Monday, March 25, 2013
Faith and Parenting
Celia is realizing how much she wants a shared spiritual life with Rob, despite knowing that he wasn’t interested in religion when they got married. Having a son changed things for her.
“I don’t want to go to church to pretend to be interested,” Rob said. “I don’t see how that helps the situation at all.”
Celia got out of bed and put her bathrobe on.
Rob sat up. “Celia, when William gets older I want to take him to ball games and put a basketball hoop in our driveway. What good will it do for you to do that with us? You’d be bored. You’d just get in our way.”
“Going to church is not the same thing as going to a basketball game!”
“How are they different? I’d really like to know how they’re different!”
“Faith is not a sport, Rob,” Celia said, raising her voice. “It’s about”—she groped for the words –“a meaningful life together.”
Now Rob got out of bed, too. “What are you talking about? We have a house with a backyard, and a beautiful son to play in that yard, and jobs we like – I mean we’re not rich but”—
Celia cut him off. “You’re describing financial security, Rob. That’s not the same thing as meaning.”
Rob looked stunned.
“I know financial security may be the highest form of meaning for you,” Celia continued. “But someday we’re going to die anyway.”
“I don’t think about that!”
“I think about it every day!”
Rob and Celia stood facing one another, their unmade bed between them, though to Celia it felt like the Grand Canyon. They had discussed, even argued, their faith differences before. They typically reached a lukewarm agree-to-disagree stance, but for the first time Celia feared the obstacle was insurmountable and would create a friction on their relationship that would subtly degrade it over time.
“All right. I’m taking William to church on Easter,” Celia said. “I hope you’ll come with us.”
How does Rob respond?
Monday, February 04, 2013
The Laugh heard around the world
Celia handed William to Rob and left the house, upset because Rob did not come upstairs to see her and William immediately upon arriving home from work.
Rob was putting William in his high chair, wondering where Celia was and when she would be home, when Celia’s mother Mary walked in. Mary lived with Rob and Celia and provided care for William while Rob and Celia worked.
Mary dropped some bags on the counter and began to coo at her grandson. She stopped abruptly and looked around – “Where’s Celia?” she asked.
Rob paused, focusing intently on making sure William was secured in the chair, while he thought about how to answer. “She took a drive,” he finally said, being evasive.
“At dinner time?” Mary said. She stood there, questioning.
“Well – she was kind of upset,” Rob said, opening the refrigerator to get out William’s applesauce. “I was watching basketball and she was hurt when I didn’t go upstairs to see her when I got home”—
“You work hard all day!” Mary said. “You do what you want when you get home.” Mary tended to favor Rob, he knew, and would tell whatever story made him look better than Celia; this meant that Celia felt perpetually disadvantaged by their living situation.
“I get it,” Rob said, keen to protect Celia in the conversation. “It’s kind of the pattern I set up, that she and William listen for my car, and then wait for me”—
“Robbie, you are a good husband, but Celia can be”—Mary made a “crazy” gesture with her finger at her forehead – “a little neurotic.”
Rob began to feed William, spooning applesauce straight out of the jar, provoking William to wriggle in excitement. “Sensitive,” Rob said. “Celia can be sensitive.”
“You say potato, I say po-TAW-to,” Mary said. “When you married Celia, you got both.”
Rob laughed, then looked up to see Celia standing there. The look on her face made it clear that she had heard their exchange and, worse, she had heard Rob laugh.
What happens next?
Monday, January 21, 2013
What’s the Score?
It is basketball season again. Rob’s favorite sport.
Ohio State, their alma mater, scored a three-pointer and Rob, standing in front of the living room television with his briefcase still in hand, shouted and raised his arms.
Behind him, his infant son William burst into tears. Rob turned around, startled to see Celia standing behind him. She was speaking soothingly to William in her arms, but she looked ready to burst into tears herself.
“I didn’t know you were there,” Rob said. He dropped his briefcase on the sofa and reached out for William. The game continued to play loudly on the television.
Celia pulled away so Rob could not take William from her. “What the hell is wrong with you?” Celia said.
“What are you talking about?” Rob said. “ Would you watch your language in front of William, please?”
“We were waiting for you to come upstairs!”
“I was going to come upstairs,” Rob said, dumbfounded. “I just stopped in the living room to check on the game.”
“Your family is more important than basketball!” Celia said, beginning to cry.
“I know it is!”
“Then turn off the television! Our family routine is that we listen for you to come into the driveway, and wait for you to come upstairs.”
“No one let me in on the routine, Celia, so I didn’t know I was breaking the rules. I just wanted to check the score.”
What happens next?
Monday, November 19, 2012
When things are harder than you think
Rob and Celia are arguing over Thanksgiving plans.
“My mother will do all the work,” Rob said. “We just have to show up.” He and Celia were both standing up at this point though they were still at the dinner table, where her mother moved in to continue to feed William. He fussed when Celia stopped feeding him, driven to her feet by anger.
“Rob, you’re not thinking,” Celia said. “It’s not just the dinner. It’s the drive, on a holiday, with William stuck in the car seat. It’s all the laundry that has to be done before we leave. It’s trying to get William to sleep in the porta-crib.” Celia sat down, limply, as if her anger suddenly dissipated. “I’m tired, Rob. I was looking forward to getting some rest over the break.”
Rob sat down again, too, as Celia took the spoon from her mother – rather rudely, Rob thought – and resumed feeding William.
“Lighten up, Celia,” her mother said. Rob winced. It would be helpful for his mother-in-law to pretend she wasn’t there – so before Celia could explode at the interjection, Rob spoke.
“OK,” he said. “I blew it when I agreed without asking you, and I’m sorry about that.”
Celia handed William’s spoon back to her mother and beckoned Rob from the kitchen into the living room.
“Please,” Celia said. “I need a break. Going back to work with William at home, even with my mother here, has been harder than I thought.”
“I get that,” Rob said. “But I would also like to see my family. We’ve hardly seen them since William has been born and my mother is crazy to spend time with her grandson. And with us.”
What do Rob and Celia decide?
Monday, November 12, 2012
Taken for Granted
Rob accepted an invitation to celebrate Thanksgiving with his family in Cleveland.
Celia was beginning to feed William some of the mashed potatoes she, Rob, and her mother were also eating with their meatloaf. Celia’s mother made good meatloaf. Dinner was one time of the day when Celia did not mind her mother living with them, because it meant a set table and hot meal even when they both worked. Further, it was the only area in which Mom took full initiative well, neither asking stupid questions as she did about some tasks or requiring excessive direction in order to get it right.
“I have news, Mom,” Rob said to his mother-in-law. “My mother would like you to join us when we go up for Thanksgiving next week.”
William, sitting up hungry in his high chair, sputtered and lolled his tongue around, ensuring that no potato was actually swallowed. Celia rewound what Rob just said in order to make sure she heard correctly. No discussion about Thanksgiving had occurred and she looked forward to a quiet day at home during which Rob watched football, Celia took a nap and Mom – well, Celia assumed Mom would do what she did best—make dinner.
“We’re going to drive my sister Maria home from school, too,” Rob continued. “It’ll be a tight fit but if I pack the trunk well”—
Celia was furious. She could feel the anger start in her chest and bloom forth into her extremities; she sensed that when the anger hit the top of her head she would simply explode. Observing this reaction of her body as if in slow motion, she wondered if she would scream, or cry, or run from the table when the anger piqued. Rob, oblivious to her response, continued to talk animatedly about the weekend.
“So if you want to make some pies or other dessert to take along”— he said to Mary.
Celia pushed the chair back and stood up.
Rob did the same. “Celia, you’re really pale. Are you all right?” He walked around the table toward her like he feared she would faint.
Celia looked him in the eye as he walked toward her, shaking in anger as he got closer.
“How dare you make these plans without even asking me!” she said, quietly and evenly.
“Oh, Celia,” her mother said. “Don’t get your panties in a bunch. Robbie just wants us all to have a good time! Of course I want to go,” Mom told Rob.
What does Rob say to Celia?
Monday, October 22, 2012
Try that again
Celia resents that her mother lives with them despite the free in-house childcare that comes with the arrangement, while Rob tends to see the glass as half-full.
Now that William, now almost five months old, had joined the family and they owned a house, Rob found going to work hard, and not just because he was tired. He loved his life at home, disliked the distraction of work, and had to remind himself daily that the life relied on the job.
Today, though, he had not minded leaving for work, because the tone at home had been a little chilly since last evening.
He and Celia had been discussing the friction she felt with her mother in the house and Celia did not like the stance Rob took. When she finally whined, “Whose side are you on?” he had answered, honestly, “I love this house! I am glad we made the deal with your mom.” That, he learned a split second later, was the wrong answer.
“Screw you, Rob,” Celia had said before turning off the light. She had never spoken like that before – and he had certainly never spoken to her like that – and she apologized about a minute later. “But I’m still mad at you,” she added into the dark of their room.
“And I’m not even sure what she’s mad at,” he said, finishing the story for his cubicle mate, Lucy. Rob found that he was being more social at work than ever before because work seemed more boring than ever before.
“Rob. Dear. Celia isn’t asking you to change the situation,” Lucy said. “You bought the house and her mother lives with you. All you need to do is agree with Celia when she complains. You don’t have to win an argument here.”
Rob decided to call Celia right away. What does he say?
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, June 25, 2012
Hold me Tight
Celia is about to have a post-partum fatigue and stress breakdown.
Rob stood there holding his infant son on his shoulder. While Rob patted his back, William began to calm and fall back into the sleep he had been rudely awakened from when Celia and her mother began to bicker. He feared that Celia, standing before them both and weeping uncontrollably, would not be so easily comforted.
Lacking an alternative, Rob moved toward Celia. Making sure William was held securely with one arm, he opened his other to take Celia into it. In response, she opened both of her arms, encompassing Rob and William together, and continued to weep into Rob’s other shoulder.
This is where Rob would typically begin to get anxious because he did not know what to do to stop Celia’s crying, but he knew there was nothing here to fix. Celia’s mother lived here and that was still the right choice even if it was turning out to be more stressful than they had expected. Celia’s lack of margin to tolerate her mother was a function of being a tired new mother, nothing more, and that would take care of itself in time. Besides, Rob was too tired to be willing to expend energy on fixing something just so Celia would stop crying. It was better to put up with the crying.
Amazingly, just as Rob chewed on this, Celia’s crying stopped. He realized that he had made this happen just by taking her into his arms and holding her – just like he had done with William minutes before. All Celia needed was soothing, just like William had. He was not sure Celia would like being compared to a newborn baby, even in his mind, but the connection was not age or maturity but something primal that needed nothing but his tight hold.
Then he became nervous. How long should he stand here? Would Celia get mad if he stepped away? Should he suggest that they sit on the sofa? Maybe they should just all three get in bed together. He had stumbled into something that worked – and he vowed to use it again – but now he was afraid to mess it up by doing the wrong thing.
Maybe I should say something, he thought.
What does Rob say?
Monday, January 16, 2012
The Right Words at the Right Time
Celia’s mother, with whom she and Rob plan to buy a house, just announced that she was laid off from her job.
“I’m such a burden to you,” Mom said, putting her face in her hands as she began to cry. “Why in the world do you want to live with me?”
The chronic hopelessness that had reigned over Celia’s childhood home (a function of Dad’s drinking and Mom’s inclination to depression) suddenly overwhelmed the kitchen of the home that she and Rob shared. This home was theirs, and Celia refused to allow hopelessness to rule here. She glanced up at Rob, who did not look hopeless – he looked impatient. As their eyes met, Celia could tell that they were in agreement that Rob would handle this.
“I’m sorry you were laid off, Mom,” Rob said. “I know you were hoping this would be a permanent job.” Celia was impressed that he sounded sympathetic without getting caught up in the emotionality. That was Celia’s typical pattern – she would have immediately tried to convince her mother that she wasn’t a burden.
Celia knew that part of the reason why living with her mother was going to work out financially is that neither she nor Rob expected her mother to contribute to the overhead expenses. She would need money for her own expenses, but other than that they would support her in exchange for childcare, they presumed; they had not yet discussed that. But Celia’s mother was a relatively young woman, only in her early fifties. She needed a job so she would have something that was hers. Celia knew that to make Rob and Celia’s family the center of her life, when she would already be living with them, would be a huge mistake.
Mom’s weeping began to slow.
“We want to live with you because we love you,” Rob continued, “and we’re going to need your help with the baby. It’s great that you now have a couple of weeks to get the house packed up. That way when escrow closes you’ll be ready!”
“You mean you still want to live with me?” Mom said, looking up.
“Of course we do,” Celia chimed in, and it hit her in that moment, that her mother had spent her whole life earning the care of the people in her life: her own parents and Celia’s father. Love had always been conditional. It was astonishing to her that someone might want her just for her.
Mom stood up. “I’m going to do that. I’m going to go home, make short work of the packing, and get back here and find another job. I won’t be a burden to you.”
She kissed and hugged Celia, then kissed and hugged Rob, and went into the other room. They could hear her dragging her suitcase out of the closet as they looked at one another.
“That’s it,” Celia said, quietly, so Mom wouldn’t hear. “Mom believes she’s worth something because we love her. That’s motivating her to do something with her life.” She leaned over the table and kissed Rob. “Thank you.”
What happens next?
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