Tuesday Thoughts– The perfect Austen hero

Today is my fourteenth wedding anniversary. My husband and I are soon coming up on a time when we have been married longer than we were ever single. We got married at 19. We were utter babies and very few dollars to our name. However, we had a lot of love and commitment and I’m still convinced nothing would have been easier if we had waited. 

Both of us were forced to grow up quick. I was the oldest of four kids and the child of a single mother. We lived in utter poverty and would have had nothing without public assistance, churches, and the unfailing aid of friends. My mother cleaned houses and after awhile there were a few businesses and doctor’s offices she cleaned in the evenings. I often made dinners, did homework help, baths, and bedtime for my siblings. I had known instability and insecurity in life. I had seen real ugliness. And I knew real happiness when it was in front of me.

My husband’s mother died when he was eight years old. His grieving father focused on work to cope. My sister in law is sixteen years older than my husband and had just started a family of her own. My husband’s aunts lived far away. Eventually, my father in law remarried for a few years. Before that marriage and again after it, my husband was often alone and raising himself. I can’t say I knew any other sixteen year old boys who could cook their own dinner.

From our age, you would probably assume we were high school sweethearts, but we weren’t. We did go to the same high school. Well, I moved to it when I was fifteen. He was in band and I was in chorus, so we were in the same “orbit” but didn’t have any classes together that first year. The next year, I have one vague memory of him as the band and chorus classes had a group trip to Universal Studios in Florida.

At the end of that year, however, there was an event which I clearly recall. There was a banquet for the fine arts classes at the end of term. The graduating seniors gave what they called superlatives to the junior class. Just like one would find in a yearbook, there were things like “Most likely to…” My husband won an award for “most likely to quit the football team to rejoin the band.” In a world where it seemed everyone would rather be the jock than the nerd, my interest was piqued. However, I was in my Willoughby Phase and summer was starting. It was just something that interested me, nothing that I thought about romantically.

When school started again, my Willoughby had proved himself which would have usually made me ripe for some rebound interest. Instead, my personal life came to an absolute head as my brother’s drug addiction (he was only fifteen) came crashing down around us. I remember my senior year of high school as one in which I tried so hard to keep up the appearance that everything was fine and under control while it felt like my world was ending. I took two AP level classes that year–which was a lot for my school. We only offered five (one was available junior year only) and it was strongly discouraged to take more than one. There were times when I had been up all night as my brother raged in the house and I had to walk to the local 7-11 to get the police because it was faster than calling 911. There was even a time when I couldn’t take it anymore and walked several miles to my mom’s friend’s house. Lizzy Bennet’s three miles in muddy petticoats has nothing on me in high heel boots in below freezing weather with a thin coat and it being after midnight. I finished the school year by staying at that friend’s house. It was arranged for me to visit family in Florida for the summer. I couldn’t wait to start college in the fall. I just wanted to start my adult life. Romance was the last thing on my mind.

Throughout the year, I started to notice the man who became my husband seemed interested in me. However, he hardly ever spoke to me. Oh, I have a few memories. There was the time he told me that he (and a friend!! Mustn’t forget the wingman who was at his side) voted me prettiest eyes and smile for the yearbook. He ran away before I could do so much as gape. There was the time he donated blood for part of our AP Government class. He’s deathly afraid of needles. By the end of the day, as most of us music nerds hung out in the band room after school, he was looking pretty pale. I offered him my leftover lunch which seemed to perk him up. Oh, there was the hug he asked for on Senior Night of marching band (I was in the band too by then). I remember the odd feeling of jealousy as I watched a HAREM (yes, an actual harem) of girls come his locks into these ridiculous puffy balls (and not like the now “cool” man bun) to fit under his marching band hat. Most importantly, there was the time he left his friends to come and talk to me as I sat alone on a bench waiting for my mother. I was reading A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks. He happily let me gab about the book. 

As time drew on, I thought I could tell he was interested in me. I even journaled about it in my AP English notebook. I wasn’t sure if I should make the first move or if I should even go out with him. I wasn’t sure I wanted anything serious. I wasn’t sure if he was anything like the type that I was interested in (thank heavens not since Willoughbys aren’t really a good type to have). The teacher encouraged me to just try one date. It seems so basic now! Hahaha. Oh to be seventeen again!

I started trying to drop hints. I would go to him for homework help. I would talk about action movies playing and ask if he was interested in seeing them. Then there was my very own Mr. Collins who would just not take a hint. Saying no to an underclassman asking me to prom (when he couldn’t attend on his own) would probably mean I’m also not interested in dating him in any other fashion, right? However, Mr. Collins was a bit persistent and I can’t blame him for that. I wasn’t ever afraid of him, but I did see the possibility to ask a big, tall guy to walk me to class. It worked like a charm in getting Mr. Collins to leave me alone. However, the big, tall guy still didn’t ask me out. Sigh.

circa June 2004

Finally, he asked me to prom. Unfortunately, I had other plans and had to say no. He ran away before I could say more. I agonized all weekend long. When we returned to school, I invited him to a church banquet that was held in honor of the graduating seniors each year. That year, I was the only senior, so it was really just for me. He said yes. A few days later, we planned to talk on the phone to arrange things. He never called. Then I tried calling him and got no answer. I tried several times over the weekend. I thought he lost interest! I was spitting mad by the time I saw him again. It turns out, his grandfather had died. Thank goodness I had minded my tongue. 

We finally talked on the phone and I mentioned upcoming plans with a friend to go to a place with mini golf, go karts, batting cages, and some arcade games. He asked if he could come. In hindsight, I should have probably run that by my friend who suddenly became the third wheel. Oops! He beat the pants off us in mini golf and air hockey, although he did try to make it even by getting on his knees. He’s over a foot taller than me, so that made us nearly even height. 

A few days later was our official first date. You know…if it can be a first date surrounded by 250 people and nearly all of them strangers to him. Now, I appreciate how nervous he must have been but was clueless to it then. After the banquet, a friend had an “after party” sort of thing at her house. However, we mostly split up between our friends. More oops. However, we did get a private good bye (just a platonic hug–or at least platonic on my side). 

The next day, I flew to Florida for the summer. He called me every day. He emailed me several times a day. He even called me the day he got his wisdom teeth cut out and he was not supposed to be talking. We talked about everything. I learned he believed in ghosts. His favorite color was hunter green. One of his favorite subjects in history was the Titanic. He knew far more about the American Civil War than our teacher did. He  opened my eyes to a different point of view on many things. 

It was lovely to get to know him long distance. By the time I returned to Virginia in mid-August, though, I was ready to get to know him in person. We went on a date or two before I was invited back to his house. There was a moment where I was on his porch while he had gone inside for a moment. He came back out and called my name and I swear, the world stopped for a minute. I think I knew I was in love then. It was like I wanted to hear him say my name for the rest of my life. 

Oh, but I couldn’t admit it was love then. I couldn’t TRUST. We were inseprable from about that time onward, but I held out. He was ready to say the big L word long before me. I told him I had been hurt before. I told him I couldn’t trust. Bless the man for being patient with me. Whenever he wanted to say he loved me but knew I wasn’t ready to hear it, he would just squeeze my hand. 

December 18, 2004

I suppose most would say I got over that fear pretty fast. By the end of September I was willing to say I loved him and by the middle of November we were officially engaged. At the time, though, it felt like forever as I tried to work past my reasons for distrust.

His family totally disapproved of the engagement and me in particular. What annoyed us the most is the very people who made him become an adult long before his years, suddenly wanted to treat him like a child. I suppose I understand it all more now. I surely hope my children are not mature enough to get married at 19. I hope they haven’t had to be adults in children’s bodies for years by the time they reach a legal age. 

Our thirteen month engagement was not without difficulties. Neither has our fourteen year marriage. I thought I loved him when I walked down that aisle. I thought I knew we would handle anything life threw at us and that I could always count on him. Now, I truly know I can. He has seen me at my absolute worst. He has been the calm in my storm. He has held me when I was lonely and broken, wiped my tears when I cried whether he understood them or not. I could describe the ways I have born his ego or moods but it is nothing compared to what he has done for me.

December 2015 (We need a new family pic so bad!!)

When we married, I thought he was Mr. Darcy. Now, I see shades of Mr. Knightley. He is far wiser than me. I see bits of Mr. Tilney. He can always make me laugh. He is my Colonel Brandon after Willoughby broke my heart. There are pieces of Edward Ferrars and his quiet reserve. Like Edmund, he has been my champion when others have not understood or respected me. Just as Captain Wentworth proved his enduring love for Anne, so has my husband proven his love for me. 

I’m a very blessed lady and know that I have the best man out there. Neither one of us are perfect, but we make it work. Of all the love stories I have written, my favorite is my own. My perfect Jane Austen hero is my husband, a combination of all of them. 

Thornton Thursday– It is hard, Mother.

A few weeks ago, I was speaking with a friend on Instagram about our boys getting so old. My son is eight and he loves math. He has started doing math in every day situations. Such as, “In ten years, I’ll be eighteen, Mom!” That’s enough to freeze any mother’s heart. Then he did this: “And you’ll be forty-three! I know because you are thirty-three now and when I add ten, that’s the answer!” 

Thinking of my son as an adult, makes me feel old. Thinking of him being an adult while I am only forty-three makes me feel too young. I got married at nineteen! I didn’t have children for several years, but I could have. What if I’m a grandmother by then?!! Lord, help me!

A few days after the Instagram conversation and the math problems, someone in a Facebook group I follow about the 2004 production of North and South commented about how she feels for Mrs. Thornton wanting to protect her son. 

Oh, how I can agree there. You come near my son, and you’re going to have bruises. My Mama Bear claws are sharp and at the ready. My son has autism and it’s been a journey to get the diagnosis, keep him feeling safe during all of our moves, to advocate for him with every new school, etc. I’m very proficient at pouncing and defending now. I can almost feel sorry for the girls he will one day bring home. Almost. Really though, he’s an amazing boy and will grow to be an awesome man and whoever his future wife is should certainly thank me. 

There are other things in life, though, that Mama Bear can help with even less once he’s grown. Things like work failures. 

I don’t talk about this a lot. Just after my son was born, my husband and I had to declare bankruptcy. We lost our house and our car. We had to move in with family and hitch rides for a few weeks before we could even buy a junky vehicle. It felt as all security we had evaporated into thin air and all with an infant.

It was a confluence of things but my husband being let go from a job really was the straw that broke the camel’s back. My husband’s self-esteem was entirely obliterated. I wish I could say that I was super supportive during all that. I wasn’t. I tried to be, but he talked so seldom about what he was feeling and I had my own baggage from the situation. For a year, my husband was underemployed. I had to go to work part-time and even though I made more per hour than him, I worked fewer hours. It was a catch-22 for his ego. If I could find a full-time position with similar pay,  I would earn more than him. 

We desperately needed the money, so my husband would have swallowed the bitter pill. On the other hand, there was a very human part of him, that had felt he should provide for us. Not because of gender roles but because that was our plan. Our plan that was destroyed by things mostly out of our control and we were clinging to any ability to control things. Additionally, while we had no idea at the time that our son had special needs…he wasn’t exactly average. He hardly ever slept. I was exhausted. Our son truly needed me. He wouldn’t connect well with other people. He didn’t handle daycare well at all. He would hardly let my husband or mother touch him. He got overstimulated if we were out of the house for more than a half an hour including driving time. It was in many ways, a living nightmare and it did reside far more on my shoulders than anyone else’s. Having me work full-time would have probably torn my family apart and the idea that my son would have just adjusted, we have since learned, probably never would have happened. My husband was aware of all that and it weighed on him even more.

As it happened, I couldn’t find full-time work and it soon became clear that after babysitting costs, I only added about $20 a month to our income. We decided to try and cut back in a few areas. Just as we decided that, an opportunity presented itself in which I could babysit a child from home while caring for my own (this also allowed my JAFF obsession to begin). A few months later, my husband was blessed with a position in the industry he had spent the previous eight years of his life working and amassing skills. It included a significant pay raise and benefits.

Just the other night, we were talking about this dark time and my husband was open to explaining his feelings in a way that he wasn’t when it was occurring. It reminded me all too much of John Thornton and his attempt to be honorable and keep a positive attitude while the world crumbled around him and all his hard work was falling. The greatest turmoil to my husband’s peace of mind was not because it hurt his pride to make less money or let our possessions go. It hurt his mind because he wanted to take care of the people he loved and because he felt he had failed in a responsibility to people.

I think it is this attitude more than anything else, that makes me love John Thornton so much. And when I think about if my son should ever have to go through such a time, well, I feel very Mrs. Thornton about it. To have him anything other than his proper position of loved and respected by all would break my heart. 

Here is an excerpt from the scene in Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South:

‘Mother! why are not you in bed?’

‘Son John,’ said she, ‘do you think I can sleep with an easy mind, while you keep awake full of care? You have not told me what your trouble is; but sore trouble you have had these many days past.’

‘Trade is bad.’

‘And you dread—’

‘I dread nothing,’ replied he, drawing up his head, and holding it erect. ‘I know now that no man will suffer by me. That was my anxiety.’

‘But how do you stand? Shall you—will it be a failure?’ her steady voice trembling in an unwonted manner.

‘Not a failure. I must give up business, but I pay all men. I might redeem myself—I am sorely tempted—’

‘How? Oh, John! keep up your name—try all risks for that. How redeem it?’

‘By a speculation offered to me, full of risk; but, if successful, placing me high above water mark, so that no one need ever know the strait I am in. Still, if it fails—’

‘And if it fails,’ said she, advancing, and laying her hand on his arm, her eyes full of eager light. She held her breath to hear the end of his speech.

‘Honest men are ruined by a rogue,’ said he gloomily. ‘As I stand now, my creditors, money is safe—every farthing of it; but I don’t know where to find my own—it may be all gone, and I penniless at this moment. Therefore, it is my creditors’ money that I should risk.’

‘But if it succeeded, they need never know. Is it so desperate a speculation? I am sure it is not, or you would never have thought of it. If it succeeded—’

‘I should be a rich man, and my peace of conscience would be gone!’

‘Why! You would have injured no one.’

‘No; but I should have run the risk of ruining many for my own paltry aggrandisement. Mother, I have decided! You won’t much grieve over our leaving this house, shall you, dear mother?’

‘No! but to have you other than what you are will break my heart. What can you do?’

‘Be always the same John Thornton in whatever circumstances; endeavouring to do right, and making great blunders; and then trying to be brave in setting to afresh. But it is hard, mother. I have so worked and planned. I have discovered new powers in my situation too late—and now all is over. I am too old to begin again with the same heart. It is hard, mother.’

He turned away from her, and covered his face with his hands.

Monday Mood– Book Hangover

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I’m sure I’ve posted about this at some point in my years on the blog. I regularly have a book hangover. Now, I’ve never been drunk from alcohol so I’m not quite sure how it compares but there’s always a bit of self-loathing and regret. However, I know I’m powerless to stop.

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Thursday evening, I started a new book. I finished it Saturday afternoon. I don’t know about you, but there’s always a feeling of WHAT DO I DO WITH MY LIFE NOW??? when I finish a good book.

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So what is the most sensible thing to do? Start another one by the same author even if it’s after midnight, of course!

Now, what’s the lie all of us book-a-holics tell ourselves? We can stop any time we want! Just after one more chapter!

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And so around 4 am, I finally convinced myself that enough was enough and Margaret and John would be perfectly fine if I left them alone for a few hours.

I’ll admit that I read in the car on the way to church and in the sanctuary as we waited for others to arrive. Side note: we’re trying out a new church and apparently no one else goes in until the very minute service is supposed to start. If I didn’t know my husband and I were a bit anti-social before, that was confirmation!

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Usually, on the weekends, I spend some time with my family, church if we’re able, and do schedule some blog posts. Not this weekend! I did have family and church time but work? Nope!! No, work was not as important as this book. While I type this, I have pried myself away for just a few minutes after John and Margaret are married. I anxiously await the honeymoon and other matters. My eyes glance to the clock. It’s already 10 pm. Can I finish before bedtime? If I push it, that’s 2 more hours. Kindle app says I am at 73%. No, I don’t think that will be enough time. It’s a hopeless cause. I REALLY should be a responsible adult and go to sleep early tonight to make up for the late night before. I’m really just too old and in too ill of health to keep doing this to myself but…

Tell me I’m not the only one completely powerless over this book addiction. Now, I haven’t read this compulsively in a long time. I usually have a stern “no new books after 9 pm” rule…but I chose to break it and now I’m having to deal with the consequences. The irony is all the better because if I had begun this book today instead of last night, I would have been at a better stopping point. As it is, if I don’t finish my brain will probably be up most of the night trying to guess what will happen next.

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This might seem like a long-winded complaint, but it’s really not. I love it when a book enthralls me so much that I must live and breathe it. As a writer, I aim to do the same. It is the highest compliment when someone tells me they stayed up late to read my book or couldn’t put it down.

What was the last book that gave you a book hangover?

Question Tuesday- What makes you laugh

I’m working on an author interview for my upcoming blog tour and one of the questions from the insightful Meredith Esparza of Austenesque Reviews is “What makes you laugh?”

I’ll admit to being nonplussed at first. It’s so hard to define in just a few words and it had me thinking for a bit about the different types of laughter. The Elizabeth Bennet in Sufficient Encouragement tells Darcy there are different kinds of compliments and this is the same sort of idea.

So, there’s sad laughter. Such as when I learned there are baby dolls that require real food and they “pee” and parents continually have to buy food and diapers for this doll. And somehow this sells and is so popular that there is a youtube channel dedicated to it.

There’s snarky laughter. I should probably be kinder, but my inner Elizabeth has a lot of repressed snark.

There’s inappropriate laughter. I specialize in that. My brain delights in recalling a funny incident at the worst possible time.

Self-deprecating laughter is another one I specialize in. A word to the wise, speech recognition software will give you Shirley instead of surely.

 

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From the film Airplane

 

But my favorite kind of laughter is joy.

Today my kids were playing tag with each other before school started for my son. He’s recently been diagnosed with autism but has made huge leaps with socialization in the last few months. Seeing both of them chase each other with gigantic smiles made my heart joyous and I couldn’t help but laugh and smile with them.

kids at playground march 2016
This isn’t from today, it’s from last month, but I love their smiles here.

So, what makes you laugh?

Question Tuesday

I’m going to blog about Mansfield Park this weekend but I’m trying to get more active on the blog and interact with readers again with just little things every day.

So, here’s the question.

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What do you love about Jane Austen?

Jane Austen is my superhero. I’m convinced she saved my life. I know a lot of people who are hooked on reading her. She’s our drug of choice.

And with my family’s history of drug and alcohol addiction, things may have turned out very differently for me. I can escape reality any time in the pages of a book. It’s my go-to option when stressed. It can make me smile, laugh, cry, feel alive when I cope sometimes by feeling dead to the drama and stress around me. That manic must-read-what-happens-next-I-can’t-read-fast-enough feeling that builds and builds into crashing waves of euphoria at just the right turn of phrase or ending, is all the addiction I need.

It sounds nearly erotic, doesn’t it? They don’t call it “word porn” for nothing. Austen’s the best expert in the craft that I’ve read and I think she saved my life.

Why do you love Jane Austen?