I consider myself very, very fortunate. I have a great life. I have the best wife anyone could hope for, two beautiful kids, and a nice house to live in. Both my wife and I are gainfully employed, which means we want for nothing. We make enough money to pay the bills… even the unexpected ones… and have some left over so that we can take the kids (or just my wife and I if we need the getaway) on vacation every once in a while. Those of you out there who somewhat resemble my situation need to really repeat the above mantra over and over and over again until it really sinks in, because just how fortunate I am was brought into sharp, laser-beam focused, blazing, crystal clarity yesterday afternoon.
I was deep in the throws of work yesterday when my cell phone rang. It was my wife calling me to ask me if I could pick up our son from school so that she could get my daughter from daycare and then immediately hit the grocery store which was right across the street. I said no problem and then went about finishing my day’s work before leaving to pick him up.
The end of the day rolls around. I’m finishing up the last bit of work on my laptop (I work from home) and my son is finishing up his homework when my wife comes in, arms laden with grocery bags. I help her unload the remainder from the car, and while our kids are playing, she sits down and tells me this story which I will relay to you all as best as I can:
My wife had a pretty big load of groceries to buy as we were out of a lot of stuff, so as she is going down each aisle checking off her list, she keeps coming across this family… a mom (a working mom, she was professionally dressed) and two kids, one seven and one about three. The kids are doing what you and I did when we were little and what all little kids do in the grocery store. Every single sugary breakfast cereal and fruity roll-up snack and Oreo/Chips Ahoy cookie bag is grabbed and the phrase “I WANT THIS! CAN WE PLEASE MOM?” is yelled out. Being a kid myself once, I remember the answer of “No,” or “We already have that at home, so put that back,” coming out of my grandmother’s mouth as I’m grabbing for the economy size box of Count Chocula with the toy prize inside. My wife watches out of the corner of her eye as this mom puts back the boxes on the shelf that the kids have been trying to shovel into the cart as she feverishly carries a running total of what she has on a slip of paper and moves onto the frozen food aisle.
As my wife is loading a box of Klondike bars into the cart, the seven year-old asks mom if they can get Klondike bars as well. Mom proceeds to answer her son’s request…
You know we don’t have a lot of money since daddy lost his job. Your momma lost her job today. You and your brother can get one snack and that’s it. Once you pick, no more buggin’ me and no changin’ your mind. The rest of the money is for only what we need. (She looks at the price of the Klondike bars) These are too much. Go put them back.
My wife stood there stunned at overhearing this and saddened as she watched a dejected little kid put a box of ice cream bars back in the freezer. She looked down into the cart for our family stuffed to almost overflowing with food… and a lot of it could not be characterized as a “need.”
Before the mom could move to the next aisle, my wife did something that I will love her for until the day I die. She grabbed a box of Klondikes and pulled some cash out of her wallet, and handed it to the mom saying, “Please take this if it would make today a little easier.” The mom cried. My wife cried. They hugged, and then both went on to continue their shopping trip.
My wife continued in the frozen food section when footsteps come running around the corner. As if one extraordinary grocery store event wasn’t enough, the 7 year-old comes back to my wife, Klondikes in hand, and gives my wife a big hug and kiss, and proceeds to put the Klondike bars back, grabs another set of chocolate ice cream bars and exclaims…
This is my mom’s favorite snack!
… and runs back to his mom’s cart.
By this time, I am now tearing up at hearing this story. My wife knew this story would affect me somewhat because of the parents being laid off. Before the job I currently have, I had lost a job twice inside of 6 months. The feeling of having to go home and tell your spouse that you have no money coming in and you don’t know if/when you’re going to find another job is a feeling I would have just as soon left a repressed memory. I was lucky enough to find a new job with another company fairly quickly and as a result, we’re still making mortgage payments, still buying groceries, the lights are still on, and the water still runs. I listen to this story my wife tells me and I cannot fathom the feeling of hopelessness that two desperate people will experience staring across the table from each other after they put their two kids to bed going “What are we going to do now?”
My seven year-old is just now starting to get a bit of a concept of the power that money has, but for the most part, as far as he and his sister are concerned, things like Christmas, birthdays, food on the table, clothes on your back… all that stuff just magically appears. They really don’t have much of an idea of its limitations as there always seems to be enough of it to be comfortable. The two children of this beleaguered mother will be introduced to some very harsh realities about money in the coming months, and probably a year or more if the state of joblessness in this economy is any indication, because this family now has far bigger long-term issues than a $3.00 box of Klondike bars to deal with. Once income stops, the countdown starts. It’s the countdown that determines how long can you rely on other family for help, how long can you rack up debt, how long until they cut off electric, how long until they repossess the car, how long before the first doctor visit with no health care, how long before the bank forecloses, etc.
If there is a bright side to this story at all, it’s in the actions of that 7 year-old boy. My wife did not extend her gesture in order to be mentioned in a blog as a good Samaritan. She did it because she saw somebody who had the rottenest of all rotten days and who needed just one thing to go OK in their life, so she tried to extend that one thing. My wife gave of our resources. The little boy gave of himself and in his little world, he gave till it hurt. He had campaigned for those Klondike bars and once he got them, he gave them up and put his mom’s happiness over his own. This world could learn an awful lot from that kid’s actions. We think we’re such big deals as grown-ups, but some of life’s most valuable lessons that start out as innate get un-learned as we grow up and that’s a damn shame. Self-sacrifice is very much a part of that child’s nature. I hope it stays that way. Just think if those that caused the economic mess we are now in were a little less self-serving and a little more empathetic. I assure you the world would be a different place.