06/20/2013 05:28 pm ET Updated Aug 20, 2013

What to Expect From a Marriage

"M-a-g?" My daughter says, leaning closer to me, the book, the words. Her goal to be conquered for this moment within fingertip's reach.

I slide one finger beneath the letters, noting its lack of polish, its need of shine. She pushes my hand away with her own smaller version -- glitter tipped and tanned and seven-year-old small.

Kayli, my nine-year-old, swoops in and reads ahead. "Magnum Opus?" She asks, tilting her head to the side. Her chestnut locks brush the pages in my lap.

We're reading Charlotte's Web. Charlotte has just laid her egg sac and is explaining that it's her Magnum Opus, her life's Great Work.

I watch their eyes breathe this in. Different versions of my husband Jason's and mine mixed and blended and smudged and edged until they're each their very own shade.

After a moment of rare quiet, the conversation begins about the brightest of paintings and the prettiest of poems and the most plentiful of gardens. Their imaginings of their life's work as perfectly big as they are.

"What about you, Mama?" They ask, their eyes wide, their bodies bookended to mine.
I sink into the yellow couch, my feet tucked beneath me and really think about my life, my work and what is great within it.

My travels, my teaching, my writing, my once upon a time painting, my children. Of course, my children.

These are the threads of my story. And throughout different heartbeats, they've each felt like my greatest work, my biggest accomplishment, the most I'll ever do.

But wrapped around each of these -- the lessons I've learned, the chances I've taken, the farthest I've fallen -- is my marriage.

Not because its been easy, and certainly not because I'm good at it. I'm stubborn and moody and an emotional over thinker.

But because it's my lift and my grounding all wrapped into one.

My marriage is where I learned to love recklessly, and to let that kind of love in.

It's where I learned to fight for what's worth it, and let go of what's not.

That the ending of an argument doesn't necessarily mean a resolution. That difficult doesn't mean bad.

To value quiet. To open up. To trust. To care more for someone else than I do for myself.
That there are many versions of together. That patience can be learned, and practiced. That kindness is not meant to be kept track of.

That gratefulness changes how everything looks.

That stories weave and fold and change and tell themselves. That holding hands through risks feels scary-sweet.

So this right here -- this eleven years of together -- is my life's Greatest Work. It's where all of the greatness of my own imaginings is seeded and grown and bloomed.

Eleven years ago, when we were younger and thinner and more naïve about life and love and marriage and how they puzzle piece to each other than I'd like to admit, we had our wedding bands engraved.


Hand in hand, we'll walk together.

Today, through the great, hard work that is marriage, I think this is, indeed, what it all comes down to.


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