It was Monday, January 2, the last day of my vacation, and as I had spent much of it cleaning, organizing, cooking and entertaining, I’d reserved this final day for me.
“What are you doing today?” my husband asked me that morning.
“I’m going to reflect and think through my goals for the new year, maybe blog,” I said. “I’m definitely going to clean my car, our bedroom and bathroom, do a load of laundry.”
“And call your brother?”
“Yes, and call my brother.”
I had exercised, made and eaten breakfast, and was loading the dishwasher when Steve asked if we had any food coloring.
“I need it for the toilet,” he explained.
What? I vaguely remembered him getting up in the middle of the night and saying he needed to research toilet leaks. Somehow food coloring and toilet troubles were connected.
Since I’d resorted to donning my Crocs before using the master bathroom in the middle of the night, I knew we had a leak. A cold, wet sock had alerted me to the problem when I was in the throes of colonoscopy prep. (My many flushes apparently caused the commode to blow its wax gasket.)
But it was a slow leak and, weeks later, still nothing a towel couldn’t handle. My husband, the consummate “do it yourselfer” but also a realist, decided to put off the plumbing project (that could go wrong) until after the holidays — just so a professional would be available, if needed, and not on holiday rates.
And so I figured I was off the hook, as I’d have returned to the safety of my job by then.
I figured wrong.
Though that Monday was officially recognized as New Year’s Day (observed), my husband recognized it as a good day for fixing toilet troubles.
But I digress…
“I think I have some,” I said, opening the kitchen cabinet that in a previous, young parent part of my life held supplies for baking and decorating cookies and cakes. As I looked for food coloring, I removed out-of-date baking supplies and decided a full-scale cleaning of the cabinet was appropriate.
I handed him the dregs of food coloring that remained, and my brilliant husband poured it into the toilet tank to track the leak — and confirmed that the wax seal needed replacing. Meanwhile, I cleaned and reordered the cabinet, and then made my way outside to begin working on my car.
Just as I grabbed the hose, my husband came outside to ask when it would be convenient to shut off the water.
“Clearly, not now,” I thought but didn’t say, and “tomorrow?” as I considered the load of dishes and clothes waiting to be washed and the shower I had hoped to take after washing the car. I could sense my plans for the day evaporating.
But “after I wash the car?” was all I suggested.
And so it was.
He shut the water off and then requested my help in removing the toilet. We lifted it into a large plastic bin (appropriately, like a kitty litter box sized for humans) and then carefully carried the precarious potty to our back deck.
We returned to the bathroom and began the gruesome task of removing the old wax, an unfortunate brown color, from the flange and surrounding tile.
That was when I realized that my husband’s project was also mine.
“I’ll get this cleaned up while you go to the store,” I suggested, apparently eager to get this project done. (Of course, working with brown wax around a hole where the toilet once emptied has a way of making you want running water and clean hands. Until the toilet was back in place, we were sans water and hand sanitizer doesn’t yield that same clean hands confidence.)
Without going into too much detail, a project that likely would have taken a plumber less than an hour took us, well, hours. Our conversations were, at times, as unpleasant as the muck we cleaned. (And I’m sorry if I didn’t know which tool was the wrench. Clearly, I needed to play “Clue” more often; that day, the board game might have ended with “Mrs. Dagen with the wrench in the bathroom.”)
Of course, Murphy’s law made its appearance, but, eventually, the toilet was in place and working, apologies given and received, bathroom and bedroom and body cleaned (yay! running water!), and my brother called.
Did I take the time to reflect and set goals for the upcoming year? Was this the “me” day I had envisioned? Not so much.
In fact, as I had scraped brown gunk and cleaned and cleaned and cleaned the area around the toilet, I thought, somewhat sarcastically and peevishly, “The things we do for love.”
But after the porcelain throne was back in its tiny palace, I looked back on the day and thought, tenderly this time, about “the things we do for love.”
Such as giving up our own plans to help someone else with his. Or scraping away muck to help your husband. Or helping carry or lift or move a toilet. Or holding a flashlight or passing a tool or fetching a bucket.
All things we do for love.
More than a sense of pride at being a help to my husband (and recognizing a wrench and learning that well-placed shims might prevent the toilet from rocking and wax seals from waning), I felt love.
Because my husband had given his time and talents to fixing the toilet, too. And because my love language is “acts of service” (along with “words of affirmation,” which I didn’t necessarily employ during our plumbing efforts).
As the old adage says, “actions speak louder than words,” and I think my actions spoke louder to me, too. When I acted in love, the feelings followed.
Truth? Every time I sit on that toilet, I am reminded of those feelings. Love, teamwork, pride, accomplishment (and hope that the seal will last for the rest of my life). Any frustration I felt at giving up a “me” day was flushed from my memory.
(Although I have to admit, I also was quite happy to return to work where it’s safe.)