Monday, November 26, 2012
Rob and Celia traveled to spend Thanksgiving with his family, against Celia’s wishes.
Celia was worn out, back at school on Monday morning following a whirlwind holiday trip. But despite the added layer of fatigue on top of being a new mother and a music teacher – William had not slept well in the porta-crib and the drive with William exhausted everyone – it may have been worth it, because for the first time ever, Celia may have realized what it means to have family. Celia’s family was small and dysfunctional and she had few memories of family being an asset.
Rob’s family was larger and reasonably functional, and they embraced Celia’s mother, who had joined them for the trip, like she was one of their own. Celia had actually taken a short nap each of the three full days they were there because William had aunts and grandmothers to meet each of his needs before he could even make a chirp about them.
Everyone treated Celia differently now, too. She could not be sure if that had to do with being a new mother and being treated therefore like a real adult, or if she and Rob had just been married long enough now – three years – that she was considered a real Benton. That felt good, like recompense for the effort it took to haul her mother, William, Rob’s sister (who hitched a ride home from college) and all of their gear across the state and back in five days.
Of course, Rob had been happier than she had ever seen him (and he had been pretty content for the last six months, since they had bought the house and William had been born). He spent time with his father who was still working a reduced schedule after his heart attack two years ago. They talked home ownership and yard care and financial planning in ways that Celia knew made Rob feel confident and secure and worthy. He had been sensitive to her, too, feeling badly for accepting the invitation to Canton without checking first and therefore being at the ready for whatever she might need.
She had not said much about this to Rob, but she was truly grateful to him and glad that he had pushed back on her when she had whined about the trip. He was right. His family did need to see their grandson and they had been more than gracious about her mother coming, too. She wanted to do something special for Rob besides just telling him so.
What does Celia decide to do for him?
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, November 05, 2012
Preparing for the holidays
Rob asked Celia how he could help her better tolerate her mother living with them.
Rob’s phone vibrated on his desk. “Take Mom out to coffee on Saturday mornings so I have time alone with William,” Celia texted.
“I can do that,” Rob texted back.
“Thx,” Celia replied, and with that he presumed she went back to work.
Everyone had told him that never sleeping in again would be the worst part of having children, but Rob didn’t mind. He had always been ambitious for the kind of family life his father had provided for him and his sisters, and that life included working hard at the paying job and working equally hard on caring for a house and yard. Dealing with Celia’s mother, with whom thankfully he had learned to get along, was just one more thing in this package and Rob could handle it.
He was just returning to his spreadsheet when his phone rang. Rob’s mother was calling. After some small talk that ignored the existence of everyone except William, his mother’s first grandchild, she said, “So we’re having Thanksgiving here and we’re planning on you being there. Mary is welcome too, of course.” Mary was Celia’s mother.
Though he and Celia had not planned on having their family so soon, the idea of family holidays with William played right to every Norman Rockwellian fantasy Rob had ever had, consciously or not.
“Great. Maybe I’ll take Wednesday off and we’ll drive down early.”
“Sounds perfect. Can you bring Maria along?” Maria was Rob’s youngest sister, a student at Ohio State who lived nearby.
“It’ll be a tight fit in the car, but sure, we can make it work,” Rob said.
How does Celia respond to the news about the Thanksgiving plans?
Monday, January 03, 2011
Starting the New Year Right
Rob’s frustration with Celia’s mother and Celia’s response to it had turned to despair as he faced the New Year without having spent quantity time with his wife for months.
In the early morning winter dark, Celia lay in bed and listened to the running water and squeaky plumbing that heralded Rob’s morning shower. This was his first day back to work after the holidays and Celia hoped she was sending him off on a high note. She had done her best.
Clearly, by the end of last week, Rob’s screws had been loosened by too much mother-in-law. Celia had been enjoying her mother’s visit, their outings and sewing projects – there were new curtains and matching throw pillows in the living room and pretty placemats and napkins for their dinette. Most importantly, Celia had shared the afterschool program with Mom, who volunteered two days, and Mom saw Celia conduct the church choir on Christmas Eve.
Mom had been proud of Celia, complimenting her on being a “leader” in the choir and in the afterschool program. This felt good, because Celia had never felt like much of a leader anywhere.
In light of the compliment, Celia ironically turned it back onto her mother.
“Mom,” she had said in her most leadershipful voice. “I need to ask you a huge favor.” She spun the situation not as one of Rob being frustrated and angry but as one in which she and her mother together could give Rob a fabulous gift in light of what a good, dedicated son he had been this fall after his father’s illness.
With Mom’s help, she planned a special date night. Convincing Rob to leave work an hour early on the 30th, she took him to tour the Ohio statehouse, which was lit and decorated for Christmas, to hear the carolers. This was free. Then they had dinner at a known-for-its-ambience Mexican restaurant, with margaritas. This was reasonably priced. Then Celia led a tour of the streets with the best Christmas light displays (according to the internet) while she played a selection of “their” songs in the car.
Best of all, as Celia and Mom planned the date, Mom herself came up with the idea that she should leave a day early, on the morning of January 1st, so Rob and Celia could spend the final weekend together. Which they had, including great meals from the leftovers of Mom’s cooking and punctuated by several episodes of noisy lovemaking.
Celia had awakened early this morning to initiate one final holiday lovemaking session.
“Celia,” Rob had said in its midst. “I don’t think there was a better way to start 2011 than everything you did. I love you.”
And as Celia recalled that, the bathroom door opened and Rob, warm and damp, hopped back into bed with her.
“Just one more for the road,” he said, snuggling in.
What happens to Rob and Celia in 2011?
Friday, December 17, 2010
Making your holidays heavenly (Harold’s comment)
I had the opportunity to speak this week at my church on the topic of "Leadership." We often think of leadership in the workplace. But, we often times fail to think of it in the context of our home--more specifically in the context of our marriage. One of the key tenets of transformational leadership (the leadership approach that is necessary during times of crisis) is to capture people's heart before you ask for their hand.
I'd like to offer that to all of us married folks this Christmas season. Let's capture our spouse's heart. In the busyness of the season, this is too easy to forget. And, the gifts don't really do the trick. The Christmas carols do not really do it either. How do you capture the heart? It is about attentiveness to what really matters to your spouse--underneath all of the stuff and the issues. When you peel it all away what really matters to him/her?
I applaud Rob and Celia for being able to stay attuned to each other through the ups and downs. I think they've managed to do what we aspire to achieve--capturing the heart. And, in the end that is really what the Christmas season is about--seeing how the birth of Jesus turns our hearts towards him and one another. That is what makes our holiday heavenly.
Monday, December 13, 2010
Making your holiday heavenly
Celia is grasping that Rob is unhappy with the Christmas plans, which he felt overemphasized her mother to the exclusion of—him.
To Rob’s surprise, Celia arrived home from work seconds after he did, carrying take out Mexican food from Rob’s favorite spot. As he was about to break open a package of frozen hot dogs by banging it on the edge of the kitchen counter, he stopped in midair and looked at her.
“What are you doing home?” he asked. “Don’t you have piano students tonight?”
“I did, but I rescheduled them,” Celia said, setting the food on the table and her other belongings on the floor. She sat down and began to unpack the food while Rob put the hot dogs back in the freezer and grabbed plates and utensils. He joined Celia at table.
“Cool,” he said. “Why did you do that?”
“I actually rescheduled them permanently to other nights. That way I’ll always have one evening off during the week, for us.”
Rob was not sure how this had happened. He had been unwilling to push it, since as an issue it resided in the netherland between how much money Celia made and how much time they spent together and therefore appeared irresolvable. For as long as Celia did not have a full-time teaching job and relied on piecing together freelance work for her income, he had not seen any way out of the dilemma but to pout about it.
Celia dished out enchiladas and beans while Rob opened the bag of tortilla chips. “I think I missed how important our spending time together is to you,” she said. “And not just while Mom’s here for Christmas, but all the time.”
Rob began to feel warm all over, and not from the food. “Wow. That means a lot to me. Thanks.”
“It’s really too late for me to change the plans on Mom because she’s already made arrangements with work and she is very, very excited about the trip. I am, too.”
“I know,” he said, but he felt so awesome that Celia understood him that this barely mattered anymore.
“But I will make sure that you and I have some protected time together while Mom is here. We’ll get out alone at least twice, OK?”
“OK. How about I plan some dates for us?” he said.
“I would love that,” Celia said. They smiled at each other, at one with their plans.
How does the Christmas visit go?
Friday, December 10, 2010
Who is your priority? (Harold’s response)
Celia is quite impressive in this week's episode. Her level of awareness in recognizing Rob's felt need is exactly what we married couples often fail to do in the heat of the moment. Oftentimes, we allow our emotions to escalate to the point where we are unable to rationalize. During these episodes we often do damage to our marriages. Celia, however, is recognizing that Rob really just wants to be the priority for some of the holiday. As pointed out in the episode, it isn't a "zero sum" game. Because Celia is able to stay rationale she is able to sense what Rob isn't saying.
During this holiday season, our marriages are going to face similar challenges. In the midst of the holiday hustle, gift shopping, meal preparation, guests coming/going do your best to make your spouse a priority at least for a time. Plan it out now. Do something that you both have been looking forward to doing. This is what it means to prioritize your marriage--at its core it is about prioritizing one another's expressed and implicit needs.
Monday, December 06, 2010
Who is your priority?
Celia and her mother are planning Christmas together in Columbus, with Mom sleeping on Rob and Celia’s sofa. Rob was overwhelmed by this plan but neglected to speak his mind before it solidified.
For the first time in many years Celia was actually anticipating Christmas in a good way. Since her mother had never seemed to get over her divorce from Celia’s father ten years ago, Christmases tended to be somewhat depressive for all involved. However, this year Celia was excited about her own work; Mom was coming here which meant Rob and Celia could begin their own holiday traditions, and even Celia’s sister Catherine had a boyfriend in the mix for the first time. Finally, perhaps, change was on the horizon for the Gillespie girls.
So it was confusing for Celia that Rob was not nearly as excited about this as she was. Didn’t he understand how important this was to her family?
“What if your mother leaves on the 28th or so, so we can spend a few days alone?” Rob was saying on the phone, after Celia had spelled out the plans and schedule she had with her mother from before Christmas through New Year’s.
“The 28th?” Celia said. “That’s on Tuesday! We’re making new curtains for the bedroom and kitchen, and we’re going to shop the sales to get Christmas fabric to start making things for next year…”
“I – I’m just not sure where I fit into your plans.”
“But you have to work all week.”
“Not twenty-four hours a day!”
“It’s not like we’re going to exclude you”—Celia stopped, realizing that Rob was trying to tell her something and not just about the holiday plans. “I think I’m missing something here. Don’t you want my mom to come?”
“I do, and I’m excited that you’re excited. But Celia, I’m exhausted after this fall. I wish I had vacation time to take so we could hang out, but I don’t. During the week that you are actually available, I’m working.” Celia realized that she had not given Rob’s schedule much thought, as involved in her own as she was.
Celia’s initial reaction was to argue about how important this was for her mother, when suddenly it hit her that Rob just wanted to spend time with her, alone, and somehow she was painting a competitive zero-sum picture in her mind that this was a bad thing. As important as her mother was to her, she needed to make her husband her priority.
What does Celia say to Rob?
Friday, December 03, 2010
Talking Direct (Harold’s response)
Sometimes the line between being wise and being foolish feels very thin when the subject is marital communication. This week’s episode highlights one of those times for me. It is the tension between “getting to the point” and being responsible for what you say to your spouse. Sometimes, we (males especially) just want to get to the bottom line. We want to spit it out. And, we want our spouses to do the same. Tell us, what exactly are you trying to say rather than expect us to “decode” your intent. To some, this seems like the only communication approach that makes sense.
Other spouses, however, see it differently. They are concerned about saying something that bothers their spouse. They want their spouse to derive their implied intent without it being stated. This way, they think, the relationship is preserved.
The reality is that neither approach is always right. There are times when talking direct is the best approach. At other times, it is probably better to drop hints to allow your spouse to come to a conclusion on their own. So, how do you know when each approach is better?
I believe that we should always talk direct when we are expressing our own feelings, thoughts, needs, and wants. It is unfair to expect our spouse to read our minds no matter how long we’ve been married. Their love for you isn’t contingent on their ability to know what is going through your mind.
On the other hand, I think talking indirectly is useful when you are speaking of something that you aren’t so sure about. You might have a hunch, be looking for suggestions, desiring insight, or similar probes into topics of which you are less familiar. Talking indirectly is an opportunity to hear your spouse’s thoughts without biasing him/her to your own perspective.
Regardless of whether you choose to talk direct or indirect your objective should be the same—to build the relationship with your spouse.
In this week’s episode, I suspect the couple will benefit most if Rob talks more directly (but respectfully) about his feelings for Christmas guests and then uses more indirect probes to gauge Celia’s reaction.
Monday, November 29, 2010
Rob and Celia spent Thanksgiving at his parents’ home. Now, Christmas plans with Celia’s divorced mother are looming. Rob used all of his vacation and sick time when his father had the heart attack, but both Celia and her mother are expecting a long visit at Christmas.
Celia’s idea had been that they would spend Christmas weekend together at her mother’s home, and then Rob would return to Columbus to work between Christmas and New Year’s, while Celia would remain with Mom for the week. Rob objected (fairly, he thought) to being away from his wife during the holiday week when it felt like he hardly saw her anymore with her new work schedule.
“So I’ll have Mom come stay with us instead!” Celia had said at the time, thrilled that she had solved all dilemmas. They were talking on the phone when she said this and Rob had not responded, assuming they would discuss it later. But later never came, in part because Rob and Celia did not ever seem to be home at the same time, and when they were they were both tired.
Somehow, in the week since that conversation, Celia’s idea had become the plan. In fact, Celia’s mom decided to take a few days off work to come down before Christmas, volunteer at Celia’s afterschool program and see Celia’s church choir on Christmas Eve, and stay through New Year’s.
Celia was all anticipation. Not only was the Rob/Mom problem solved in her view, but she looked forward to shopping and shared sewing projects and talked at length about how this might be the perfect new annual routine to get Mom out of her house at the holidays. Mom was inclined to get depressed and the house just brought back memories of Celia’s father…
“In fact,” Celia said on the phone to Rob while he was at work, “maybe we can get Catherine and even her new boyfriend down here for a couple of days, too. I don’t want Catherine to be alone for Christmas, either.” Celia’s sister Catherine, who lived with their mother, was the reason they had not faced this issue last year, but now that Catherine had a boyfriend of her own she was less willing to be the emotional caretaker for Mom.
Rob, who was already overwhelmed at the thought of Celia’s mother coming for ten days, realized he had to speak up now or forever hold his peace on the issue.
“It’s going to be pretty crowded with your Mom,” Rob said. “I hope Catherine and her boyfriend don’t want to stay here. And isn’t this going to be a long time to expect your mom to sleep on our sofa?” That seemed like a safe way to register his distaste with the whole thing.
“She’s excited! Mom never gets away from her life. She needs to do things like this more often.”
Rob realized he was going to have to be more direct.
What does Rob say?
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