We have a running joke in my family from a past fishing trip to Canada where my dad repeatedly transferred his gear into another person’s boat in order to go faster in his own.
He would wave us over and say, “We gotta shift some weight.” while handing over his tackle box and cooler as if that proved a reasonable explanation for lightening his boat and giving me, my husband, or one of my brothers more to haul. This being typical of my competitive dad who can hardly drive on the freeway without channeling Jeff Gordon, we exchanged knowing smiles every time we had to “shift some weight” and watch my dad speed off like a ninja.
We took that trip ten years ago, not long after my husband and I were married, and while we still joke about it with my family, the phrase “shift some weight” has grown to mean more to us over time. It’s become a metaphor for our marriage and the life we’re working so hard to build together. It’s a mantra for the team that we chose to make as a couple, the two of us, I pick you, you pick me, and there’s only each of us together to carry this weight.
If you don’t know, marriage weighs a lot.
We had no clue what we were promising to carry when we stood together all that time ago –mere children – with hearts in our eyes, and nothing in our pockets, believing our love would never die, believing that we’d always want to spend our evenings spooning on the couch watching “Law and Order” reruns.
We didn’t know the weight of being adults yet because, at the ages of 23 and 24, we were just babies. Our apartment cost less than $800 a month. I spent my time smoking cigarettes and writing stories in between shifts at the Macaroni Grill.
Our marriage felt new, and bore none of the wear of growth and change you go through over many years. People often say the past is gone and we can never have time back. But really we accumulate our time like pennies in our pockets, moments and choices adding up to the sum of our lifetime’s worth. Like pennies, time gets heavy.
Now as I sit and think about my marriage, I could easily launch into the hard work of having children, the long days and nights of feeding babies and rocking them to sleep, the arguments about who does what and how. I could talk about feeling touched-out all the time, and list all the things that wear on a relationship.
But I’ve found that the irony of raising kids is not in all the things you have to do, but in the fact that you’ve invited these other people into your marriage. These tiny little people that can suck the living daylight out of you, and do nothing to help you carry the weight of them. These tiny little people making marriage heavier and harder to hold onto. And you don’t know, when you bring these tiny little beautiful bundles of cargo into your boat – believing that they’ll make it so much more beautiful and happy, so much more fulfilling, and amazing – that they’ll also try to sink it like a stone. Not intentionally of course, but by the sheer weight of their being.
Marriage is heavy, and children make it heavier. This is the thing I have learned, we have learned, my husband and I: in order to keep our marriage from drowning, we have to sometimes shift some weight.
Shifting weight for us means asking for help. It’s our message to each other that whatever it is we’re carrying, we cannot do it anymore. It might be that we feel alone, and need the other person to jump in with us, or maybe we need a break and need them to take a break with us, or maybe we need to pass something off that’s too much, too hard, too heavy.
Sometimes we need to call on someone else – a grandparent, a friend, a co-worker, a therapist, a doctor, a healer. Life gets too heavy, and we need help from all corners once in a while. We’re not meant to carry all the weight alone. It will sink us, and our marriage, every time.
Marriage is it’s own externalized entity. For us, it is not our family, it is not our identity, it is not an afterthought that we take for granted like it’s just this crazy thing we did once upon a time. It lives and breaths and we have to take care of it, just like we have to take care of our maniacal oversized children that keep trying to wedge their beautiful little selves in the middle of it every time they hear the beginning sparks of a conversation.
We love our children, but we love our marriage too. This is the thing: if all the extra stuff fell away, if our children were all grown up tomorrow, if it was just the two of sitting at the breakfast table staring at one another, I’d want my husband to feel as though I helped carry the load throughout the years. Not just my share of the load, but the whole load once in a while. I’d want him to feel as though I picked up the load like I mean business, and hauled the weight of it like it’s all I ever wanted to do.
Because that’s what I’d think if I looked at him, separate from our kids, and our stuff, and our dreams. I’d look at him with those little hearts still in my eyes and know that whenever I needed to shift some weight, he picked it up and carried it like an elephant does a flower. Not because he’s the strongest man alive, but because I needed his help.
Marriage is a team, a you and me, a unit. Ours works when we do our best for each other, when we laugh together, and when we learn to shift some weight.