Monday, July 23, 2012
Finding your Family Groove
The bathtub is stopped up in Rob and Celia’s old new house, and Rob is impatient that Celia is upset since he takes care of these things. It’s not for her to worry about.
“But it’s my house, too,” Celia said. She was sitting on the bathroom floor, drying William, their seven-week-old son, with a towel.
“Yes, it’s your house,” he answered, working the tub drain with the plunger. “But it’s not your job to fix things when they’re broken. It’s mine.” He underscored this by pulling the plunger away to see a nice little whirlpool at the drain. “See?”
Celia pointed to the counter. “Could you hand me the diaper?”
He did. “So all you need to do is to make a list of things that break and I’ll take care of them. If I can’t, I’ll find someone who can.”
Celia finished diapering William and looked at Rob, tears in her eyes. “Why are you mad at me? I’m just trying to help.”
Rob hated it when Celia cried and he felt himself begin to react negatively, which he knew would only turn out badly. Celia picked up William and Rob sat down on the floor in the space where he had been laying.
“Look,” he said, trying to keep his voice gentle. “I like fixing things when they break. It’s one of the few things I’m actually good at.”
“You like plunging the tub when it’s backed up?” Celia said. She sounded skeptical.
“I think one of the reasons I hated living in the apartment is that I didn’t really have any jobs there except to help clean,” he said. “I love having the house, even doing all the things around the yard I hated growing up. You’re so good with William and cooking and making this a home in every other way. I feel like I have a role now, too. I like it.” He leaned in and kissed Celia. “So please let me be a guy and putter around importantly.”
“OK. Wow.” Celia handed William to him so she could stand up. “So I’m the VP of the kitchen and house and you’re the VP of the yard and when things break.”
Rob stood up, too, balancing William carefully as he did. “I prefer Minister of the Garden and Broken Stuff.”
“I’m just afraid you’re going to get exhausted,” Celia said, heading for William’s nursery and for the best part of the day in Rob’s opinion. Celia would sit in the rocker and nurse, and he would stretch out on the floor before her. They might talk quietly but just as often listen in silence to the chorus of crickets through the open window. Rob and Celia had grown up in Ohio, gone to college in Ohio, and now they had put down roots to raise their son here. This was how things were supposed to be and Rob did not care how tired he was as he stretched out on the floor. Celia cooed at William as he started his evening meal and set her head back when he latched on.
“Let’s make love after William goes to sleep,” Rob whispered, reaching out to caress Celia’s ankle.
How does Celia respond?
Monday, July 16, 2012
Not your problem
Rob and Celia are getting settled into their new house with their new son William.
Celia loved being William’s mother and at times she would weep as gratitude overwhelmed her, usually when she was rocking in the quiet nursery, feeding William; or when she would look in on him as he slept. At those times she would thank God that she and Rob and met, and made it to marriage, and survived to this point – everything they had lived before fell into place now that William was here to punctuate the plotline of their life together.
But the new house overwhelmed her. Last week the toilet wouldn’t flush, and before that the dishwasher backed up, and even the new washer and dryer seemed to have a learning curve before they worked as required – and all of this was in addition to the stress of living with her mother. Tonight, the bathtub was refusing to drain, and it felt like one thing too many. She was trying not to cry. She did not want William to have a mother who cried all the time, because Celia’s mother had cried all the time when she was little and Celia and her sister had grown up taking care of her.
She heard Rob run up the steps two at a time in response to her call. “What’s up?” he asked, landing breathlessly in the bathroom doorway.
“The tub,” she said, sitting on the floor next to William, who was lying on his back in a soft baby towel. She rubbed the fuzz on his head with the corner of the towel and gently pulled his legs and arms straight, one at a time, to reach into the folds of her chubby baby boy. Rob grabbed the plunger that already had a semi-permanent home in this bathroom and stepped over them both.
“I thought something was wrong with William,” he said as he bent over the tub.
“Why did you think that?”
“The tone in your voice,” he said, positioning the plunger over the drain.
“Well, I’m sorry you misread my tone,” she said, hearing in her voice another tone that Rob would misread.
“Well, everything is a drama for you right now. A stopped-up bathtub is not a crisis.” Rob began plunging the tub.
“But everything is breaking in this house.”
“And none of it is your problem,” Rob said, sounding angry. “I’m taking care of it all. Don’t worry about it.”
What happens next?
Monday, July 09, 2012
Settling In Your Zone
Rob liked being a homeowner. Despite getting married relatively young and becoming a father sooner than he had planned, it was home ownership that really made Rob feel like an adult, so he embraced the roles the responsibility spawned. Especially the yard. As a kid Rob had hated being required to mow the lawn and trim the hedges, but now he found himself outside on the humid summer evenings, wandering the perimeter of his quarter acre as if getting to know it; thinking about the general maintenance for the coming Saturday morning as well as dreaming about long-term improvements.
He was tired, sure, but unlike previously, the tired came with the purpose of investing in financial stability, and that made it meaningful. Even though William was only six weeks old, Rob had already started his college fund. Who knew what Ohio State would cost in eighteen years?
He walked slowly this evening, not even minding the mosquitoes, listening to Celia’s voice cooing through the open upstairs window as she bathed William. Rob would join them before she nursed William and together they would put him to bed, at least for the first time that night.
When he had spoken frankly to his mother-in-law Mary about the help he and Celia needed with the new house, he did so from a new stance. Rather than feeling uncertain about how she would respond, he felt confident that he had a right to bring it up. They had decided to buy this house together and he needed a partner in its maintenance, not just in its purchase.
“But I don’t want to step on your toes, Robbie,” she had said.
“Would it help if we had specific conversations about how you can help?”
“Definitely. Like a chore chart!” They had laughed about that together, but since then he and Mary had spoken every couple of days about specific things she could do to help them. Sometimes Celia participated in the conversations, but she preferred to tell Rob what would be helpful for her and let him talk to her mother. Rob hoped this would not last forever but for now it kept the peace as well as keeping the household running.
He sighed, content, as he turned to head back inside.
“Rob,” Celia called from the window. “Can you come here?” Her voice sounded anxious and he went inside quickly, through the kitchen door and up the stairs two at a time to the hall bathroom.
What is going on?
Monday, July 02, 2012
Celia is finally regaining some resilience following weeks of post-partum fatigue and anxiety. William is five weeks old and they are mostly settled into their new house.
A new routine began to emerge around caring for William, keeping house, and living with her mother. At times Celia felt tired and overwhelmed, but this was balanced by how much she really did enjoy being a mother… she knew she was good at this, recognizing that the parts of her that thrived as a teacher were expressed here, too, though on a different order of magnitude in terms of dedication and commitment, attachment and love.
And when she had a down moment, all she really needed to do was to remember Rob’s words after her total meltdown last week. “I am so in love with both you and William,” he had said, holding them both close. The moment was a rich, potent memory and she knew she would digest it in small bits for a long time to come.
Every time she started to feel tired from the lack of sleep, the humid weather, keeping a new home or even being irritated with her mother’s unique brand of genuinely wanting to be helpful while somehow just making more work – she would remind herself that her husband really did love her, her son, and the family they made together. And in this she would find enough energy to proceed through the next activity. Getting through each moment, one at a time, eventually meant she would reach the end of the day and Rob would come home from work.
Today he hoped to get home a little earlier than usual to clear the lawn of some branches and debris from the storm over the weekend.
Finishing the dishes in the kitchen, Celia walked upstairs to the nursery to check on William – she did not always trust the baby monitor. William, looking like he had gained weight since she had put him down, was sound asleep and looking content. Celia sat down in the rocker, thinking she would close her eyes and rest here until William awoke. She had placed the rocker facing the window to the backyard, because the green of the tree-scape soothed her and reminded her to be grateful instead of anxious about all things.
Just as she was about to close her eyes, Celia noticed her mother in the backyard. She leaned forward to see that her mother, wearing Rob’s heavy work gloves, was picking up branches and trash blown into the yard from the storm. She put the trash in the can, stacked the branches neatly in a pile, and used the rake to gather anything too small to pick up by hand.
Celia was so stunned at seeing her mother doing something useful, and doing it well, that she did not know what to make of it. She walked downstairs and into the backyard to inquire.
What does Celia find out?
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