Nothing works like I expect.

At the beginning of February, I’d just lost/quit my job at the school and I was eager to put more effort into my book project and into my work at a local PR agency. My part-time job in social media had potential, I figured. Life had been so stressful working the two jobs on top of the solo parenting, holidays, birthdays and friendships. It felt like a new beginning to be free of that job and it was a perfect moment to celebrate the lunar new year. We had friends over and ate pho and hoa qua dam and banana flower salad. We exchanged gifts in red boxes and toasted to the Year of the Cat with lemongrass and coconut sake.

A week later things started to fall apart.

Audrey had first noticed a wet spot on Stuart’s floor a month earlier, but we chalked it up as a mystery–maybe a spilled drink, a footprint still wet from the shower. None of us really cared. When she noticed it again, the floorboards were already starting to buckle. The water had been seeping in through the cement walls that abut the soil on the southwest side of the house. A downspout, never connected, and a disjointed driveway had combined forces to funnel rain into the area around Stuart’s room. The cement became saturated, then leaked into the room. Up through the floor and in through the walls. Moving his bed away from the wall, we suddenly realized this was a much bigger problem than we’d thought.
Stachybotrys Chartarum is bad--very, very bad.

So, Stuart started sleeping on the couch, waiting for the contractor to come and fix the walls, replace the flooring. But the couch is a small IKEA version, too small for him and too uncomfortable to sleep on night after night. He hadn’t been feeling well for months and adding in the back pain from limited sleep positions was too much for him. Instead, he slept with the door open on the longer couch in his own room. I didn’t want him on the bed.

Two weeks went by before the contractor finally came to take a look. Then it was worse news. It wasn’t just in the area that we could see and it was the bad kind of mold. Two entire walls and all the flooring had to be removed. Disturbing the mold made it even worse and within just a couple of hours of their arrival and dismantling of the wall, I knew we had to leave. My lungs ached. My head was pounding. I picked up the kids from school, we came home to pack a couple sets of clothes and headed out. A friend had offered to let us stay until the house was breathing-friendly again and I took him up on the offer.

Five weeks after our harried arrival, we are still at his house.

Well, Audrey and I are here. Stuart has been staying with his own friends, making it to school by himself and behaving like the adult he technically is. He is feeling a million times better, away from the deadly black mold that had infiltrated his room. Thirty-five days later, the room is still being de-humidified. The floor is bare cement, the wall are covered with insulation, awaiting complete dryness before they are covered with sheetrock. Nearly everything that was in Stuart’s room is now in the living room; one mattress is in the upstairs dining room. The other leans against the wall of the living room. It’s complete and utter chaos, and there is no end in sight yet.

So we stay here and his home has become our home. I cook dinner for everyone and make sure the kids get off to school before starting my PR agency work. It’s become the new norm and, to be honest, I like it. But it isn’t going to stay this way for long. I have to find more work. I have to get us into our own place. He’s been kind enough to let us stay indefinitely, but I worry that the patience will wear thin and I’d like to leave on a good note, not with anyone being angry or exasperated. But there’s just no telling.

In this month of craziness, we have enjoyed ourselves though. We had a surprise snow day.

The girls, mine and his, have learned to like each other.

I got a new-to-me desk (borrowed from Stuart’s room) set up at the friend’s house.

And we’ve learned to really enjoy being together whenever we can. With Stuart living elsewhere, it’s given both kids the opportunity to miss each other, to truly appreciate each other. They see one another at school and share lunch a time or two each week.

And I have realized what it means to have a best friend, someone who is there for me (and my kids) no matter what, and I am incredibly grateful.

2 thoughts on “Nothing works like I expect.”

  1. I do hope that by now your house is livable again and live is sane. I’ve endured major home repairs in the past and know how unsettling they can be.

    I was excited to discover a blog by a single parent living in Vietnam. I’m a single mom with a 14 year old son who’s (both of us) seriously contemplating starting a new life in Vietnam. Not just moving to work for a while and experience an exotic culture, but start a new life. I’m trying to get my ducks in a row to move to (most lively) HCMC in September. After much careful detailed research, of all the Southeast Asian countries studied, Vietnam called to both my heart and mind. I lived several years ago for some months in India and therefore have experience how I can adapt to a very different culture. In fact I’m looking forward to the change.

    I’ve been scanning blogs searching for descriptions of life in HCMC and other cities in Vietnam. Is HCMC the best choice to maximize both work for me and school opportunities for my son? How does the local culture differ from Hanoi and other cities? Can we tolerate the pollution? Will be survive the pollution? There are 3 serious issues I’ve read about thus far: deadly traffic, pollution and water quality. One can always drink bottled water but the other two can’t be avoided. Where are the international schools located? I know their addresses, but that means nothing to me. I want to locate an inexpensive apartment with relatively easy access to work and school? I’ll be teaching, at least initially. It sounds live transportation around the city has a significant effect on daily quality of life, so I want to make sure that the main routes to school and work are ‘relatively’ manageable. These really are my top concerns.

    Regarding where we live: I don’t want to completely surround myself with western ex-pats, yet don’t want to send my son into instant culture shock either. I’m sure there are options that are a compromise.

    Any observations, practical advice, cautions, encouragements or otherwise are welcome. Thank you.

  2. Elizabeth,
    Glad you found me, too. While we are not there anymore, we do plan to return. My daughter wants to get through her 8th grade year and then we’ll head back as a duo instead of trio.

    I will get in contact via email and we’ll talk specifics, but know that it will be difficult and totally worth all of it. Life is complex there, but of all the things we have ever done, living in Vietnam was the most life-enriching and completely changed the way my children see the world. For that, I couldn’t be more proud.

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