The first year of motherhood was killer. I had finally begun to feel as if my legs were able to hold my own weight as we neared Christmas. In youth ministry, every school holiday is primetime for work. We traditionally took a trip over New Year’s. Being the team that we are, I wanted Lucas to travel with me. My wonderful in-laws kept AJ in League City and off we went on our winter adventure! We were enjoying a Colorado evening when I received the call that there was a minor problem at our house and water remediation was in process.
Because I love him more than he can understand, I have the ability to take a cheap shot at my father-in-law in this story. As the tale goes, Goat (yes, that is what we call Lucas’ dad) was holding down the fort for a few moments. There was a trip to the bathroom, the flush of a toilet and a grandfatherly period of infant watching that commenced in the next room. At some point in the not so distant future, Goat then made a discovery that he will never live down. Our downstairs bathroom had standing water. So did the kitchen. And the closet under the stairs. It went under the wall to the livingroom and because the bathroom is the center point in the downstairs, it also impacted the dining room.
15 years later, I reflect on the next steps. My poor in-laws were being helpful! They had given their downtime to allow us to travel, and they knew the kind of year that we had just endured. They just wanted to love us well. And then Goat (we always make sure to keep Nanee far away from all guilt) flooded our house. He had to call his son who had lived through the year of hell and tell him that he was coming home to no floors, the furniture in the garage, the cabinets needing to be torn out and he had sheetrock removal to look forward to. After all of the laughs at his expense, I kinda feel sorry for Goat. Just this once.
AJ struggled with allergies and asthma, so living in a construction zone was not an option. Shortly after returning home, we moved into the Homewood Suites. We had a one bedroom suite with a crib crammed in the kitchenette and a bathroom. This was home sweet home for 6-8 weeks. AJ celebrated her first birthday in the hotel. She took her first steps in the hallway. Riding toys and afternoon popcorn from the front desk became a regular part of this routine.
Meanwhile, January of 2003 brought a turnaround for Lucas. Turnarounds at chemical plants are from the devil. Lucas was on days, which was helpful, but he worked 5am-5pm for 13 days and then had one relief day. This went on for 72 (yes that is exact) days. He would get home from work at 6, we would find something to eat, he would play with AJ for a few minutes and he would go to bed by 7:30-8pm. This meant that he was in the bed. Please recall that AJ was in the kitchenette. That left me the bathroom. For our entire hotel stay I sat on the floor of the hotel bathroom with a puzzle or a book as my only companion. This was before the days of iPhones and iPads. There were no tablets on which to stream Netflix or Hulu. I was alone with my barely sane thoughts praying that the other people in my family would not be woken by a noisey neighbor or worse yet each other.
By the time we made it back to our house in March, I was fried. Not in a clinically depressed way, but rather in a ‘I just want to be alone and have a room without a toilet to relax in’ kind of way. All things considered, I held up pretty well. Until one day. Lucas was coming off turnaround and we were both exhausted. He came and without warning began discussing possible next steps for his job. Without malicious intent, but also without forethought, he announced that the company had asked him about going to work a second turnaround and taking an extended stay in Rotterdam. By himself.
I handled this news about as well as you can imagine. That well. The PG version of my first response was similar to, “you are welcome to go to Rotterdam, but it is likely that I won’t be here when you get home.” I cannot be certain that it was the same night, because things were less than pleasant for a while around Casa de Hilbrich, but a vital life lesson was learned in this season.
On a particularly argumentative evening, Lucas and I could not communicate. Our words were hurtful and our attempts to listen were even more pitiful. I screamed. He ignored. AJ was sleeping upstairs and I was done. I was tired. I was depleted. I wanted comfort. I went to her nursery and pulled her from her sleep. Buckling her in the car seat, I slammed the door and drove off into the dark of night. I called my parents on the cell phone. As I launched into the story with my mom, being protective and caring, she told me to slow down and drive safely to their house. And then I heard another voice. This one was deeper. It also was firm. “Hamdi (that’s Frank for Favorite), turn around and go home to Lucas.”
I wanted to accuse him of not caring. I wanted Dad to rescue me. And he did, just not MY way. He reminded me that relationships, especially marriages are not easy. He told me that we were better together. His directions were clear. Do no run away. Do not run away. Do not run away.
When I drove back up into the driveway, Lucas was coming out – keys in hand – to chase me down. We cried. We hugged. It wasn’t over. The weeks and months ahead were proof of that reality. It wasn’t forgotten, but we made a commitment that night that we would not run away. And there are days that is so hard. But most days, there is no other place I would rather be than sitting in joy or struggling in tension with the person that has not given up on me. And when you have a good thing, you want to share it. So we began to think about the next little human addition to Team Hilbrich. This felt like the win of a lifetime.