Category Archives: moment of clarity

Parent’s Weekend: New Families Are All Alike

New Family Weekend Football Game

If Tolstoy had attended New Family Weekend at Texas A&M University he might have revised his famous line to read, New Families are all alike.  I had imagined a weekend among New Families just like us, helping our freshman find his way, establishing new traditions, and being part of something bigger than ourselves.  

But we missed the New Family check-in on Friday night because of teenagers not interested in driving to College Station.  Thereafter, captive teenagers restricted communication to text messages, and they really had something to text about when we checked into the last motel room in town.  Note to new New Families: reserve hotel room at time of initial application to school.  We missed the Second Chance Check-In and showed up at an Aggie football game wearing sky blue, to the mortification of our freshman.  He tried to lose us in the sea of maroon (official school color) but failed, owing to the blueness of our shirts.  The one family member wearing a maroon t-shirt, did however, get lost.  Everything was in confusion in our row as we spent most of the game searching for the lost family member and responding to emergency text messages from stay-at-home-son requesting a remote pizza order (parent refused) and informing us that the family dog had chewed a bottle of melatonin (dog survived). 

And then a cannon fired and I thought we were finished forever.

But our team had scored, and the marching band launched into the Aggie Fight Song.  Our freshman knew the words.  All eighty-three thousand people stood and the maroon shirted  person next to me reached out with his left arm and told me to place my right leg behind his left leg so he could catch me if I fell.  He didn’t care that my shirt was blue and my teenagers were texting or lost.  We swayed, along with eighty-three thousand other maroon shirted  people, and I realized the sense of unconditional belonging, a reason we’d wanted this school for our freshman.  And I silently blessed my neighbor for taking us newbies under his wing.     

If we hadn’t missed the New Family Tailgate Party I’m certain that we would have met others just like us.

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Filed under Cindy Jones, moment of clarity, teenagers

First Bird Leaves Nest (Got a hankie?)

Oldest Son at the Helm

 

We dropped Oldest Son at college last week, our first to leave home.  As we packed the car early Sunday morning, a young couple entertaining a toddler on their front steps watched our separation unfold.  A perfect moment for me to witness the startling truth of how swiftly 18 years can fly by.  I could show them pictures.    

From this: 

Preschooler in Fridge

 

to this: 

Teenager in Fridge

 

And explain how it happens in no time at all.        

But they wouldn’t believe me.  

As we packed the car, I was able to maintain my composure, having unevenly confronted the idea of his departure earlier in the summer.  Packing lists and trips to Target had distracted me from regret.  Occasional loggerheads reminded me it was indeed time for him to paddle his own canoe.  (God invented teenagers for a reason).  Nevertheless, I knew our lives were about to change forever.  Bags were stowed, bicycle tied on top, and the last items crossed off the list.  I was okay.  And might have made it, except he unexpectedly stooped to say goodbye to the family dog.  I immediately reached for my sunglasses.  And put them on.  In the house.  I did not stick around as he woke his sleeping brothers, his best friends in the world, to say goodbye.    

The couple with the toddler went inside.  

I sat in the backseat where I could privately regain composure, wiping tears with my hands.  It occurred to me that the connection a mother feels to a child is not the warm fuzzy thing you normally think of as love, but more like a vital function.  From the minute he had a heartbeat, I was joined to this child for better or worse.  Separating now was like having a vital organ ripped out of me.  While I sat in the backseat facing a future without lungs or kidneys, husband and son talked about bicycle locks and Rangers’ end of season prospects.   

At the university, we hauled his belongings up three flights of stairs (we are a freshman) and admired the private bathroom.  We met the roommate, plugged in the refrigerator, and picked up textbooks.  Undergraduate life is so cool.  I offered to trade places, but by then my son was whistling a happy tune and making plans for the evening.   

I hugged him and watched him walk away (with my lung) until I couldn’t see him anymore. 

On the long ride home, Husband and I discovered an unexpected sense of accomplishment.  Not about the 18 years of parenting, but the enormous transition to college.  From application deadlines to extra-long sheets, it came together in the end.  I confess; we did a happy dance.  And I learned that I will survive, even though some of my vital organs are now living in another part of the state.   

It is a really good thing I have three more of these Birds still living in the nest.

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Filed under Cindy Jones, First Reader (aka Husband), launching things, moment of clarity, Motherhood, My Jane Austen Summer, teenagers

I Met Jane Austen’s Writing Table

  

My Son, Upstaging Jane Austen's Writing Chair

This time, last year, I went to England to meet Jane Austen.  I was nervous, and with good reason since I’d taken the liberty of writing about our relationship, even though we’d never met.  I ran the terrible risk of discovering I’d based my book on a deep misunderstanding .  Five years of my life could go down the drain.  

Not to mention what Agent would say.   

Flying to England, I’d considered myself in the same league as Elinor Dashwood and Fanny Price.  Upon landing, it occurred to me that neither Elinor nor Fanny would presume to write first, ask questions later.  I could already feel the sharp end of Jane Austen’s pen, and imagine myself exiled to Portsmouth.   Driving on the wrong side I asked myself how a lowly Mature Debut Author like me could presume to be freinds (I know) with a Sustained Supernova whose immortal blaze cuts across languages, centuries, and planets for all we know.  What was I thinking?       

I met Jane Austen’s front door.  She was not there.  

Jane Austen's Front Door in Bath (trash day)

I met Jane Austen’s crowded museum.  She was not there, either.  

The Jane Austen Centre

I visited Jane Austen’s grave in Winchester Cathedral.  Oh, dear.   

But then we drove to Chawton. 

Everything in Jane Austen’s village is life-size or smaller.    

Standing in the simple room where the modest writing-table occupied a spot near the window, I felt My Jane Austen’s presence.  Not the celebrity icon, but the unaffected woman reined in by class, money, and gender.  The writer who nailed Aunt Norris while Mrs. Austen and Cassandra did chores.  Jane Austen was the person I had imagined: physically present at the little table, yet mentally far away, working in a universe of her own creation.  And this is what we both understand:  being stranded on a desert island is not a problem as long as you have paper, pen, and writing-table.    

Her writing-table is the most unassuming piece of furniture with the most impressive back-story I’ve ever met.

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Filed under Agent, Everyone else's Jane Austen, Living in a novel, moment of clarity, My Jane Austen, My Jane Austen Summer

Subtitles and Surprises

Licensed to Drive

The first time I saw my book in the Harper Collins online catalogue (which happens surprisingly early in the publishing process) was like driving down the street and seeing one of my sons, driving their own car.  I struggled to place the grown-up novel I’d last seen in a three-ring binder on the shelf near my desk.  

What are you doing here

I beheld my own creation, out in the world–no longer accessible for me to correct, revise, or completely rewrite entire sections.  But apparently managing just fine without me, nonetheless.  And then I noticed my novel sporting something I hadn’t created.  A subtitle.  Hmm.  Like discovering someone new in the passenger seat.  

MY JANE AUSTEN SUMMER:  A SEASON IN MANSFIELD PARK 

I like it your new subtitle.  I really do.  I’m glad to meet it and so happy that you two got together, although I had nothing to do with it.  You make a perfect couple.

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Filed under Avon/Harper Collins, moment of clarity, My Jane Austen Summer, teenagers, The business of writing...

Weather Porn for Texans: How I Chilled on My Summer Vacation

First Reader on Vacation, Not Vaporizing

I’ve never written weather porn before.  (I swear).  But cryptic vacation updates from Facebook friends reporting low temperatures have left me lusting for sensual details: like cool air sliding through open windows at night and bare feet freezing in mountain streams, for instance.  I vowed when I returned from my own chilly vacation, I would produce the goods in full graphic detail.  

You know you want it. 

The high desert air uplifts and makes me feel I can do anything:  hike in broad daylight without vaporizing, fish mid-day without heat stroke, picnic outside without losing my appetite.

Think:  October cold snap in Dallas without Halloween decorations.  

But just when we were about to take the glorious weather for granted, the rain came to stay, pelting our windows and dripping from deck furniture for two days solid.  We closed windows and dragged blankets to the sofa.  The temperature lowered and we wore socks to warm our feet.  Our cabin grew so cold we built a fire in the fireplace.  We read books for hours.  I’ve never been so happy on vacation.  Who else would enjoy endless reading in a freezing cold cabin with a roof leak?  In a moment of chilling clarity, as First Reader sat surrounded by books, journal, and coffee, I realized: I married someone the same crazy as me.  Without him the cabin would be damp, dreary, and depressing. 

The roof leak would not be cozy.  

Even on sunny days, the temperature dropped provocatively at night.  Windows open, we unzipped the old sleeping bag and piled it on top of our other covers so we would not freeze to deathIn August.

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Filed under First Reader (aka Husband), moment of clarity, writing exercise