It’s funny how that dollar amount seems almost insignificant to me today, as if having it or not having it in my wallet would have little impact on my day. It would simply be $8. Not having it might mean not treating my youngest to his favorite Payday candy bar after school. And having it would be a few small, loose bills that I’d use to grab a gallon of milk or a Tim Horton’s coffee. I wouldn’t lose sleep over it or give it much thought. It would be there if I needed it, or just wanted it. And although I would appreciate it, I wouldn’t require it.
I recently found $8 as I was unloading the dryer. Of course I immediately claimed it, quietly laughing to myself (because loudly laughing to myself brings children running and that would undoubtedly result in somebody claiming the $8 as theirs but it’s not theirs, it’s mine now. Mine.) I stashed the $8 on my dresser and promptly forgot about it. Not long after I found a few stray dollar bills in a pair of jeans I hadn’t worn in a while and I’ve probably got $50 of unrolled coins sitting in fish bowls. We have trouble keeping pets alive, including fish. We seem to be doing okay keeping the kids alive though, fingers crossed. I’ve got enough loose change in my car to buy chocolate milks for my little boy and ten of his friends. But this isn’t an assertion as to how many random, assorted coins and one dollar bills there are lying around my house because we have what we need and some of what we want, but just like most of our County friends and neighbors, we get by. It’s just me noticing that I no longer value $8 the way I once did but remembering that I should.
Because not all that long ago, $8 would have been the extent of my worth until payday.
I should remember because 12 years ago I was a single mother, often late with my subsidized rent payment, rarely buying anything new for either of us. I would often shop for groceries later at night because the thought of being seen buying my groceries with food stamps mortified me. I remember bumping into a friend in the check-out line and leaving, pretending I forgot something just so they wouldn’t see me pay. I remember never having enough of those humiliating stamps and feeling forced to choose between buying less amounts of healthier food or more amounts of junky, processed food. There is no more helpless feeling than knowing how to do the right thing but not having enough money to do it. And when silent judgments from others or even just the fear of judgment creeped up the back of my neck and settled like a lump in my throat, I wanted to scream and defend myself. I wanted to tell them I didn’t like being on welfare but right now I’m having a tough time making ends meet. I wanted to point at my food and tell them that I knew animal crackers, Hi-C and popcorn isn’t healthy for her but I couldn’t afford all the fresh fruit. But I never did that. I would just avoid eye contact with everybody, including the pimply-faced cashier who always told me to have a nice evening. I would tell myself that I’d be out of the store soon and the sinking feeling of inadequacy would be gone. I would hastily grab my one bag of generic toasty O’s, my three packages of apple-flavored sauce and were it not for the blonde two year old I carried on my hip, I would have sprinted out of the store.
I should remember how much $8 means as I often said “no” more than I said “yes” because as important as sparkly crowns and new toys are, food is more important. I did let her play with her food though, maybe because I was too tired or because when supper doubled as a toy, win-win.
At one point in time, $8 would have been a very important amount of money to me. It would have been the gas money I needed to drive myself to my $9/hour job or it would have been the milk money she needed, the milk money we both needed. It would have been all I had in my wallet for a week. If you’ve ever tried to take good care of yourself and a child for a week, you know it costs more than $8.
At one point in time, if I ever had an extra $8 I would have never put it somewhere and forgotten about it.
I shove that freshly laundered $8 in my pocket and remember. I remember to be thankful I’m not in place anymore but that some people are. I remember to be thankful not just during the holidays but always, to be generous and to feel grateful that I can say “yes” more than I say “no” to her now. And that I usually have $8 left over.