Monday, June 04, 2012
Lending a helping hand
Rob and Celia are settling into their new house with their newborn baby.
They gave their son two strong, classic king names, William Robert, and found themselves calling him Will or sometimes Wills, like Prince William. Everyone told them that Wills was a good sleeper and eater, and for this Celia was grateful because she could not imagine how she would handle things if he was colicky or had trouble nursing. If this was “good,” what would “bad” mean? She was exhausted.
Rob worked on getting their house in shape. Celia had hoped that they would be entirely settled before the baby, but since Wills arrived two weeks early, there were rooms that were still unpainted and unpacked. The nursery and the kitchen were the only two rooms that were entirely finished.
“I think working two jobs prepared me for this,” Rob said, standing on a ladder and taping off the living room for painting, while Celia nursed Wills on the sofa nearby. “For this week, anyway, getting the house in shape can be my full time job and helping you can be the part time one.”
“I wish you could stay home longer,” Celia said. “I wish Mom was more help.”
“She cooks dinner. That’s enough for me,” Rob said.
Maybe that was true. Maybe in the fall when Celia started the new school year teaching music, she would be thankful that her mother lived with them because Wills wouldn’t have to go to daycare. But for now Mom was less than no help; flitting around in an impressive imitation of being helpful but in reality accomplishing little. Celia had begun to orient herself to her mother as she did one of her students: throw her little jobs to make her feel useful, but don’t really rely on her.
“Maybe we need a chore chart,” Rob continued. “My mom had one at home when we were kids. That way we all knew what to expect.”
They heard the car in the driveway and knew Mom was home from the grocery store.
“What are the chances that she actually remembered diapers?” Celia asked.
Rob stepped down off the ladder. “I think you’re being pretty hard on your mom,” he said. “All I know is that everything she’s doing right now would be getting done by me, which would mean I’m not doing anything on the house. Even if it’s just dinner and going to the store, I’m glad she’s here.”
“Are you really?” Celia said, putting Wills on her shoulder to burp. She realized that she had assumed that Rob felt the same way she did about her mom; that this was a necessary evil to be able to afford a house.
They heard Mom walk in the back door, groaning as she lifted grocery bags to the counters.
What happens next?
Monday, February 13, 2012
Home Owners at Last
Rob and Celia are trying to work on their relationship with Celia’s mother as they anticipate buying a house with her as well as living with her.
The call that their house offer was accepted arrived just as Rob and Celia were laughing, with genuine mirth, at the situation they had put themselves in by agreeing to live with Celia’s mother.
“We got it!” Celia said, disconnecting the call from the realtor and standing up at the table. She and her mother were having tea at Starbucks, where they had stopped in to say hello to Rob as he worked the closing shift on his second job. Celia hugged Rob, hard, before they both hugged her mother.
The house was a little smaller than they had hoped; only three bedrooms, but it was in Upper Arlington, a nice neighborhood near Ohio State where Rob and Celia had met. More importantly to Rob, Celia knew, was that it fell in a good school district, which meant that they would not have to worry about trying to move again before their child started school.
“See,” Celia said, hugging Rob again and speaking into his ear. “Now you don’t have to worry about anything. Just getting about getting on with the rest of our lives.
“I’m sure I’ll figure out something new to worry about,” he said.
“Let’s just worry about moving and having a baby,” she said.
“I can’t wait to start decorating,” Mom said. “Why don’t we”—
Rob sighed, gave Celia a look that said good luck, and went back to work.
“Mom,” Celia said, sitting back down. “Except for the nursery we’re going to have to get by with the furniture we have. We’re going to be at the limits of our income just getting into the house and there isn’t much left over. And remember I won’t be drawing a paycheck over the summer.”
“Oh, but it’s your first house,” Mom said.
“Mom,” Celia said firmly, “we will decorate gradually as we can afford it. But you can decorate your room any way you want.”
“I’ll pick a nice deep gray-green paint,” she said, “and find a nice neutral bedspread.”
Celia smirked. At the very least Mom was easy to redirect.
“I have an idea,” Celia said.
What does she tell her mother?
Monday, January 09, 2012
Expect the unexpected
House hunting is dominating Rob and Celia’s life right now. Rob is disappointed at the asking price for Celia’s mother’s house, which will provide their down payment, but Celia is realistic that they may have to move again before their not-yet-born child needs a school district.
Rob and Celia shared one of the few quiet dinners they could have alone now that Celia’s mother lived with them, just tacos at the kitchen table, but Celia had lit a candle and they were cozy in their warm apartment. Mom was working the late shift at her retail job and neither Rob nor Celia had evening responsibilities tonight. For Rob, that meant no Starbucks duty, since he planned to keep the second job until right before the baby was born, and for Celia it meant no private piano lessons on top of her daytime teaching job.
“I know Mom’s house sold for less than you wanted,” Celia said.
“A lot less, actually,” Rob said. “We’re going to have at least ten thousand less than I wanted.”
“As I have said, I don’t mind moving again,” Celia said. “It’s a lovely dream, to move into the house we’ll spend the rest of our lives in now. But it’s OK if we move again.”
“I don’t want to move again,” Rob said, continuing to push his point.
He kept pushing until Celia said, “Rob, I think you’re tired. You’re working too much. The only thing that keeps you going is the belief that in six months you will have climbed this huge buy-a-house mountain once and for all. Then you can sleep.”
Rob thought about that as he built himself another taco. Maybe there was something to that. Two months ago, all thoughts of home buying remained years in the future. Now, with Celia unexpectedly pregnant and their decision to try to meet as many needs as possible by buying a house with Celia’s mom, maybe Rob was trying to make too many things happen all at once. He sighed, disliking the option to buy cheap now and trade up in five years.
“But who knows where the market will be in five years?” he said. “There may never be a better time to buy up than now.”
“I don’t need a fancy house,” Celia said.
“Neither do I, but we do need one that we don’t strangle your mother in because she’s constantly underfoot.” A light bulb went off for Rob. “Wait – I wonder if my dad might be willing to lend us a little more for the down payment.”
“I don’t know,” Celia said. “You have two sisters in college right now”—
Just then, they heard front door lock unlatch and front door open.
“Mom’s home early,” Rob said.
“Uh oh,” Celia said. “I hope this doesn’t mean”—
Just then Celia’s mother walked into the kitchen. She looked dejected and tired.
“It was just a holiday job,” Mom said. “I was laid off today, with about ten others.” She dropped her face into her hands in despair.
What happens next?
Monday, January 02, 2012
Real estate Musings
Rob and Celia are facing the New Year with high hopes that their plan to purchase a house with Celia’s mother will go smoothly.
While those around her moaned about returning to routine following the holidays, Celia anticipated the return to teaching with good cheer. After two years of being underemployed she was grateful for the work. Her pregnancy had progressed past the sick and tired phase, and with Rob’s support and active involvement she was building an amazingly healthy relationship with her mother. Mom had changed little, but Celia had learned that by accepting the mother she had rather than wishing for change that would never occur, they could build something workable.
Celia was home alone today, packing up their sparse Christmas decorations not only to store, but to move. Next Christmas they would have a new home and a baby! Growing up with a depressive mother and an unreliable father, Celia had learned not to get too excited about things. But since Rob held a central role in this plan, she allowed herself to anticipate it with happiness. She and Rob were the architects of their lives now. She did not need anyone else to come through for her.
There. Christmas was cleaned up and put away. She picked up her phone and dialed her sister, Catherine. Catherine, who was older than Celia, lived with her mother. No one was happier about the new plan than she was. Celia had felt guilty that while she had left home for college and gotten married, Catherine had remained at home, gone to community college and finished her degree online while working, in part because Mom needed the support emotional and otherwise.
“OK, here’s what I’ve got,” Catherine started. “The house appraised at sixty-eight but there are five other houses in the subdivision for sale. The agent listed it sixty-two and we have an offer at fifty-eight”—
“But Rob’s expecting seventy for the down payment”—
“I don’t know anything about what Rob’s expecting but there’s no point to asking more than what it’s worth in a down market. Tell Rob I’m sorry we’re from Canton and not Beverly Hills”—
“You’re right,” Celia said. “Do your best on that end and we’ll do what we need to do here.” Celia disconnected and dialed Rob, hoping to catch him on his break at Starbucks. She did and brought him up to speed.
“So I told her that we’ll do whatever we need to do on our end,” Celia finished.
“It’s going to be a push to get into a good school district,” Rob said. “Is this the best she can do?”
What does Celia say?
Monday, May 23, 2011
Celia is in despair over her ill timed and faltering music teaching career. Rob has been trying to support and encourage her.
Rob hated to admit it, even to himself, but he was relieved to go to work this morning. Last evening had gone down hill from the moment Celia arrived at the sports bar having just received news that her part time job, which she loved, was evaporating at the end of June.
He had cuddled with her on the couch while she cried, telling her that yes, it is a terrible time to be a teacher, but we will figure it out together. He hated to see her so sad, and he wanted to be a comfort and for Celia to be happy in her work. But inside he was beginning to panic at the idea that given the downturn in budgets everywhere, especially for arts funding, she might never be fully employed in her chosen profession. Rob was facing – yet again—his fear that he would be on his own in planning and sustaining their financial future. The whole episode had a “here we go again” feeling and he could see no way out of the cyclone.
By keeping their expenses as low as possible (and making sure Celia kept track of every possible deductible item from her freelance piano lessons), they had survived the last year on his salary without going into debt. It had been tight. Rob had hoped that their austerity program would be temporary, and that Celia would come up with a permanent position for this fall. She had not.
But he could not talk to Celia about this, or about things like IRAs, savings accounts, and down payments for houses without making her feel like she was letting down the team. He worried, a lot, and when he had told Celia last night that they would figure it out together, he had won points in the supportive husband department. But he had no idea how they would figure it out together, or separately, or at all. There seemed to be no way out without it becoming a huge marital mess of his need to be financially secure vs. her need to be fulfilled in her vocation.
Rob started considering a part-time job for himself – it would be easier to just buck up and maximize his own earning potential rather than expect Celia to do her part. He could tend bar at a sports bar – that might even be fun, to earn money while he watched sports—or do some bookkeeping on the side.
He opened his email. The daily devotional he had agreed to read and discuss with Celia was in his in-box.
Right, this too, he thought irritably. He was getting tired of being the one to change in order to make their marriage happy. He wanted a real partner, but right now he just felt like he was supporting a teenager who was part lazy and part clueless.
How does Rob deal with the stress?
Friday, March 18, 2011
If you care, I care (Harold’s response)
God designed marriage as a journey of spiritual formation. As each spouse is able to open up and trust someone who is often quite different from him or her they both are refined into Jesus' likeness. Too often, however, our spiritual maturity is stymied by our selfishness. In a sense, we stand in the way of what God is trying to do in us. We have to prioritize what God prioritizes. We have to care about what God cares about. But, this isn't only a truth between us and God. It is only a portrait of what God expects the marital relationship to look like. We are to care about what our spouse cares about.
This isn't easy because usually whatever motivations or forces are driving our spouse's perspective probably looks different in our lens. How can we care about that which we really don't care about? That is the ultimate question. It is an issue of sacrifice. We have to keep our proverbial finger on our spouse's pulse. Because we care about them (and what God is doing in them), we have to prioritize his/her viewpoint over our own.
By taking this sacrificial stance, we cultivate empathy in our relationship. And, empathy breeds trust. And, ultimately trust breeds intimacy. In other words, when we make the sacrifice to care about what our spouse cares about, we take a significant step towards a more intimate marriage (and spiritual maturity). And, that makes it all worthwhile. But, it starts with sacrifice.
Monday, October 18, 2010
Is Your Bedroom the Priority?
Rob left his parents on short notice and arrived home unexpectedly, and much to Celia’s surprise.
Rob had never known before how much he relied on routine to make him feel together. The mere act of driving his car into his parking space centered him to the degree that the car was positioned equally between the lines; then both he and his car were home and all was right with the world.
During the drive from Cleveland he had worried that he was acting impulsively. Not that Rob ever did anything on impulse, but since his father’s heart attack a month ago no one in his family had been behaving in character.
But he did not want to think about that now; for the moment he had to assume that his mother and father, who had been shocked by his decision to leave with no notice, would find a new equilibrium that did not include Rob managing their daily affairs. Rob just wanted to be in his apartment, heading to his job tomorrow, and spending the evening with his beautiful wife, who at this moment was standing across the room from him, removing articles of clothing slowly, one piece at a time.
“Did you have a good drive?” Celia was asking as she unbuttoned her blouse.
He nodded. She smiled to beckon him to follow her into their bedroom. There was little else Celia could have done at this moment to remind Rob how glad he was to be a married adult man. The responsibilities of caring for his parents, while sleeping in his childhood room, had made him long for the time when someone else was in charge and all he had to do was play.
He followed Celia, pulling his polo shirt over his head and tossing it on his suitcase as he did. Actually, at this moment it felt like Celia was in charge now, in a good way. He just wanted to be led. He realized how tired he was.
He embraced Celia next to the bed. “I don’t want to do anything else for at least twelve hours except be naked next to you,” he said, kissing her.
Celia kissed back as she unbuttoned his jeans. “You can be naked all you want,” she said. “But I have to teach a piano lesson in an hour, so this is going to be a quickie.” She pulled him down onto the bed.
Rob forgot that Celia had rescheduled her private lessons to accommodate the church’s afterschool program, so they were in the evenings now.
“Cancel it,” he said, nuzzling her neck. “I’m more important.” He had meant to say that in jest, but he heard himself sound serious. Maybe he was, he realized.
What happens next?
Monday, October 04, 2010
Who’s in charge?
With Celia in Columbus and Rob at his parents’ home in Cleveland, Rob is unloading over the phone about his family’s over-reliance on him in the wake of his father’s heart attack. It is early morning; Celia is lying in their bed and Rob is pacing in his childhood bedroom.
Something that had been built up for two weeks could now flow freely as he talked, and somehow Rob felt energized and relaxed at the same time.
“This look my mother gives me,” he heard himself saying. “About the dumbest things, like she can’t even begin to imagine what in the world should happen next when it’s five o’clock and dinner’s in an hour even though her entire life seems to have revolved around making dinner since I was a kid.” He was surprised at how strong his irritation sounded. “She should be handling this.”
“How’s your dad?” Celia asked. This may have been the first time she had spoken since answering his call. She sounded drowsy but he knew she was listening.
“He’s in a routine,” Rob said. “More than anything he just seems to be tired. He rests, watches TV, takes his meds – the doctor says he’s recovered from the surgery. He just needs to regain his strength.”
“What do they need help with?” Celia said. “I mean, what are you actually doing for them?”
“Mostly the house stuff,” Rob said. “The lawn, the leaves. The bills. Mom is just this running list of things that need to get done, every one of which has to be discussed first with me.” He continued talking as he fiddled with the car models he had built as a kid, still displayed on shelves. They were from back in the day when Mom handled things and brought him model kits, not vacant, helpless looks. He kept talking until Celia interrupted him.
“Rob – so take charge.”
“I’m in charge right now.”
“No, you’re the butler right now. Your father’s recovery is progressing normally. They may need help but it doesn’t have to be from you. What are the other options? Does your mom need a cleaning person so she can concentrate on taking care of your dad?”
What does Rob decide to do next?
Monday, September 27, 2010
Rob is overwhelmed by what he is experiencing as he helps his family in Cleveland following his father’s heart attack. Celia, alone in Columbus, is focused on her new job.
Celia had been sleeping harder this week than she had in a long time. Her days were full between running the music curriculum at the afterschool program, continuing to lead the church choir, and teaching the private piano students who remained when she had to move their appointments from afterschool to evenings and Saturdays. Celia was aware that she was not horribly busy but the new changes did mean she was working seven days a week.
Paul, the pastoral intern who ran the afterschool program, had asked her to plan a small celebration for the mentors and volunteers, which she had done gladly and which had happened last night.
So Celia was surprised when she awoke at 5 AM and could not go back to sleep. She found herself ruminating about something that had not bothered her for a long time: that she was a church choir director and worked in a church-sponsored afterschool program for underprivileged youth, and her husband did not even attend church with her.
She loved listening to Paul talk about his seminary classes and that to be Christlike is to work among the poor; this invigorated her own thinking about their dying congregation and her role in it. She wanted to share her thoughts with Rob, but he was not here and he was so wrapped up in his family right now, understandably, of course – and Celia could not be sure he would really be interested anyway.
Even though it was not yet light, Celia’s phone rang and she saw that it was Rob.
“Rob? What’s wrong?” she asked. When there was a sick person in the family, it was hard not to panic when phone calls arrived at unusual times.
“Hi. Nothing’s wrong, Dad’s fine – well, not fine, of course, but there’s no change there – I just wanted to talk.”
Celia was glad he had called and said so, and when she did she could not be sure but it sounded like Rob almost sobbed. Helping out the family is a great idea, he said, if that helped accomplished anything, but their needs were this black hole – the more he did, the more they relied on him to do, right when they should be figuring out what their new normal was. There was this huge sucking sound in the house, he went on to say, that sapped him of energy to do more than he had to, especially to help them address the situation and reverse the spiral they were in.
“Part of me thinks this will never change,” he said. “We should just get jobs in Cleveland and be done with it.”
Celia, who had not yet said one word beyond her greeting, loathed the capitulation in Rob’s voice as much as she feared what he had said could mean for them both. She censored her inclination to strike that thought head on, though, knowing that it would not turn out well, though she did see the irony that just a few months ago she might have welcomed the chance to start again in another city.
How does Celia respond to Rob?
Saturday, September 25, 2010
Keeping an eye on the big picture
Rob is in an unfamiliar place—feeling out of control. Like many of us, Rob likes a plan. And, he likes to work the plan. And, he get agitated when things deviate from the plan. The unexpected health challenges that Rob’s dad has experienced has disrupted his plan. He feels obligated to step up his role in the family to fill in for dad—at least for a while. I applaud Rob’s willingness to make the sacrifices for his family.
My concern, however, is that Rob become so engrossed in the details of his new family role that he loses the big picture. Doesn’t this happen to many of us? Even from a spiritual perspective we often lose sight of what God is doing in our lives because we can’t get our hearts and mind beyond the difficulties that are right in front of us. The problem, of course, is that when we become too short-sighted we compromise our future.
If Rob loses sight of the big picture here, he risks taking a position or making some statements to Celia that could cause some big problems.
The only other thing that I can say to him is “Tread lightly”.
Page 1 of 4 pages 1 2 3 > Last »
Return to home page