From Chicken Soup for the Working Mom's Soul

The Value of Money

Reality leaves a lot to the imagination.

John Lennon

It was almost over. Today was the last day of my maternity leave, and tomorrow I would have to be courageous enough to head back to work.

I had been off work for twelve weeks after the birth of our second, and probably last, child. You might think that maternity leave would be about the baby, the new baby, and for the first few weeks that was probably the case. But my maternity leave turned into a magical vacation with my “almost” three-year-old.

Every week we tried to go on a special outing, trips that would create memories for both of us that would fuel smiles for years to come. But the mundane daily activities, such as trips to the store and after-dinner walks, were what made the days so special. Who would have realized the joy in the exuberant flinging of handfuls of maple seeds—helicopters—high into the air again and again? Or the beauty of the moment when that small hand reached unconsciously up for yours, then gripped it tightly, even when you weren’t crossing the street? And also the pride you felt as you got to see the quiet growth of your child’s mind. That summer also saw the blossoming curiosity and the ceaseless “why?” “how?” and “then what?” questions that lead a mind from baby thoughts to adult thinking.

The last week that I was off, I had been trying to help prepare her, and myself, for the end of this idyll. I would casually mention that next week I would be going to work in the morning and she would get to spend the day with Daddy until preschool started. Sometimes this brought no response, but frequently she would ask why I had to return to work. My response, “To earn money,” evoked the “Why do we need money?” question, which led to the “To pay for the house and the car and food” answer.

Today was Sunday, and the three of us were headed to the grocery store to stock up for the whole week because we wouldn’t be able to make quick runs after lunch during the week anymore. Part of our store ritual was to take a little change from the car in with us to buy a lemonade to share on our trip through the store.

As she was climbing into the van to go, she found a quarter on the floor and exclaimed in delight, “Oh, I found a piece of money!”

I asked, “What will you buy with it?” expecting an answer of a seahorse from the aquarium or lemonade, her frequent answers to this question.

But today she looked at me solemnly and replied, “A house and car.”

I was stunned for a second, then I gave my usual response, “Why that?”

She stated, “So you don’t have to go back to work, Mommy.”

She was quiet on the way to the store, two miles from our house. So was I.

When we got there, I collected a second quarter from the van and handed it to her for our lemonade, then lifted her out and into a cart and headed into the store.

We stopped in front of the machine, and I waited for her to feed the quarters in to get a lemonade. She used the quarter I had given her, but kept the one she had found clenched in her fist.

Since I had taken only one quarter from the van, I explained to her that we didn’t have enough money to buy a lemonade without the other quarter. She wouldn’t give it up because she still needed to “Buy a house and car with it.” I tried a few more times, but she would not give up that quarter. And rather than whining for the treat, a more typical toddler reaction, she was perfectly cheerful not having her special treat that day because the quarter she had found had a higher purpose.

Needless to say, when I got an opportunity, I acquired that 1985 quarter from her and brought it with me on my first day back to work as a souvenir of that golden moment of innocent faith and confidence.

Lynda Johnson

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