In March 2000, just nine months after we moved, Derek receives an intriguing phone call. Lon Kruger from the University of Illinois calls to see if Derek would be interested in a job as an assistant coach. It is a dream come true. At the time of the call, Illinois was ranked in the Top 10. Furthermore, the university is located about 3 hours away from St. Louis where we have many friends and it is also 3 hours away from Cincinnati, my hometown. This would be the closest I have lived to my family in over 10 years and after you have children you seem to be drawn back to your roots. It was the perfect scenario. The hard part was that Derek would have to tell his new boss that he wanted to leave after only being there one year.
On May 24, 2000, Derek, our two daughters, our two dogs and I drive all night to our new destination. Everything was packed up in the moving van and we were to stay in an on campus hotel until we could close on our new house in a week. We arrived at our hotel at 4:00 am and at 8:00 am Kruger called Derek to say he has just accepted a head coaching job in the NBA! Am I dreaming? Four hours ago we were literally in a dream come true and in a matter of hours we were homeless and jobless.
Many people thought we walked into a gold mine because now Derek is going to be an assistant in the NBA making great money and great connections. That was not the case. In college, the head coach has 99% control over choosing his staff, in the NBA, the president and general manager have the control. Coach was told he could not have anyone on his staff that did not have NBA experience. Well, that eliminated almost his entire college staff including Derek who had been working at the University for one month. There we were stuck in a two bedroom hotel room in a town where we knew no one. The majority of the residents in the hotel were college kids going to summer school. We were the only people over the age of 25 residing in that hotel and definitely the only ones with children. The walls were very thin and I remember parties going on until all hours of the night and our walls shaking. They were just college kids behaving like college kids but Derek had just about enough when their little antics caused him to be stuck in the elevator for an hour. I thought it was pretty funny.
Additionally, because I had only packed enough clothes for a week figuring we would be in our house by then you could find me at the local Duds-n-Suds doing our laundry. It had been over ten years since I had been in a laundromat. I wasn’t sure if I still knew laundromat etiquette – if there are no dryers available can you take out someone’s clothes if they are dry? Sure you can. But being the mom that I had become I would take out the clothes and fold them. I figured it was someone’s son or daughter and I was just doing what any mom would do.
We did a lot of family bonding in our little hotel room. Our youngest daughter took her first steps in that hotel room but the video camera was somewhere in storage with the rest of our stuff so to this day she is the only child whose first steps I don’t have on video. Derek continued to go into the office during the transition while I drove the kids around town trying to entertain them. My oldest kept asking, “Where is our new house?” That had to be traumatic for her. We put all her stuff in a box, put the box on a truck, drive through the middle of the night and then she wakes up in a whole new town with none of her stuff and no home.
We stayed in that hotel for a week. We would have left sooner but we had nowhere else to go. Logistically, going to my parent’s house was the logical place to go but my parents were retired and off on their travels again. They were in China this time when our world was turned upside down and they had no idea their youngest daughter was “homeless”. The minute they got home I was on the phone to them and 3 hours later me and the kids were at their front door step. Derek stayed at the University to work the summer basketball camps and try to figure out what he was going to do about a job.