . )

But, when I think about my girls as adults, there is a part of me that can’t wait. To see who they become, to see their lives, to see how they turn out. To have those adult conversations–to know what they were REALLY thinking through these years, and to share with them all the thoughts and worries I had (am having?) through the tween and teen (and probably later) years.

For now, though, I’m going to try to appreciate the moments, big and little. To remember, when they roll their eyes and storm out of a room, that this is all part of growing up. To know that each and every action I take is building them up to be adults, and I need to choose my freak-outs wisely.

I need to always remember that time slips by, with mothers and daughters. With daughters and mothers.I need to talk and text with these people. Have conversations. Love unconditionally. Because these three people (my mom and my two daughters) are the people who know or will know what I’m going through. They do, or will, understand me better than nearly anyone. We have a connection that none of us will have with anyone else.

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My mother, my daughters and myself share ancestry and stories, blood and gender. And that creates a bond that is different and stronger than any other relationship bond. It’s one that can’t be broken, and can only be made stronger with time.

And now, onto My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout. A book all about moc


I have sometimes been sad that Tennessee Williams wrote that line for Blanche DuBois, “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” Many of us have been saved many times by the kindness of strangers, but after a while it sounds trite, like a bumper sticker. And that’s what makes me sad, that a beautiful and true line comes to be used so often that it takes on the superficial sound of bumper sticker.

My Name is Lucy Barton

The Premise

When Lucy ‘s hospital stay is prolonged after unknown complications slow her recovery from a simple surgery, her mother comes to keep her company. Lucy and her mother haven’t spoken for years, but her husband hates hospitals and they have two young daughters, so when he calls, her mother comes. Because her daughter needs her.

Throughout the stay, her mother’s stories of Lucy’s hometown and the people they know shed light on the past, and  Lucy learns a little more about her mother as a person.

But, at the same time, we learn about Lucy and her childhood. The harsh reality of the very poor, Lucy’s aching need to get out of that life. The abuses, small and large, committed by her family and the town. We learn about Lucy’s own life as a wife, a mother, a writer. Her little and big missteps, the people she meets who influence her life, her love of New York City.

Lucy tells us all about herself in bits and pieces. The stories her mother tells her shake loose her memories of childhood -her parents and siblings, school and other children, small down life when you are the bottom of the totem pole. She relates stories of her life away from that town, but reminds us all that our upbringing resonates throughout our lives.

Short and sweet, this book is the story of learning about your mother as an adult, and coming to understand how her upbringing shaped her, which in turn shaped you. It’s looking back at your life from a different perspective, which doesn’t change anything but does make it all a little more palatable.

My Thoughts

Oh my goodness. This book. This is so beautifully written, so heartfelt, so real that it quickly propelled to the top of my list of recommendations.

There are a million reviews of this book out there by those much more knowledgeable and seasoned than me, and I almost didn’t write this review. But the writing hit me in  all the sweet spots, and I needed to write about it.

In My Name Is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Strout uses soft, quiet prose, and the power and emotion of the story to sneak up on the reader without warning. She does this in all her books, but this one, told through a mother and daughter about motherhood and childhood, is so real and raw and lovely. Others have drawn parallels to Strout’s Amy & Isabelle, and there is the same honesty (as there is in all her writing). But this is a more mature version of a mother and daughter, after the years have worn the edges off of  the sharp relationship of adolescence, reminding both mother and daughter that everyone has a story.

I love Elizabeth Strout. Each and every book seems to outshine the previous one. Her honest, simple style knocks the reader out with authentic emotion. In My Name Is Lucy Barton Strout outdoes herself in style and emotion. I couldn’t put this book down.

The charts only go to 5 stars, so this book gets all those 5 stars. If I could, I would award it an extra star. The story is that lovely, the writing that good.

Thank you, Elizabeth Strout.

 

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