Maintaining a house of five is a tough chore, and not one individual person does all of the work, nor should they—well, golly gee, I don’t live in one of those 1950s Leave It to Beaver houses where my wife, adorned in pearls, has a steaming four-course dinner on our table at 5:30, served in a dress and high heals. That’s about the polar opposite from where today’s story begins.

Monday is a work-from-home day, and (as par for the weekly course) I’m using a portion of my lunch break to clean the house. My take on dirt, grime, clutter, and general messiness swings one of two ways, depending on my daily mood:

  • 1) I accept that I occassionally live in complete organizational chaos and there’s nothing that can be done about it—so shut-up and quit complaining about it—and simply shove a pile of whatever-that-was-buried-over-there to the side and make a spot to sit on the couch…or…
  • 2) I accept that I am 50% of the marital equation and one-fifth of the household occupancy, that I am obligated just as much as everyone else in this home to maintain civil order in the realm of dirty dishes or dusty picture frames, and that I should shut-up and quit complaining about it, and simply start cleaning something-anything, to be the change that I wish to see within these four walls.

At 12:13pm, I find myself standing in the kitchen, perched in front of the sink, deep in thought within the philosophy of the second bullet point above.

A mountain of dishes towers above me, lording its massive and monumental vertical authority over me. A sink full of unmentionable mess, comprised of dinner remnants and several unrecognizable pulps, slimes, and scraps—peppered with spoons, forks, tea cups, and cereal bowls—taunts me, heckles me, confronts me. The marital challenge awaits me, my patience, my raw determination and tenacity, and the answer to the following question, “will he maintain his composure, or blow his cookies?“, seems to be on everyone’s mind. This could go either way; we shall see, folks.

There’s no reason that I couldn’t do the stuff that needs to be done; there’s no reason that I shouldn’t do the stuff that needs to be done.

Do you remember when you said “I do?”

I recall something in the marriage vows that sounds much like For Better or For Worse, but I don’t remember the specifics of that legal agreement. It’s funny how the enterprise of marriage is always sold as a notion of roses, puppies, and fresh heaps of happiness for everyone, all of the time, as your favorite music plays in the background, the soundtrack of your life together.

I can’t recall anyone, not even my parents, suggesting that I may be completely crazy, prior to saying “I do.” Considering that I was married at such a young age, both of them should have been obligated to clarify the lack of roses and puppies as a daily occurrence.

As I finish loading the dishwasher, emptying the sink, and scrubbing the stainless steel walls of the basin, I ponder about this thing called marriage. It is difficult work, and, much like parenting, it is not an endeavor for wimps. Marriage takes a ton of effort, a ton of focus, a ton of patience, and a ton of sacrifice. Yes, my use of a ton of tons is completely intentional. In more instances than not, it requires you to be unselfish and complete tasks that you feel that you shouldn’t, couldn’t, or wouldn’t on any given day. Of course, that is what you signed up for, right?

The cold water is running over my hands, the window light is reflected in my cupped hands, and the shadows create a heart-shaped formation around my fingers. This is a perfect illustration for my narrative, too good to be dismissed, and I grab the camera gear to capture the moment.

I know that you can’t see it in the photograph, but I’m wearing my wedding ring—the authentic white gold piece that my wife gave to me twenty-three years ago. It’s a snug fit, I’m not going to sugar-coat it, but wearing my actual ring is a goal that I’ve been trying to fit into all year, if you know what I mean. During the winter months it is easier to squeeze my digit into the tight space, while the summer months are simply out of the question. My long-term goal is to drop enough weight around my waist so that the ring fits all year round, but baby steps first. Baby steps.

As I cup the water in my hands, I think to myself that marriage is much like the picture before me. Marriage requires dedication, devotion, and immense concentration. With even a gentle slip of a finger, water will trickle from the crevasses. If you are not paying attention, your hands will slowly sieve the water, until none remains. When the water’s gone…game over.

The ring’s restrictive tightness around my finger reminds me to pay attention to my marriage, my life, and my wife.

Do you remember when you said “I do?” I do.

Author’s note: item #23 Fit into my wedding ring, crossed from my list.