Monday, November 28, 2011
Reality hits home
Celia’s mother took a holiday job in Columbus and expects to stay with Rob and Celia while she works it.
None of Celia’s panicked, verbalized reactions to her mother’s news—that they did not have room in their small apartment, that the job was temporary anyway – had any impact on her. Not that reason ever impacted Celia’s mother, but it had been the place to start…
Short of defending their threshold at gunpoint, their only option was to receive Mom. Or so Celia had thought; consequently she capitulated to the emotional blackmail of her own fears. As threatened, Mom showed up the Tuesday evening before Thanksgiving, attended training for her retail job on Wednesday, and started work for Black Friday.
So Rob watched as Celia, still tired and sick in her first trimester of pregnancy, lost out on the holiday week’s rest to the stress of her mother living with them again. He had been ready to refuse his mother-in-law’s plan, but Celia’s worry that Mom would tip back into depression if they did not support her gave him pause. So for now they were stuck.
“You need a new strategy,” his office mate Lucy told him as he unloaded the story the Monday after Thanksgiving. Lucy had a large extended family with which she seemed to balance genuine care and affection with actual boundaries. Lucy did what she could and said “no” when she couldn’t.
“What do you suggest?” Rob said.
Lucy had told him what she thought, which he shared with Celia that night in bed.
“Let’s help her move here,” Rob said. “Whether she keeps this job after Christmas or not, she’ll do a lot better job-wise and mood-wise here than in rural Canton.”
“She still can’t afford to be on her own,” Celia said. “Getting the house free and clear after the divorce was the only thing that made survival possible for her on her income.”
“Lucy had an idea,” Rob said, speaking quietly and calmly to counter Celia’s anxiety. “We could buy a place – partner with your mother, basically. Her down payment from selling the house and our – yours and mine—combined income making the payments. We’d get a place that has a guest house or separate apartment or something. Mom gets taken care of, you get help with the baby, the baby gets its own room, and we could begin to build some
equity. We would buy your mom out someday.”
Celia looked like she had never heard anything so crazy.
“Look, do you really believe your mother is ever going to change?” he said. “Let’s adapt to living with the mother you have, instead of hoping a whole new person shows up someday. Lucy’s really good at this. Maybe we need to be, too.”
“You make it seem so obvious,” Celia said. “You would really do this?”
“Of course I would. I wouldn’t suggest it otherwise.”
What happens next?
Monday, November 21, 2011
Ever wonder if mother really knows best?
Celia’s mother, who had been on an extended “visit,” moved out on schedule per Rob’s request.
This Thanksgiving, Celia’s first gratitude was that she worked for a school district that provided the whole holiday week as vacation. Even though she was approaching the end of her first trimester of pregnancy, the fatigue remained overwhelming. She hoped she might get ahead of it, somehow, with a week of rest. She started with a delicious sleeping-in, and now, awakening slowly in her warm bed, she counted her blessings.
Her second gratitude: She and Rob would observe Thanksgiving in their apartment, alone. They had chosen to remain in town so that Rob could grab extra holiday shifts at his part time Starbucks job while on vacation from his other job. Celia wished Rob did not still work the second job, but what had started as a way to close their income gap when Celia was underemployed now provided extra cash to stash for their unplanned bundle of joy. Celia knew Rob would sleep better for the next eighteen years if they had even a small college account invested now.
Her third gratitude contributed to the second. Her mother was gone and seemed intent on finding another job, having been laid off from her previous one. Celia prayed she would find one before falling into discouragement and depression as was her custom; when that happened getting her back on her feet fell to Celia and her sister Catherine, who lived with their mother.
Celia’s phone rang and she saw that her mother was calling. She considered ignoring it, but decided that at this rested and thankful moment she could tolerate whatever Mom had to offer.
“Celia! I got a job,” Mom said as soon as Celia said hello.
As relieved as she was, Celia was also surprised it had happened so soon – Mom lived in a rural area and jobs were scarce now anyway.
“Mom, that’s fantastic,” Celia said. “Where?”
“Holiday help at Williams-Sonoma,” she said. Celia could not imagine that an upscale store like that had a branch near where Mom lived. Mom must have sensed her emerging confusion because she continued: “At the mall near you and Rob. I applied last week before I left and they called me today. I have a day of training on Wednesday to start on Black Friday.”
Mom continued to chatter about the job as Celia’s grateful heart sunk into her sickly stomach.
“Mom, where are you going to live?” Celia interrupted.
“Well I thought I would drive back up to Columbus tomorrow”—
“And stay WHERE?”
“With you and Robbie, of course,” she said. “But just for the holidays. Once they offer me a permanent job after Christmas I’ll get my own place.”
Celia almost fainted at her mother’s multiple, dysfunctional layers of assumption and naïveté.
What does Celia say?
Monday, November 14, 2011
Time to leave?
Rob had suggested to Celia’s mother that there might be a receptionist job opening, in the company where he works, in the coming months. Celia was horrified, fearing her mother would consider this a sure thing, an excuse to neglect looking for anything else.
Rob considered lying to his mother-in-law.
Celia had asked him to rescind his offer to help her mother get a receptionist job at his company. He regretted that he let his desire to be helpful undermine thinking strategically about the situation. Then again, Celia had asked him to handle it and he had been firm that she would need to leave by this weekend—
First thing upon arriving at work this morning, Rob double-checked with the woman who was retiring at the end of the year about her retirement date, hoping that for some bizarre reason she had extended her retirement by, say, a year or so. No such luck.
But he could tell his mother-in-law that anyway…
He dialed her number, wanting to make the call before his cubicle-mate Lucy arrived at work. He would make it up as he went along, although he had to admit that Celia was much better at that than he.
“Good morning, Robbie,” she answered. “Broiled salmon for dinner tonight?”
“Sure,” he said. “I love salmon.”
“You and I love salmon,” she said, being strangely intimate over their shared food tastes. “But the odor might upset Celia – so sensitive, being pregnant and all”—
“Mom,” Rob jumped in, his stomach churning. “You know, I was thinking. I would rather that you don’t apply for the job here. I don’t think it would be a good idea for you and I to work together. Might get kind of awkward”—
“You know, I was thinking the same thing,” she said, and Rob almost died of relief. “Besides, I need a job before the end of the year. But you gave me a great idea. There are a lot more jobs here in Columbus than at home, so I thought I’d focus my job hunt here. That way I can still be nearby when the baby’s born.”
And live where, he thought. Celia’s mother was good at ideas but not so good at the details, such as where would she live in Columbus and what would she do with the house she has? She was not thinking of living with them, of course, but since she was probably not thinking about where she would live at all she would likely end up on their doorstep, at least temporarily.
“Hmm. Interesting,” Rob said, buying time in the moment and imagining sharing this one with Celia. At least her mother was showing initiative.
What happens next?
Monday, November 07, 2011
Did I Say That?
Celia and Rob have just learned that Celia’s mom showed up to “help” during the early stages of Celia’s pregnancy because she was laid off from her job. At Celia’s request, Rob has inquired about what her plans are, since she has been divorced from Celia’s father for years.
“So I said, ‘The best thing you can do for Celia and me is to put yourself first.’” Rob was explaining the conversation to Celia later as they lay in bed.
“And?” While Celia loved her mother and appreciated her support, the fact was Mom inclined toward depression and neediness. Celia was certain that “helping” them was a way to put off having to deal with her own life.
“She said, “A mother never puts herself before her children!’”
“Ugh!” Celia said, quietly, so Mom would not hear the conversation from the living room sofa where she slept. “She’s in denial. So what did you say then?”
“I told her that we were adults and that while we appreciated her being here, she needs to take care of herself so we don’t have to worry about her.”
“Yikes. So what did she say then?”
“She started the song and dance about us needing her more than any old job needs her. So I said she needs to leave by the weekend, because worrying about her is too hard on us.”
“What!” Celia almost shouted, sitting up and turning on the light. Neither she nor her sister Catherine, who still lived with their mother, had ever been able to be so direct. “How did she take that?”
“I think she was a little mad, and a little disappointed, and a lot uninterested in going home and looking for a job. But I also think you were right about why she’s here. She really does need to get her own life on track.”
Celia threw her arms around Rob. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” Celia pulled back from the hug. “You’re wonderful. The son she never had.”
“I like your mom. I told her if she can’t find work near home, to talk to me. Our current receptionist is going to retire soon and we might need another mother figure to run the front office for us.”
Celia was horrified. “You didn’t.”
“What’s wrong with that?” Rob asked.
“Now she has a reason NOT to look for a job at home! In her mind you just offered her a sure thing!”
Rob’s face fell, registering that he had not thought of that.
What happens next?
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