Saturday, September 14, 2013

A long, wet week

Psalm 104:10-13 (NIV)

He makes springs pour water into the ravines;
   it flows between the mountains.
They give water to all the beasts of the field;
   the wild donkeys quench their thirst.
The birds of the sky nest by the waters;
   they sing among the branches.
He waters the mountains from his upper chambers;
   the land is satisfied by the fruit of his work.
Let’s start here: It could have been worse.

On the evening of Thursday, Sept. 5, I came downstairs after getting the boys out of the shower. I went to get the diaper pail out of our main floor bathroom, only to discover the wood floor was covered in water. I couldn’t figure the reason. The toilet has been known to back up, but no one had used it for at least an hour. We figured maybe our leaky upstairs shower was the culprit.

We also quickly remembered what happens when water spills out of that toilet — it finds its way into the basement via the portion of the ceiling under the ductwork. That hadn’t happened for quite some time — so long, in fact, we felt nothing of using a counter down there as the shipping supplies storage area for Kristie’s business. As the water poured from the vents, however, it appeared our confidence was sorely misplaced.

Things gradually went from bad to worse. By Friday morning we realized we were not dealing with a faulty toilet or leaky shower. Rather, we’d experienced what folks in the neighborhood call a sewer shear. The material used to connect the home’s main sewer line to the village’s sanitary sewer system, which is no longer allowable by municipal code, combined with the wrong type of fill material used around the foundation at the time of construction in the mid-1980s, will eventually result in a snap between the house and the sewer. The result is water backing up in every inch of pipe in the house and forcing its way out wherever it finds an opening.

So our showers, our dishwashing, our laundry, our toilet flushing, every drop of water (and it wasn’t just pure H20) that entered a drain in the home splish-splashed around the main floor toilet and the finished basement. We used towels and vacuums (I drove to the grocery store just before midnight Thursday to rent a Rug Doctor in a vain attempt to salvage the basement) and buckets and tried like heck to keep things dry. We did not succeed.

There used to be carpet there. And a wall. And lots of our stuff.
Long story short, our basement is ruined. The carpet must be replaced, as well as drywall close to the floor and part of the ceiling. The first-floor bathroom also is ruined, as is a good chunk of the hardwood floor in the adjacent hallway. The living room carpet was spared — barely. With essentially no access to indoor plumbing, aside from filling up an ice cube tray or a glass of water to drink — we packed what we could and moved into my parents’ house for the weekend. The sewer repair was lined up for Monday. My folks had a long-planned trip to Wisconsin with my dad’s brother and his wife, so we actually had the house to ourselves after church on Sunday.

Long story short, again, we ended up staying there seven nights. The sewer did get fixed Monday, but the house smelled awful. On Tuesday the insurance company sent a remediation crew to begin professional drying and damage assessment. Their work was so extensive, and their fans so loud (especially for one of our children) we realized, day after day, it was easier to deal with our new routine than try to force ourselves back into a life that barely seems normal.

On Tuesday it became clear all the basement carpet would be removed. So Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, I spent about five hours removing everything from the basement I could carry alone. The entire inventory of the diaper store ended up in the dining room and spilling into the living room. The books and movies and baseball cards and so on are on the floor of our playroom. The bouncy seats and baby swings are in Charlie’s room. The Christmas decorations are in the garage. I no longer have a bunch of empty boxes to offer the next person planning a move.

I did not intend for this to be a play-by-play of our longest week as a family, but I simply can’t help but recount the gory details. I can scarcely believe them to be true, but I haven’t been getting nearly enough sleep for it to have been a dream. Getting Jack to the bus stop at 7:30 each day is enough of a challenge when it’s a three-minute walk from the front door. Add in a 20-minute drive and I’m becoming a little more familiar with the sunrise than I’d prefer.

We’re trying to focus on going forward. The remediation work is complete and we have met several times with a neighbor who, as a professional, will be in charge of the repairs. On Monday we meet with a claims adjuster because the repair estimate is enough to warrant a site inspection before the check is written. We’ve been shopping for flooring (and a new bathroom vanity) and trying to figure out which job should be completed first as it relates to the goofy amount of stuff we’ll need to schlep around the premises.

The likelihood this work gets completed before Baby 4 arrives is almost zero. For months it’s been looking like he’ll trump his Oct. 10 due date, and baby or no baby it’s hard to see the work getting completed even by then. Which means the old normal — us and our three boys in our messy but still functional house — is gone forever, and we didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye. The next step is to combine the hectic nature of living in a construction site with the total blur of life with a newborn in the house. At this point we can only hope she doesn’t go into labor at the precise time we need to be present for one of the many workers we expect to get to know in short order.

But it could have been worse. It could have happened a few months ago when Kristie was less pregnant but when we still had a tree growing right where near the plumber needed access to the foundation. It could have happened while we were at the hospital and my mom was here with the boys, which means the damage likely would have been far more extensive and costly. It could have happened on our first day home, when evacuating would have been exponentially more difficult. We could have had major issues adjusting to life at Pops & K’s, when in actuality the kids recalibrated far better and more quickly than the parents.

This has by no means been an enjoyable experience, and there are plenty of complications yet to encounter. The financial impact will be significant, but it won’t be nearly as drastic as the way the blend of newborn instability and major home repair figure to wear everyone’s patience to translucency. But somehow we’ll get to the other side. We probably won’t look back and laugh, but we’ll look back together, as a family of six, and realize that as difficult as it might be, there still are blessings to count if we know where to look.

People ask what they can do to help, and I honestly don’t know. I guess maybe eventually we’ll need help moving furniture so the floors can get fixed. When the baby comes we’ll be open to any and all food contributions, though the picky eaters who live here have no problem turning up their noses, even during such periods of neighborly graciousness. As much as it’s easier to work when the kids are elsewhere, I am coveting this time with them before our family dynamic makes a giant shift. But I appreciate very much the kind words and thoughts from those who have reached out, even in a modest offering of sympathy. It is good to feel loved.

I’ve had enough rushing water for quite some time. I am all at once too tired to function at 100 percent and yet too busy to ponder sleep until I have no alternative. I’m anxious to get everything finished but aware of the need to be diligent at each turn. I’m not sure where the money’s going to come from or what will have to be cut to make ends meet, but I’m confident we’ll find a way to manage.

And above all, I’m happy to be sitting on my own couch in my own living room with my three children asleep upstairs in their own beds. I can think of any number of reasons I’d rather have to lead to a week off of writing, but for tonight I’m content to working through some of my thoughts in this medium. We’re a long way from done here, but we’re going to do it together. You can’t put a price on that kind of contentment, but you can find the source if you know where to look.

A prayer for September 14:

Lord, grant me the patience to navigate through this period of tribulation. Home is such a great source of comfort for me and my family, it is difficult for the house itself to be a source of such unrest. Help us all to remain focused on the many blessings we still enjoy and not be worn down by the challenges of the days and weeks ahead. Above all, let us not lose sight of the indefinable peace your grace provides, and let us walk this bumpy road fully enveloped in your love and the love we have for each other. Amen.

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