Rob, Celia, and her mother shared a brief honeymoon period around the idea of partnering together to buy a house in Columbus.
Rob still believed they had stumbled together into a good idea over the long term. Meanwhile he was not sure if he would survive the short term. Rob admitted that he had never understood just why Celia’s relationship with her mother was so fraught with drama, all the time, because Rob had always gotten along with her just fine. The longer Mom lived with them in their small apartment, though, the more he empathized with Celia and the life she had lived with Mary Gillespie as her mother.
He had come home from his second shift as a Starbucks part-timer, hoping to be greeted with a quiet ham sandwich, but instead he arrived to an argument he could hear clearly even in the hallway thirty feet from the front door.
Rob flooded with multiple streams of panic and he resisted running back to his car; he worried about Celia being pregnant and stressed, and he feared that the living together ideas was a huge mistake – perhaps he should have let Celia’s initial fears drive their decision making after all. “You can’t stay here, Mom,” might have felt cold and unkind but at least it would have been clean. Rob had never liked messy; he even had vivid childhood memories of sitting in a booster seat at the table shrieking to have his sticky hands wiped off.
He sighed to face what he had signed up for and opened the front door. Celia sat on the sofa with her head in her hands while her mother stood a few feet away with her arm in the air as if she had been gesturing something. Both looked up as Rob entered the living room.
“Robbie, thank God you’re home,” Mom said. “Celia won’t listen to me about taking care of herself. She needs to be eating for two but she insists she’s not hungry. I brought home cookie cutters and sugar cookie mix – would it kill her to eat a couple of them? They’re just going to go to waste now.”
He looked at Celia and saw not his pregnant adult wife but a young child in whose eyes were despair and helplessness. He had never understood so clearly as in that moment why physical distance had been Celia’s preferred method of dealing with her mother.
Rob dropped his things and, ignoring his mother-in-law, went straight to Celia and sat next to her.
“Mom, those cookies smell great and I’m going eat half of them myself in a minute,” he said as he put his arm around his wife. “It’s OK if Celia doesn’t want any. Her doctor said she should eat what she wants, when she wants.”
Rob had no idea what the doctor had said on this point but he groped for the most local authority he could invoke. “And they won’t go to waste. I’ll take them to work tomorrow.”
“I’ll put another layer of colored sugar on them right now and pack them up,” Mom said. At least she could be redirected easily. “Glass of milk, Robbie?” she added as she disappeared into the kitchen.
“Sounds great,” he called after her.
Celia stood up. “I don’t think I can do it,” she said in an angry whisper. “How am I ever going to take care of our baby with her telling me what to do every minute?”
How does Rob respond?