My grandma was always stuffing money in my pocket. Not big bills—she didn’t have those, or she’d have given those, too—but ones or a five or, if the calendar was just right, a ten. Before I had kids she was direct; she’d say ‘get me my purse, hatza’ and when I’d change the subject and try to distract her, she’d circle back around, reminding me that I’d forgotten and that she’d asked me to do something.
Once I had kids, she recruited them to help, pulling one of them over for a hug and a whispering in their ears ‘get me my purse, hatzya.’ They’d look my way, always, and I’d move my head in a no motion, once to the left, once to the right. She saw me, and would say, ‘ach ja, Lisa, let them get me my purse.’
Once I had kids, she made sure to give them each the same amount. A couple of dollar bills, usually, saying ‘get yourself a pop on the way home.’ To me she’d say ‘buy them an ice cream’ or ‘go ahead, buy yourself something.’
For years I felt selfish and guilty, walking out of her little apartment a few dollars richer than when I’d walked in. My protest was always the same, telling her that I didn’t come for money; I came just to see her. To talk. To find out how she was doing. I told her that I didn’t need any money, that I was doing just fine, and that she should keep it.
It was the guilt that got to me most all those years, letting her stuff that money in my pocket. She had so little and I am able to work, to earn what I needed and even sometimes a little bit more. She was past the point of being able to do that. She was on a fixed income; when her money was gone, it was gone until a new month rolled around and the envelope in her purse filled up once again.
A few of years ago I told my step mom how badly I felt when I took that money. I told her that I never wanted Grandma to think that I was going to see her with the hopes of getting a few bucks, that there were too many people who did go to see her with the expectation of getting something and I didn’t want to be ‘that person.’
My dad and my stepmom told me that it’s not selfish to graciously accept the money. They said it’s actually a gift to her, to make her feel ‘needed’ in that way. ‘It makes her feel good,’ they said, ‘that she can give you something. It makes her happy, knowing you’ll get a little treat because of her.’
I didn’t buy it. I thought they were just trying to make me feel better, and it still felt selfish. Now I know that’s because it was still all about me, at least in my mind.
What I see now is that because I felt uncomfortable receiving, I refused to see the joy she felt in giving. I placed my comfort before her joy, and focused on avoiding what I didn’t want to feel instead of celebrating what she might feel, had I allowed her to embrace giving more often.
I’m not beating myself up here. I’m just acknowledging the shift. That’s part of growing up, isn’t it, seeing the lessons that were there all along, waiting patiently until we’re ready to learn them? I think it is.
Now the tables have turned and I’m often on the other side; not in a stuffing-fives-in-a-pocket kind of way, but in seeing that when we allow someone to share our joy, whether that joy is a drippy ice cream cone smack in the middle of a hot Kansas summer or simply time spent together to celebrate something special, even though we feel self-conscious or uncomfortable, we give that person a gift that’s worth far more than ones or fives or tens or hundreds we hope to stuff in their pockets when they come to visit.
We’re saying you belong in my story.
That’s what those who love us most want more than anything else, isn’t it? To know that there’s a space that’s sacred and reserved just for them, even if they don’t have a front-row seat to the ups and downs of our everyday lives? The older I get, the more I realize that the greatest gift we could give another is the assurance that they matter, and that our life is better because they’re in it.
The power of story is always on my mind, but it weighs especially heavy now as I encourage people to consider sharing their stories with Listen to Your Mother: Kansas City. I hear so many say that they don’t have anything ‘interesting’ to write about and I desperately want to (gently) shake them and say to them: you are so wrong!
It’s true that not every story is grand. Not every story is stand-up-comic funny or heart wrenchingly sad. But every story matters, and every story that we share is part of the bigger story that is motherhood. Truth be told, there’s so much beauty waiting to be shared from the ordinary moments and simple truths that fill our days and keep us up at night.
That’s what the Listen to Your Mother Show is about. I hope you’ll join us.
I decided today to jump into BlogHer‘s NaBloPoMo. February’s theme is Perspective, which seems appropriate right about now. The deal is that I’ll blog every day in the month of February. Let’s see if I can hit that goal.