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, March 05, 2012
Rob and AAA just “rescued” Celia and her mother from a non-emergency.
The sky shone bright blue and the highway was dry, and though it was cold Rob only kinda-sorta-not really minded the interruption to his rare day off from both jobs. He simply could not relax as well as he had been able to do before taking on the second job. Probably not a bad thing, he thought, since the birth of their baby was now less than three months away and relaxation time would be limited even with the elimination of the second job. Mostly he regretted that he would have to contend with a car repair, when working two jobs was about saving for retirement and paying down debt, not to pay to repair a relatively new car.
He exited into the huge turnpike rest stop lot and spotted Celia’s car by sighting the tow truck. He parked nearby, getting out of the car just as Celia signed a clipboard proffered by the driver. Celia’s mother hovered nearby, likely offering her typical chatty non-support.
“Robbie!” Celia’s mother called, throwing her arms open to hug her favorite and only son-in-law. He had barely received the hug when she blurted out, “The car’s fine! Celia just forgot to put it in PARK when we stopped.”
“Happens all the time,” the tow truck driver said. “No big deal.” He tore off Celia’s copy of the form and handed it to her. “The good news is, you don’t make that mistake twice,” he added as he got back in the truck and turned on its ignition.
Vaguely relieved that the car was fine, Rob found himself stuck on mistake. “You mean I drove out here for nothing?”
Celia’s mother looked at Rob, waved her arms and shook her head. “How do you solve a problem like my Celia?” she sang, mimicking the “Maria” song from The Sound of Music.
“I hate it when you do that!” Celia said to her mother. The moment she made eye contact with Rob, she burst into tears.
What happens next?
Monday, July 18, 2011
The Waiting Game
Rob and Celia discovered they had both submitted applications – separately—to Starbucks, each hoping to close the financial gap until Celia finds a full-time job. Celia fears Rob will resent her even more if he works a second job, but Rob made it clear that if it meant he would worry less about money, it would be worth it.
Job boards searched, check. Follow up calls made, check. Networking emails sent, check. As she had been doing all month, Celia spent the first hour of the day on her current job, which was to look for a full time job. Though the process itself was discouraging, observing it routinely provided rhythm and stability as well as something to share with Rob when he got home, to show him she was trying.
Next, she moved on to promoting her private piano lessons. She updated her Craigslist ad and started a Celia Benson Piano Lessons page on Facebook. She sent Rob the link so he could be the first to “like” it. Few parents started their children on lessons over the summer, though; but perhaps some would file the info for fall. Meanwhile, she had about six lessons a week scheduled for the rest of the summer.
Her phone rang. “Hi handsome,” she said to her husband. Their marriage, strangely, had flourished in recent weeks following Rob’s confession of his resentment, her embrace of the food-and-sex route to Rob’s heart as a compensation for failing to provide sufficient income along with a new commitment to getting a job, and the realization they could both be more flexible in their responses to the current state of their financial affairs.
“Did you get a call?” Rob said.
“Starbucks. They just called me in for an interview.”
Celia did not respond as the news dripped into her psyche. “No, I didn’t get a call.”
“I’m meeting the late shift manager at 6:30 this evening,” he went on.
“Great,” Celia said, but it did not sound like she meant it. “I mean, it is great that you got called. I wish I had been called, too.” Discouragement threatened to flood her – it was already flowing fast.
“I figured they called you, too,” he said. “I’ll mention you at my interview.”
What does Celia do next?
Monday, June 20, 2011
Handling resentment in marriage
Rob and Celia are missing each other as Celia’s anxieties about her job, Rob’s money worries, and their complicated work relationships dominate their efforts to reconnect.
“Celia, what is going on?” Rob said to his wife’s back, as she stood at the kitchen sink. He was irritated to no end that Celia was twisting his words and intentions in sharing the conversations he had with Lucy at work. “Please, sit down and have dinner with me.”
“I’m sorry it’s not lasagna,” Celia said. “And I would love to have what Lucy and Rocco have together, except that we don’t take care of each other. You resent me because I don’t make enough money and I resent you that you don’t understand what teaching music means to me”—
“I think ‘resent’ is a strong word,” Rob said, wanting to be conciliatory, but maybe she was right, maybe they had been in this loop for a long time, smoothing over the surface and appearing to resolve the issue, but it was like it just
kept roiling up from the bottom where they kept the things they were too scared to talk about, because what if they could not be resolved?
“You’re right,” Celia said. “Resent is a strong word.” She was being sarcastic, because her words dripped resentment, and suddenly Rob was aware that Celia’s job was not the problem, and money was not the problem. The problem was the vortex they were stuck in, wherein the issue would surface regularly but they would ignore it. The real issue was the fear of talking about the perceived issues, because as long as they refused to try to resolve this impasse they could hope – each one alone – that a solution might appear like manna in the desert without their having to acknowledge it.
Rob, who did not consider himself a courageous person, decided this had to stop now. He stood up, his heart pounding and his fingers tingling. “Actually, you are right, Celia. I do resent you. I resent that you’re not me, and that since you can’t earn a decent living doing what you love that you aren’t finding another way to do it. I wish I didn’t feel that way. But I do, and I’m sorry.”
Celia, her back still facing Rob, stopped and turned off the spigot. Typical for Rob, he regretted saying the words the moment they were out of his mouth. He wanted to take them back but he chose not to, remaining silent. He knew there was no putting this toothpaste back in its tube.
Celia turned around slowly. She was crying.
“So what would Lucy and Rocco do in this situation?” she said.
How does Rob answer?
Monday, June 13, 2011
Knowing when your marriage is on thin ice
Celia’s job ends soon and then she’s back to relying entirely on private piano lessons and the stipend she receives from the church for directing the choir for her income. Neither Rob nor Celia is happy with this and they are having trouble talking about it.
Celia felt terrible as she sat with Rob, watching him eat the casserole she had cooked for him. She did not have any appetite.
All she could think about was Paul, the seminary intern who ran the afterschool program she taught music in. She admired him and had learned so much from him about how work and ministry are related. When she had burst into tears of frustration at her job situation today, he had offered a simple, comforting hug that should have felt benign. But they been alone in the old parsonage Paul had adapted for the afterschool program, and Celia wished for the hug to linger longer than it had, because Paul inspired her and understood that she had a call to teach music. Rob did not.
And yet, here she was at dinner with Rob, her husband, jealous at the conversations he had today with his colleague Lucy about her relationship with her boyfriend Rocco. How ridiculous could she be? Rob had never before shown interest in the rudiments of lasagna-making, but apparently when Lucy talked about it, it was fascinating.
“Lucy and Rocco have this really cool relationship where they take care of each other,” Rob was saying. “So she cooks things he likes and he washes and fixes her car, and they watch sports together…”
“You know I don’t like sports,” Celia said.
Rob sighed. “I know that. I was talking about Lucy.”
Yes, that’s the problem, Celia wanted to say, but she didn’t.
“So why don’t Lucy and Rocco get married?” Celia said, picking up her fork and beginning to eat.
“They seem to have a pretty good deal the way it’s set up right now,” Rob said.
And so would I, Celia thought, if we weren’t married. I could find someone who understands and values what I am trying to do with kids and music, and doesn’t worry about money all the time.
“I like the way they are together,” Rob said. “I wish we had something like that.”
“Well, I’m sorry we don’t,” Celia said, standing up and taking her plate to the sink. She dumped the whole uneaten meal into the sink and began to wash it down the garbage disposal.
What happens next?
Monday, May 30, 2011
Handling disappointment with wisdom
The stress is building for Rob as Celia’s full-time employability as a music teacher becomes increasingly questionable. Celia feels both guilty and discouraged.
Every day at the afterschool program felt precious now that Celia knew the grant for it had not been renewed. Paul, the church intern who ran the program, was disappointed, too, but he had gathered material for his seminary thesis and had gained valuable experience for his career. Or so Celia learned as they talked about it face to face for the first time since they had learned the news. They were in the re-purposed parsonage before the children were expected to arrive for their tutoring and music enrichment.
Whereas Celia wanted to cry, Paul simply shrugged and said, “Well, we knew we might only have the grant for one year when we received it.”
Celia realized that for her, working in the afterschool program had provided a glimmer of hope – perhaps it could be funded permanently and her role in it could be expanded accordingly over time, she had thought. Now she felt stupid in addition to guilty and discouraged, since it now seemed so glaringly obvious that this job had provided enough income to make it appear to Rob that she was genuinely trying. But in reality she had just put off facing the truth for one more year – that as school districts continued to cut funding, the market for music teachers would only get worse. And not just in Ohio.
“Wow, you’re really upset about this, aren’t you?” Paul said. He had been shuffling some papers at his desk, but now he turned toward her and assumed a caring, pastoral pose that always made Celia nervous, because he was just way too attractive when he stopped what he was doing and looked at her like that…
Celia burst into tears.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” she sobbed, flopping into the chair next to his desk. “Rob is so frustrated with me – I’d make more money working full time at Starbucks than I am making right now.” She grabbed a tissue from his desk and blew her nose.
“Well, no one goes into ministry to make money,” Paul said, soothingly. “You’re doing what you’re called to do.”
This was the kind of thinking that confused Celia to no end. It made so much sense when Paul talked about it, because she did feel called to music and to teaching. But Rob, while professing to want her to be happy, worried so badly about money. And to be fair, part of what attracted her to Rob was that she knew he would provide financial stability, which she had never had.
“Rob couldn’t care less about ministry,” Celia said, sniffing. This hadn’t come out right, because she really did not want to blame him for the problem. “I mean, I wish I could have it both ways.”
Paul reached out and took her hand.
What happens next?
Friday, May 13, 2011
When husbands just don’t get it (Harold’s response)
Sometimes we husbands just need grace. Really, grace is the key for both spouses at varying points in the marriage. In this episode, Rob feels clueless about how to be helpful. Thankfully, their marriage has matured to the point where lapses in judgment receive more empathy than they have in the past. The challenge for all of us couples is to emulate that.
Monday, May 02, 2011
What’s a real job?
Celia just arrived home from the sports bar; Rob is a couple of minutes behind her.
Celia dropped her bag on the floor, exhausted after a long and stressful day, and wished she did not have to tell Rob her news. They had just started their devotional routine, and her telling Rob what she had to tell Rob would just make him anxious and way too serious; then the whole routine would fall apart just as they really needed it. She headed to the kitchen, regretting drinking a margarita on an empty stomach. Her stomach was rebelling, so she found some bread to put in the toaster. Toast would calm it down.
It had just popped when Rob came in. Celia heard him drop his bag next to hers and follow the kitchen light to find her.
“So did you enjoy the game?” Celia asked, buttering her toast. She did not want to share her bad news yet because to share it meant she had to think about it, and she was already too sad.
“We lost, but other than that it was a good game.” He stood there, looking at her, and she focused on buttering her toast. “So?” he said.
“So?” Celia said, though she knew he wanted to know why she had needed a drink earlier.
“What’s going on?” Rob said. “You tossed back that margarita pretty damn quick.”
Celia sighed as she took her toast to the dinette table and sat down. “Paul called after we talked. He just found out that our grant isn’t going to be renewed for next year.” She let that sink in for a minute, before adding, “So my job is kaput as of the end of June.” She took a bite of toast even though she was now quite the opposite of hungry. It was something to do as she tried not to cry. She loved her role creating and teaching the music curriculum at her church’s afterschool program, funded by grants and run by their intern, Paul. Every day reminded her why she had studied music education in college. The children were so engaged, and she was sure that they did better on their homework after she had started their neural pathways firing through her music training…
Rob sat down across from her. “Don’t worry about it. It’s not like you were making that much money anyway,” he said. “Now you can go back to looking for a real job in a school district.”
Celia knew Rob was sincere in his admonition not to worry, even though Rob worried about money all the time. He was trying to be helpful. She gave him credit for that even though he had just insulted her passion for the program and had completely missed why she was upset.
What happens next?
Monday, January 24, 2011
Hung up on church?
Celia asked Rob to attend church with her this weekend.
Rob realized that Celia was asking a question she considered significant seconds after he shot off a flippant, “Not this weekend. NFL playoffs,” and she hung up on him.
He swore under his breath as he redialed only to realize that his new cubicle mate, Lucy, had returned just in time to hear him. Rob, who preferred privacy in his personal life, disconnected the call.
“Hey,” he said.
“Trouble at home, Rob?” Lucy said in her pack-a-day voice. Rob didn’t know how she could possibly infer that from one curse word, but he did not want to discuss it.
“Just say you’re sorry and tell her you love her,” Lucy said as he walked out of the cubicle to call his wife in private. “It works on me every time.”
Rob was not sure he was sorry because he had no idea what had happened. This was one of those issues that seemed to come around periodically, when Celia would get a bug in her bonnet about church and he would have to deal with it. Typically, dealing with it meant ignoring it and it would go away. He had attended her choir’s Christmas concert and the service on Christmas Eve so he had hoped to be off the hook for a while.
He found an empty conference room, went in, and shut the door. He was about to dial Celia again when he sat down, aware that every second he did not call back was another second Celia was getting angrier.
He thought about it. Why do I resist this? he asked himself. What is so hard about getting up on Sunday morning, listening to some nice music and a short sermon, shaking hands with a few people, and making his wife happy in the process? It’s not like he didn’t believe in the same stuff she did. Or at least he thought he did. He didn’t know much about it, really.
His phone rang; it was Celia calling him back.
“Celia? What happened?”
“What happened is that I’m tired of being blown off every time I bring this up,” she said. He hoped she would say something else, but she didn’t. Lucy’s voice echoed in his mind.
“I’m sorry. I love you,” he said.
Celia hung up again.
Why did Celia hang up on Rob again?
Monday, December 27, 2010
Three’s a crowd
Celia’s mother is Rob and Celia’s houseguest over the holidays.
Ever since Rob had snagged two tickets to The Nutcracker for a date night, their holiday houseguest had been playing the martyr and Rob’s stress level was mounting. By day he worked with the skeleton crew of colleagues who, like him, had already exhausted their vacation time. He did not mind working but hated that he had to while Celia was off. Between his weeks away helping his parents this fall and the fact that Celia worked most evenings, he desperately needed time alone with his wife. But Mom was always there, and though Rob thought he had made peace with the arrangement – and though Celia had seemed to understand that Rob wanted some amount of dedicated time from her – he dreaded leaving work.
“Did you bring any more tickets home, Rob?” Mom had said one night.
“That doesn’t happen very often,” Celia said. “I think this is only the second time Rob got the company tickets.”
“I made lasagne for dinner,” Mom said another night. “Unless of course you two are going out to eat.”
“No, we’re staying home tonight,” Celia told her. “It smells great!”
“You’re not going to bed yet!” she said on yet another night. “Leno’s on soon.”
“Rob has to get up for work, Mom.”
Celia was missing the point. Rather than addressing the situation head-on and requesting some space, Celia continued her feeble parries of Mom’s remarks one at a time, which only seemed to set them up for more.
Rob even found it difficult to make love behind their closed door. Celia said she did not care that Mom was in their living room, but Rob did. He was becoming claustrophobic in his own home. And Mom was going to be here until January 2nd, and Celia was back to her regular schedule on the 3rd.
Rob began to feel hopeless; frustrated and exhausted. He had planned a second date night (as he and Celia had agreed he would do), just dinner and a movie, but he feared that somehow Mom would inject herself into their evening.
“Celia,” he said in bed, right after a dismal lovemaking attempt. “I need some space from your Mom. I’m going crazy.”
“I know,” she said. “But it’s just a few more days.”
“And then you’re back to work evenings and weekends.”
What happens next?
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