The day my daughter paid me a dollar for taking care of her, I had woken her and her brother up late for school. Again. For maybe the fourth or fifth day in a row…maybe the fourth or fifth week in a row, if I’m being honest. I’d walked into her room 15 minutes later than I should have, turned on the light, and told her she had to rush if she was going to be at school on time—and she had to be at school on time because I couldn’t be late, either.
With my hands full, my laptop and coffee mug precariously balanced on the stack of books and papers that symbolized the two careers I was simultaneously (attempting) to build, I apologized for making her rush, and hoped she knew it wasn’t her fault that my energy was already a little too frazzled — because though her day was just beginning, mine had barely ended from the night before.
Bleary-eyed, both she and her little brother began to get dressed as I ran downstairs to make breakfast and school lunches and either sign the permission slips I’d forgotten to sign, or review the homework I’d forgotten to check, or respond to the teacher I’d forgotten to respond to.
Mom guilt settled in as I heard the rushed footsteps upstairs, the faucet turning on and off with a speed that made me question the efficiency of their washing up, the quick slamming of the closet and dresser drawers as they were opened and then closed. Because of my mistake—because I’d been up late meeting a deadline and then had lost track of time in the morning while working on an outline for a class I was teaching later that night—my two kids had to race through their morning; they couldn’t spend the time slowly crawling out of bed and chatting and giggling. They had to hustle to throw on clothes and swallow down some breakfast.
Mom guilt isn’t new to me, or any mom anywhere. I often worry that I’m not giving my children enough, that in trying to juggle all the things—parenting and building a career and managing a household—on my own, they are getting less than they deserve. I worry that where they once had two parents, they are now left with one who is scatterbrained and busy and stressed, one who is barely a whole. And I worry that because of that, because I am sometimes spread so thin I can hardly see myself, I will be invisible in their memories, a blur of tense phone calls and rapid typing, of reminders to please hurry up and endless cups of coffee that are always left in random places.
When my daughter came downstairs, she handed me a dollar bill. She looked me in the eye and said, “It’s for all that you’re doing for us.”
For a moment, time stood still and we didn’t have to rush. I looked at the dollar, the single, insignificant bill in my hand. One dollar—for all I was doing.
The work mothers do—single mothers or mothers who are part of a parenting team, mothers who stay at home or work from home or work outside the home—is obviously worth so much more than a dollar. In just the 30 minutes it took me to get both kids to school, I had cooked and driven and handled the administrative load of a small corporation. I’d completed work that in another place would be fulfilled by three different people, at least. A dollar, for all those jobs, was insignificant, and could be viewed as almost insulting.
But it wasn’t.
Because that dollar wasn’t a dollar. Not from her, not from a child who doesn’t quite understand the value of a dollar, but understands that efforts should be rewarded and sometimes all that matters is the thought. That dollar was acknowledgment and appreciation. That dollar was a symbol for the truth that the strength that it takes some days to simply breathe and other days to build castles from ashes isn’t going unnoticed, a sign that maybe I’m not as invisible as I think I am, and that even if I can’t see myself, she can see me because I am more than a blur to her and her brother.
With that beautiful, kind-hearted gesture, my daughter reminded me that I am seen and loved and known.
To be acknowledged by the people to whom you are giving all of yourself, while worrying that all you are giving is still not enough—that it’ll never be enough—is invaluable.
Maybe that dollar is just a dollar. Or, maybe, this time, it’s worth enough to bring a little light and love into a world where dads die young and moms can’t be perfect.
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