Michael took one look at his wife and ordered her off to their room. One by one he collected their three children and after much squealing, wiggling, and story-telling, got them all settled for the night.
He found Kayla slumped on the end of their bed. He could hardly see her bowed and frazzled form under the millions of uniforms she’d had to put on today. Like an eternal day of playing charades, he thought.
With silent steps he slipped over to her hunched form, reached up, and took off the chef’s hat. “Breakfast, lunch and dinner, not to mention a billion snacks in between,” she whispered. Kayla had never even boiled water before they married, and now most days found her feeling like a short-order cook.
One by one Michael peeled off the military boots. “It’s not like the beds were going to make themselves,” she sighed. It was no fun acting the part of drill-sergeant. He admitted to being surprised she could get the kids to tow the line. Her heart was so soft she should have been a pushover. Not his Kayla.
He pulled off the horn-rimmed glasses and pried the calculator out of her hand. “Balanced the checkbook. We’re good for another month,” she said. Though she had a good head with numbers, taking over the household finances had been daunting. He’d kept her at it, though. That was something his father had taught him to do, in case the unthinkable happened. She needed to know how to take care of things.
The apron slipped off her hunched shoulders and dropped from her slim waste. He took his time in taking the rubber gloves off her hands. “I’m only using paper plates tomorrow,” she said. He chuckled. “Too many dishes?” She nodded, at last able to move her head. It was a good sign when she began to joke.
The weights strapped to her ankles plunked to the floor. “Walked a mile in ‘em. Look at those calf muscles. Pretty soon I’ll make Popeye jealous.” He watched as she stretched her long legs, and thought about how many unnoticed miles those legs walked during the day, taking her here, there, and everywhere, all in behalf of her family.
Michael noticed her unnaturally bulging arms. There was no way those came from lifting weights. He reached up her sleeves and began pulling out a dozen little socks. “And everyone thinks the dryer eats them,” she said with a laugh. “I’ll take care of these later,” he promised.
It took some effort, but at last he worked the doctor’s coat off. “Three scraped knees, a bump on the head, and a cut lip,” came her faint words. “Typical day in the Walker household,” he said. She smiled. This woman hated the sight of blood, but it didn’t stop her when the children were hurting.
He was surprised to see the carpenter’s belt hanging off her hips. “I finally got the shelf up in the kitchen.” Michael had offered to do it a hundred times, but she insisted on doing it herself. Perhaps she was taking the self-sufficient thing too far.
The next coat was hard to get off. It contained countless buttons, laces, and buckles, as if it were purposely hard to shake this role off. Though it had started out white, the hearty fabric was now covered in several years worth of sticky handprints, slobbery kisses, dried up tears, and hundreds of cuddle-causing wrinkles. Kayla didn’t say a word as he at last worked her arms out of the sleeves. It was never easy for her to take this coat off, but he placed it gently on a chair next to the bed in case she had to quickly put it back on. Emblazoned on the back in big, colorful letters was one, short word: MOM.
Only one thing remained. It stayed until they were both ready for bed for her to remove it. He hoped the role felt more of a comfort than a burden, but sometimes he wasn’t sure. She wore the lovely pink shawl as they talked, embraced, and prayed together. Just as he was about to drop off to sleep he heard his wife kneel on the floor, where the shawl labeled “wife” slipped from her shoulders.
Her day of charades was done.
He could hear the smile in her voice. “Father, it’s me. Just me.”
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