Monday, February 11, 2013
The Long Term Impact of Dad
Celia walked in the kitchen to find herself the subject of laughter between her mother Mary and her husband Rob.
Taking a drive had helped Celia to calm down, center her thoughts, and realize that though she was being triggered by something when Rob failed to come straight upstairs, Rob had not necessarily done anything wrong. This was significant and she had come straight home to talk to Rob about it.
She watched in amazement as her mother tried to undermine her, while Rob attempted to be polite to his mother-in-law while defending his wife.
William, sitting in his highchair, began to gurgle in excitement to see Celia, causing Rob and her mother to look up at the same time.
“Lighten up, Celia,” her mother said. “Robbie and I are just kidding.”
Celia dropped her purse on the table and went to the refrigerator, from which she took out yogurt and a jar of chicken baby food. She spooned the food onto a plate. “Mom?” she said quietly, breaking the nervous silence in the room. “Can you give me a minute with Rob?”
“Celia, I don’t know what you’re in such a huff about,” her mother started—
“Mom – I’m not in a huff. I just need a minute with Rob.” Celia smiled at her mother, though it took great patience to do so. “Please.”
When Mary withdrew, Celia sat down with the food for William and slid the plate toward Rob, who had been feeding William applesauce.
“Hi,” Rob said.
“Hi,” Celia said, pausing for a long moment as she thought about what to day. “I’m sorry I walked out earlier.”
“Well, I’m sorry you thought I blew off you and William.”
“I know you are,” Celia said. “But it wasn’t anything you did. It was a dad thing. Dad would always put television before us. And I don’t think it was about me, because I never minded that before. It was about William. When you turned off the television, I think I imagined William feeling how I always felt as a child. Second class.”
How does Rob respond?
Monday, September 10, 2012
Rob and Celia have finally had sex again following William’s birth.
“Thank you for being so patient with me,” Celia said.
“You are worth the wait,” Rob whispered to Celia. This must have been the right thing to say, because she responded with a hug and kiss, and with a sigh settled next to him to sleep. Rob turned and looked at the clock’s glowing digital image. William would probably be awake again in three hours; it was good that Celia was sleeping. She had been handling the nighttime feedings almost entirely alone and had not complained about that, but now that she was heading back to work – her maternity leave had coincided nicely with the school district’s summer break – Rob wondered if the balance they had achieved so far could be sustained.
When he heard William stir, he was shocked that he had fallen asleep himself and that it was now almost three in the morning. Though he had not done so since Celia had recovered from giving birth, Rob got up and pulled on his boxers, which were lying by the side of the bed. Celia did not move.
He walked into the nursery. Celia had said it was important during the night feedings to be quiet and calm, to avoid waking William more than necessary, thus teaching him to sleep at night and be awake during the day. So he did not turn on the light and allowed the small nightlight to guide him.
He picked William up and held him, murmuring softly about how strange it must be that it was he and not Mama who came. “I’ll just change you and take you to Mama,” Rob said. William seemed to like the change.
Two minutes later, Rob sat gently on the side of the bed where Celia was still sleeping. He awakened her by pulling back the covers and laying William next to her. Celia, still naked, rolled on her side to let William nurse.
“I thought you might appreciate the help,” Rob said as he got back in bed, feeling protective of his family.
How does Celia respond?
Monday, September 03, 2012
When Rob pushed – no, asserted – to have sex for the first time since William’s birth, Celia knew it was important for them. She knew Rob wanted sex with her, not just sex. She did not feel objectified. She agreed for the sake of their relationship despite her profound new-mother exhaustion, though William was almost three months old.
For Celia, on a strictly physical level, their effort had started out as humiliating combination of a too-dry vagina and too-wet breasts. It had been further complicated by the knowledge that their innocent son was sleeping one room away and that her mother was watching television downstairs.
But Rob understood. He had researched post-partum sex (he said in a whispery alluring voice as he undressed her) and knew what to expect, buying a tube of K-Y jelly just in case. He had told her mother that they were tired and going to bed early.
She was astonished at her body. How weird, to have repurposed it from a sexual package into a life-creating one, and repurpose it again from a vehicle of giving birth and nursing new life back into a sexual one… but not just sexual, she realized. Celia now had a sense of giving life to her entire family of three with her body.
Rob seemed to glory in the very aspects of her body and sex that she found embarrassing at first: swollen breasts, more flesh than usual while she still worked on taking off baby weight, the need for new and different foreplay before she was ready.
“Thank you for being so patient with me,” she whispered afterwards.
How did Rob respond?
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, 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, May 07, 2012
Living off script
Rob’s impatience with Celia’s bed rest for the remainder of her pregnancy made him react quite insensitively during the move to their new house, driving her weeping into the bathroom.
Celia heard Rob’s rap on the bathroom door. Her crying eased inexplicably when he did; there was something about him pursuing her just when she felt helpless and alone that improved the situation by half, before he even said a word.
“Rocco says I need to lighten up before I pop a blood vessel,” Rob said through the door. “He said the work will get done eventually.”
Celia rolled her eyes. “I know that,” she said. She was sitting on the closed toilet seat, leaning forward with her elbows on her knee, which meant that her very pregnant belly dropped down between her legs. She sat up, took a piece of toilet paper (since the tissues were packed) and blew her nose.
“Can I come in?” Rob said.
The door opened and Rob joined her there. Celia reached out so Rob could leverage her to her feet and stood up, but since the bathroom was small they could not help but stand close together. Even then, the baby filled the square foot of space between them.
“Rob,” Celia said, with one final sniff. She reached out and put her hands on his arms as she spoke. “This is going to get harder before it gets easier. Once we have the baby it may be years until the work is done.”
“I know,” Rob said.
“You’re going to make all of us crazy, acting like the things that need to get done are more important than the people the things get done for. Please don’t do that.”
“I know,” Rob said. “I’m sorry I snapped at you.”
Celia was on a roll. “But especially, you’re going to make yourself crazy. You’re only as alone as you make yourself with your incredibly unrealistic expectations of—everything. You can’t expect us to work to your perfect script.”
How does Rob respond?
Monday, April 30, 2012
Did I say that?
Rob and Celia are in the midst of moving to their new house, with help from Rob’s mother June, Celia’s mother Mary, and Lucy’s boyfriend Rocco. Rob just suggested that Celia start cleaning the apartment from which they are moving with his mother while he and the rest of the moving party go to the new house in the van, but Celia reminded him that she is on bed rest for the final weeks of her pregnancy. “Cleaning” is one of the things she specifically should not be doing.
Rob doubted the day would ever end, coming as it was at the end of a very long week. He had worked his regular job every day but Friday, painted the nursery, master bedroom and kitchen of the new house in the evenings (figuring the rest could wait until they moved in), and endured being overfed by not just one but two mothers. He worried constantly about Celia and the baby, making himself crazy by willing her NOT to go into labor too early, which was entirely out of his control of course, but he could not stop perseverating on it. Trying to move on the cheap – entirely on their own, with the help of their mothers and friends – might have been more than Rob could handle at this point.
His brain was so wound up, trying to manage every detail efficiently, that he found he simply could not tolerate Celia reclining on the sofa. Granted, she had lists and the phone and she had coordinated everything about the move that could be done either by email or phone, such as getting the utilities turned on at the new place and changing their address for the mail. I need Celia’s help, but she can’t help, he kept thinking. I need Celia’s help, but she can’t help. To have been reminded that Celia can’t even clean only reinforced how alone Rob felt, like Atlas with the world on his shoulders.
“Then just lay there on the sofa and tell my mother what to do,” Rob said to Celia.
Celia just looked at Rob for a long moment, as if replaying what he said to make sure she heard it right. “I can’t believe you just said that,” she said. Her eyes filled with tears and she got up as quickly as an eight-months-pregnant woman on bed rest could, heading into the bathroom and closing the door.
Rob glanced at their friend Rocco, waiting nearby to help Rob move the sofa on which Celia rested.
“Might want to backpedal on that comment, bro,” Rocco said. As big and scary looking as Rocco could be, there was nothing about him that was threatening. Rob knew he was right. “Listen,” Rocco continued. “First things first. You need to lighten up before you pop a blood vessel. It’s all going to get done.”
“I know, I know,” Rob said. He sighed, walked over to the bathroom door and knocked.
What does Rob say to Celia through the door?
Monday, March 19, 2012
Life in the fast lane
In response to Celia’s complaint that she doesn’t have the extra energy necessary to defend herself against teasing from both her mother and her husband, Rob repeated his apology and reminded her that he doesn’t have a lot of energy to spare himself right now as the holder of two jobs.
Celia continued to weep in the passenger seat of Rob’s car while he drove home. His wife was not typically a crier and he still could not get used to this new, more sensitive – “hormonal” was the word she used—Celia. It really was not fair that as hard as he worked he had to put up with this, too.
She blew her nose and he rolled his eyes.
Suddenly Rob had a moment of insight, and he did not like what he saw. They had not planned Celia’s pregnancy but they had both been in bed when it happened. Life on the home front was only going to get busier in the coming months, but as much as Rob liked the extra income, the second job was optional.
He opened his mouth to speak just as Celia did, too.
“You need to quit Starbucks,” she said. “It’s too much for both of us right now.”
“I was about to suggest the same thing,” he said. “We could probably have handled it right up until the baby is born, except for getting ready to move.”
They sat in silence for a few moments while these words seeped in.
“Don’t do it if you’re just going to blame me when we cut it close with the checkbook over the next couple of months,” Celia said.
“Our income is covering our expenses without Starbucks,” Rob said. “That’s maternity leave money. We just need to be careful when we move. We might need to do without a few things in the new house at first.”
“I’d rather do without a few things and have you available otherwise.”
“OK. I’ll put in my notice tomorrow when I go in.”
Celia took his hand. “Thank you.”
As they approached their exit, Rob was struck with the sense that life was moving fast, very fast, faster than he could manage. Just yesterday he was riding his skateboard to middle school and now he was taking on both a mortgage and parenthood in one short season.
Rob did not like feeling so sentimental, as if the desire to be twelve again meant that he was not capable of being twenty-five. Maybe he could sleep it off—he would try again to take a nap when they got home.
What happens next?
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?
Friday, October 07, 2011
How do you spell R-E-L-I-E-F?
Sometimes in life the pressure just builds and builds and builds. It seems like the release valve is just never in sight. In response to a recent post that I made on Facebook suggesting that sometimes we have to wait, a reader responded “how long should we have to wait?” That is a great question. But, ultimately, the answer is that we have to wait until our prayers are answered. We must remain undaunted in our prayers and in our beliefs that our prayers will ultimately be answered (one way or another).
The relief that we seek will not always come when we want it. But, as the saying goes “it always comes right on time.” In the meantime, we have to see the process as building Christ-like faith in us—as we lean on him for our sustenance in the midst of the pressure. In the end, it is Jesus that gives us the R-E-L-I-E-F that we seek.
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