The other day while in Target with my kids, a man handed me a $20 bill. “Ma’am, I would just like to pay it forward,” he said. “People have given to me when I needed it, and I was just hoping that this could help with your groceries today.”
Though I did have money for groceries and though I was raised to turn something like this down if I didn’t actually need it, I simply took it and thanked him. I then proceeded to talk to my kids about how kind his gesture was and why he did it.
However, no sooner were we in the next aisle than my mind began swirling with various unproductive thoughts, as it often does: Did I look like I needed it? I glanced at my clothes and at my kids. I mean, we were a little dirty from playing at the park, but charity-worthy? Then I began to reevaluate the contents of my cart, given the fact that someone was now helping me pay for those contents. Baby carrots, Greek yogurt, tomatoes…check. A half-gallon of ice cream and colored sugar syrup to make snowcones…maybe those should go back in the freezer. My self-talk continued, rationalizing that it was summer and frozen treats are fun for kids. And wait…did he hear me raise my voice at my kids two minutes prior for knocking that Minute Rice off the shelf? Did I sound too harsh and did he think giving me the money would soften me?
But this man did not ask me to explain. His act was not conditional on my purchases or my appearance or the tone of my voice. It was an act of kindness. He saw us for what we were: a family shopping together who would no doubt use the money he was willing to provide. No, I didn’t deserve it, but he gave it to me anyway.
It got me thinking about how many times a day I play the “if you behave” card as a mom. A treat from Starbucks? Well, maybe if you can speak respectfully all day. A toy? Absolutely not! You do not pick up the toys you have! But, often, I haven’t spoken respectfully all day and I haven’t picked up my “toys.” At the end of the day, no one is pointing out my less-productive choices because I am an adult. If I don’t feel like folding laundry, I don’t (it will be there tomorrow), and yes, I would like a Grande-Sweetened-Iced-Coffee-with-Milk anyway, please.
Not that it is O.K. for my kids to get treats all the time, and certainly, they need to see the consequences of their choices, but sometimes, just sometimes, I think I will now buy the treat just because I love them unconditionally, and I know it would make them happy. Because, let’s face it, rarely do they actually deserve it. But they are still learning, and so am I.