What Happens While He Is Away

Things happen while spouses are away. I think this is a variation of Murphy’s Law. It’s true. You can handle almost anything while two of you are at the helm; but as soon as one of you jumps ship, the other is treading water.

Last year, we went through a series of weekends where my husband was gone and a different kid got injured each time. These weren’t minor injuries – they were “should I go ahead and take her to the emergency room?” kinds of injuries. By the third weekend he was gone, I was worried sick about the yet-to-be-injured child. He fortunately escaped the weekend unscathed.

When I joined a Boy Scouts Venture Crew on their 2 week hike at Philmont Scout Ranch back in 2005 when Jane and Daryl were almost 5 and almost 2, I called my husband from base camp before we hit the trail. He was flustered and sounded almost angry at me. Why? Because Jane had rolled out of bed in the middle of the night, cutting her back on the corner of the nightstand, resulting in a deep cut whose scar is still visible today.

Last weekend (9 days ago – not yesterday), my husband left with some colleagues to attend a conference several states away. Since he’s the stay-at-home parent who takes and picks up our children to and from school, this was a significant burden to me. I lined up a friend to pick them up from school some days but it still didn’t seem likely that I would escape the week without spending some vacation hours.

We played games at some friends’ house the night before he left and were out late. When we got home close to 11:00 pm, I noticed water on the floor around the toilet in the kids’ bathroom. We thought maybe it came from Jane’s shower and dried it up. Then I used the bathroom, flushed, and… surprise! Water on the floor.

We dried it up and, out of curiosity, my husband flushed our toilet on the other side of the wall. Surprise! Water on the floor, oozing out from under the wall.

“Do you want to deal with this on your own tomorrow or do you want to investigate now?” He asked.

Some crowbar pulls later, he had torn the bottom edge of the paneling behind the toilet loose to reveal rotted drywall and green pipes. We repeated the flushing experiments and watched the water ooze out. Actually, with the wall gone, we could now see that the water was gushing out… and running down the wall behind the vanity. The ooze we could see previously was just the overflow. The drain was backing up each time we flushed. Obviously, we had waited too long to get our septic tanks pumped and the heavy rain that day had done us in.

We laid our tools across the toilet lid to signal to the children not to use the toilet and I headed to bed shortly after midnight. There’s a third toilet at the other end, on a separate tank, so all is good… right?

His alarm went off at 5 am Sunday morning and he quickly moved to the other end of the house to keep from disturbing me. At one point he came back and whispered in my ear, “Sweetheart? The other toilet won’t flush either. Do you want to stay at the Hampton?”

Hmm. Stay in a hotel room with three kids. Go to bed when they do unless I get a suite. Return home at least twice a day to take care of the dog. Or board the dog too? This conference is getting expensive, indeed.

I returned to sleep for a brief time where I had a vividly stressful dream that involved showing up to church and being responsible for everything from breakfast to bell ringing to reading the liturgy. And nothing was going well.  It was foreshadowing for my week.

I struggled out of bed a short time later and rustled the children, who had fortunately all showered the afternoon before. I told Jane to use the far toilet and not flush. I told the boys to pee outside. I took on the uncomfortable task of waiting until we got to church to relieve myself.

We hurried out the door and as I locked it, I heard commotion over at the truck. Apparently, the boys had been playing in the truck the day before and Hal had left the back window wide open. Right before the major thunderstorm. The seats were soaked.

I was fairly sure I was going to break under the pressure. We arrived at church and Jane setup for breakfast while I prepared my Sunday School lesson and took care of my other responsibilities. The bell choir director asked me to play a chime part in the choral response. One of the other bell ringers asked me to play her part in the final hymn. Was it my nightmare coming to life?

Actually, no. The morning ended up being everything you wish that worship would be for you every single Sunday. I had to slip into the choir loft while they sang the anthem so I’d be there for the choral response. I sat on a step out-of-sight and leaned against their pews and listened to them sing The Old Rugged Cross. I sank down into a deep happy, peaceful place.

I entered the church building that morning feeling broken and defeated and dreading the week. I left with all the same problems but feeling capable of taking them on. It wasn’t easy, but I knew I could do it.

Which turned out to be a good thing, because…

I tried to do a load of laundry Sunday afternoon and learned that it, too, feeds into a septic tank. I had fun quickly pulling everything off the shelves next to the washing machine so I could try to soak up all the water rushing down the wall with only 10 and 5 year old boys as my assistants.

On Monday, I called the septic clean-out company the organist had recommended and was lucky to get a same-day appointment. Better yet, I could pay over the phone and didn’t have to be present.

Then I got a call that afternoon. The man was out at my house and had a problem. There are three tanks. One at one end and two chained together at the other end. He couldn’t find the one at one end (servicing a toilet and the washing machine). He could only reach the second one on the other end (the other two toilets and the showers) because the lid on the first one was collapsed and filled with mud. He didn’t think there would be a point to draining the second one if he couldn’t reach the first one. We’d need someone with a backhoe to clean it out and then repair it.  And I’d need to find the cleanout for the other one if I wanted the man to pump it for me.

Since we had to go to Middle School Open House and Destination Imagination practice and run to Lowe’s and Wal-Mart, it was dark by the time we got home. I had cleared the waiting-to-go-to-the-dump debris stacked where I suspected the cleanout to be in the short time I was home between work and the evening activities, but then had to shovel by flashlight after the boys went to bed in order to find the cleanout, which had gotten buried by the foundation repair people a year or so ago (I’m guessing). Jane just loved helping me out by holding the flashlight. While texting. The septic guy was booked on Tuesday so it’d be Wednesday. Another evening of the boys peeing outside and the girls not flushing.

Oh, and while at Lowe’s, I discovered that I had lost my Visa card. Somewhere. And while shoveling outside, I discovered at least one place where the mice have easy access into the house when I watched one run away from the flashlight and in through the dryer vent. Jane liked witnessing that too.

The next day, I verified with the septic guy that he needed not just the cleanout clear but the space above the actual septic tank as well.  The tank whose exact location was unknown.  That evening was filled with volleyball practice and the elementary school open house so again, that work had to wait until after dark.  But at least I discovered before dark that my credit card was lying near one of the septic tanks, having slipped out of my pocket the previous day.

Jane absolutely had to do a load of laundry so I pulled the hose out of the drain and stuck it out the window, attached to a garden hose so the water wouldn’t drain too close to the house.  Then I moved all that debris a second time to make sure it wasn’t over where the septic tank was likely to be.  I just knew, looking around, that the tank was under the riding lawn mower.  The mower with two flat tires.  Between Jane, me, and the truck and tow-straps, we got it moved.  And I learned the next day that that was, indeed, exactly where the tank was.

That night also involved a difficult conversation with Jane about choices she was making concerning her friends and how she was treating them.  The next day, we had a working septic system again – yay! – but her attempt to reconcile with her friend had gone poorly.  So more heart-to-heart.  The teenage drama continued the next night when volleyball practice did not go well and her stressful worrying about the estranged friend continued.

I must say, though, that even though I was on a raw emotional edge by Thursday evening, it was still easier to deal with my teen’s problems when I wasn’t also worrying about where people would poop.  I also decided, at my husband’s urging, to go ahead and require the dog to sleep in her crate instead of our bedroom so I could get a good night’s sleep (her snoring and sudden decisions to explore cause me problems).

And it worked.  I was getting a great night’s sleep Thursday night when I was awakened by someone pounding on the front door.  I knew that they must have been banging for awhile because it dragged me out of a very deep sleep.  I flew out of bed and grabbed my phone off the charger: 2:00 am.  I stumbled to my bedroom door and as I prepared to open it, the heater kicked off.  All the noise confusion stopped and I stood there, trying to figure out why I was up.  Whoever it was had stopped banging on the door.  But, wait.  Wouldn’t the dog be going nuts if someone was really at the door?  Yes, no one was at the door.  I suspect now that the knocking was the heater.  Something else to investigate.  And so much for a good night’s sleep.

The weekend brought a volleyball tournament a little over an hour from home and – lucky us! – we had to be there at 7:30 in the morning both Saturday and Sunday.  I love waking my children at 5:30 in the morning on weekends.  And because of the earlier-than-expected start on Sunday, we got to spend several hours at the church Saturday afternoon so Jane could get her National Junior Honor Society volunteer hours, no longer being able to fix breakfast for the church as planned.

Still, by Sunday afternoon, we were able to play a couple of games together and we had a nice home-cooked meal at the table, so I guess we finished strong.  But I was too beat by the time my husband got home around 11 pm to do anything more than raise my head from my pillow and say, “Glad you are home.  Good night.”

I really am glad he’s home.  And not just because I’m happy to return to team parenting.  I kinda like the guy.