A few days before we left for Tokyo, a friend emailed and asked if I was ready for the trip. All of us – myself, my husband Tom, and our five children, ages six to six months, would be away from home for 27 days. I had only found when and for how long about two weeks prior to departure.
Beyond passports, everything else had to be packed at last minute as we were wearing most of the clothes that we were bringing. It felt like someone had casually spited me by asking, â€œDo you have all your Christmas shopping done?â€ on Christmas Eve.
â€œNo. But, weâ€™re going whether weâ€™re ready or not,â€ I said.
Thereâ€™s no stopping Christmas.
In the months prior to our trip, Tom had traveled so much that our children were getting emotionally distraught. He had been gone about one to two weeks out of every month since Leah was born in September.
One night, after Tomâ€™s being gone for many days, I awoke at about two oâ€™clock in the morning to hear the sound of furniture being pushed around upstairs and my four year old daughter crying loudly. I grabbed my oval tortoiseshell glasses from my nightstand and stumbled out of bed. My heart raced. I didnâ€™t know what to expect. Was someone in her room? Why was she crying? There was Tabitha, standing on top of her toy box, writing â€œDer Dad, I mis U Love Tabâ€ in the breath marks on her window pane. I scooped her up gave her a big hug.
â€œI just miss daddy so much!â€ she sobbed. She was having trouble catching her breath and was gasping in between each of her words, she was crying so hard.
â€œMe too, Tab.â€
I carried her to her bed and sat on the edge, holding her on my lap several minutes. She buried her face in my nightshirt. Her tears and runny nose made her dark, shoulder length hair stick to her face. I kept trying to pull aside the strands without much luck.
â€œTry to get a hold of yourself, honey. I know youâ€™re really sad. Mommyâ€™s really sad, too,â€ I said, trying to comfort her. â€œBut letâ€™s try to be brave. We donâ€™t wake up the rest of the kids, okay?â€
She smeared away the tears with her little fists.
â€œOkay, but can I sleep in your bed?â€ she asked . â€œPleeeease?â€
Normally, Iâ€™m the kind of insensitive mom that flatly tells kids â€˜Noâ€™ when they ask to sleep in my bed. On the rare occasion someone has a fever and lands themselves the coveted spot in mommy and daddyâ€™s bed, I change into a most horrible, dysfunctional grouch by morning. The children know better than to turn mommy into this monster, and involuntary night terrors aside, they usually steer clear. I just canâ€™t relax enough to sleep soundly. Iâ€™m always worried theyâ€™ll fall off or that weâ€™ll all wake up in a puddle of pee. Often times, they donâ€™t sleep anyway â€“ they just lay awake and make comments about the shadows on my wall from the pine trees or they find it hilarious and impossible to control their laughter over the fact that they can smell daddyâ€™s feet if they pull the covers over their heads. Then, fever or no fever, they are sent back to their own bed. With all of the five kids either having ear infections, strep throat or both in the past month, there had been a lot of fevers lately.
But, tonight was different. I couldnâ€™t say â€˜Noâ€™ and â€“ my excuse for being cramped was absent â€“ in Japan, in fact.
I pulled my olive green microsuede quilt up to her chin and snuggled up beside her. â€œSo what made you think to write â€˜Dear Dad I miss youâ€™ on your window?
Tab perked up a bit.
â€œYou know in the Fievel movie?â€
â€œAmerican Tail, yeahâ€¦â€
â€œWell, Fievel could see the moon and his dad could see the moon, too,â€ she explained. â€œSo, I wrote my message on the window because the moon was shining through and so dad should be able to get my message, right?â€
The tooth fairy isnâ€™t real and daddy wasnâ€™t reading her message.
â€œUm, you know what? We can show dad your moon-message when he gets back in a few days,â€ I said. â€œWe wonâ€™t wash that window when we clean your room, okay?â€
She hugged herself at the thought.
â€œYou know, Tab,â€ I said, â€œEven though we canâ€™t see daddy right now, do you know can see both daddy AND your message AND you and me all at the same time?â€
â€œYes. So we can ask God to take care of daddy while he is in Japan and to comfort daddy because I know daddy misses us to.â€ I took my daughterâ€™s hands in mine and we prayed for Tom.
For once Tabitha stayed dry through the night, and I admit, I was comforted to have her there, too.
When Tom called the next day to see how I was doing, I wasnâ€™t so brave. I was cleaning Tabithaâ€™s room when the phone rang. I was staring at her message.
â€œIâ€™m a wreck,â€ I said. â€œWeâ€™re all wrecks, actually.â€ The tension in my voice was growing. â€œI had to comfort a depressed four year old last night and I spent $350 in pediatrician copays this week. They’re all still sick! Why are you even coming home? You leave for your next trip four days after you get here. Youâ€™ll still be lagged â€“ youâ€™ll be sleeping the whole time youâ€™re home only to leave when you start to feel better. Whatâ€™s the point? Iâ€™d be so much easier and less draining from the ups and downs if youâ€™d just stay thereâ€
I really didnâ€™t intend to hurt Tom. I had promised myself Iâ€™d never tell him not to come home, but here the words were coming out of my mouth. It hurt too much to lose him again so quickly, and this is how hurt expressed itself. I was not being gracious. I hated being this weak. I hated being dependent. I hated constantly feeling lonely, and then getting mad at myself for not being able to enjoy Tom when he was home â€“ because I was afraid to let my guard down and then have to put it right back up again. As much as I loved hearing his voice, I dreaded the calls because it meant that I would go from being tough-Sarah-who-can-handle-anything to weepy-weak-sobbing-hurt-Sarah. I would need a hug that wasnâ€™t due to arrive for another week. I knew I was supposed to trust God with my hurt and my emotions, so that I wouldnâ€™t explode on the phone, yet again.
â€œIâ€™m working on it,â€ Tom said quietly.
As I was going to bed that night, he called back. He had just woken up. â€œDo you think youâ€™d be up for coming to Japan with all the kids? I have a month-long trip starting in March, and I have enough miles saved to get everyoneâ€™s tickets.â€
â€œAre you serious?â€
â€œYeah. I am going to try to get an apartment for us to stay in instead of a hotel.â€
And so the planning began.
When he got home, we had four days to put in the paperwork for Micah and Leahâ€™s passports. We dropped off the three older children at Tomâ€™s parentsâ€™ house and the rest of us went to the courthouse together. Itâ€™s a lot easier if both parents go when applying for childrenâ€™s passports – otherwise, the absent parent has to fill out and notarize consent forms stating that their minor children can be taken out of the country.
The ladies in the passport office were very nice. â€œSo what color of hair should we put down here for Miss Leah?â€ one of them asked. Leah is bald.
We paid nearly twice the amount as they would normally cost to get the passports expedited. They arrived exactly fourteen days later.
Tom came home on our son Thomasâ€™ sixth birthday â€“ March 2nd. His flight was delayed a number of times due to the ice storm in Detroit. At about 4pm, Tom called to say his flight was canceled. At 4:15 he called back to say that, technically the plane had take off permission, but not landing permission and that the pilots had decided to take the risk. They were boarding the plane and he was getting on. It would be the last flight to leave Detroit before the whole airport was shut down.
After missing two shuttles from the Philadelphia airport, Tom took the train from Philly to Thorndale. I had brought take-out Chinese food over to Tomâ€™s parentsâ€™ house to celebrate both the birthday and the homecoming. I left the children there and drove ten minutes to the station. I waited for a while across the street in the gas station parking lot. There was no parking allowed on the side of the street of the westbound trains. I saw a westbound train pull up to the station â€“ on the opposite side of the tracks. Apparently they were having switching trouble. I crossed the street and drove around to the parking lot behind the train station. There was Tom, carry his luggage, backpack, and laptop. I got out of my warm car into the freezing wind and ran to the bottom of the steps to greet him.
â€œHello Mr. Albrecht,â€ I said. â€œCan I help you with your luggage?â€
I threw his travel bags into the back of SUV. As soon as I turned around, Tom reached in for a kiss. I could feel the walls coming down, and I was okay. He was leaving again, only this time I was going with him.