Some of the most important values I carry today were laid down at the age of five. The value of a dollar is often taught at a much older age, and usually in lecture form, hence the taxes and tears. With my parents, the value of a dollar was accidentally instilled at a gut level. Emotionally, this lesson, and the fear of its consequences, have never been forgotten. I’ll never forget the day.
My mother took me shopping for a friend’s birthday present at our iconic Toys “R” Us; possibly my favorite retailer up to this point in my tiny life. My eyes glazed over in fascination as we strolled through the infinite isles of magic and possibility. I was a sensitive child, and fortunately, my mother took this seriously as she never rushed me through the toy store.
She knew if she allowed me to take it all in, there would be much less chance of a tantrum regarding wanting anything, and she was right. Imagining actually having any dream this store could offer, along with my parents consistent message that that I COULD have anything if I worked hard enough for it; looking and imagining became the dream.
Many times I was known to nap all the way home, and still be excited to tell my father about how amazing the day had been. I was often asked if there was there anything I wanted, and either I’d say, “not enough,” with a smile knowing I had the choice, OR, “Yes!” followed by the most elaborate plan about how to earn the money for it. Either way it was magical.
This particular day was different. I decided upon my first acquisition, and that dream came in the form of a Care Bears Sleeping Bag. Endlessly intriguing, it came rolled up in a popcorn tin with a lid: its own container! It could be packed away when I wasn’t using it, and I could also utilize this cannister for other fun activities I had yet to conjure.
I had to have it. It was $25.00. “Mom! I want this sleeping bag….” Not hearing this often from me, she got down on my level and calmly asked, as she would the rest of my childhood, “Would you be willing to spend your own money on it?” “Yes,” I said in complete seriousness, “I’ll do anything.”
I was five, so it wasn’t like I could paint the house. My mother, in her magic, and in that moment, graciously created meaningful employment for me. My mission, should I choose to accept it, was to make my bed every day without skipping a day. Each seven days this was completed correctly, I would be paid $5.00. Reflecting on this now, I really had to want that sleeping bag pretty bad to stick to anything for five weeks in a row. My training for this position started day one.
I was taught the sheets were just as important as the comforter, and that I should give my all with the things no one could see simply because, as she would remind me, “You deserve your very best.” The corners had to be tucked appropriately, comforter flat and pretty, with the pillows fluffed. Because I was in training, it took me numerous do-overs to get this right, but the pride I took when she approved of the job I did was immeasurable.
Day-after-day for 35 days straight, I made my bed each morning to the standard that was demanded for the wages paid. At the end of each week, I’d be given a crisp five dollar bill, which meant so much to be able to earn, knowing all that gone into it. The Sunday of my fifth week, the last five dollar bill was placed in my eager little hand, and the only thing on my mind was that sleeping bag. My mother ended up not able to take me that day, so my father took me.
He knew this was a big deal, but not all it meant to me to buy this myself. We walked in, I approached the prize, and, with arms barely around it, immediately headed to the cash register. After a couple of attempts, I was able to hoist it onto the belt, as this had to be my process; all of it.
Taxes and Tears
Holding my five individual five dollar bills in anticipation, the cashier rang up the sleeping bag, which came to $27.25. My eyes grew large and filled with tears. They had raised the price…. My little heart fell into my stomach. The moment felt eternal. My father’s loving words of reassurance that it still only cost $25.00 and he would pay the “Tax” fell on deaf ears. I was in shock. “Tax?!” What the donkey’s butt was this?! They didn’t tell me about a “Tax!” The sign specifically read $25.00. I HAD $25.00.
I didn’t even notice through the tears as my father paid the tax, finally explaining, “You earned the money, we just forgot tell you about taxes, and that’s ok, I’ll always pay your taxes.” I was hysterical. How many beds did he have to make, to earn a half week’s wage, just to give it to me? How much love did he have toward his daughter that he would spend half of his own paycheck on something I wanted?
On what was supposed to be such a happy day, we drove home, and the discussion became deeper as I inquired insistently about other lies no one told me about money.
We got onto the topic of paying “insurance” for just owning something, as well as other nonsensical issues. By the end of the drive, I had calmed down as much as I could, until I saw my mother, who, excitedly ran out to see the fruits of my labor. Shocked that I was again in tears, asked what was wrong. I yelped through my hysterics that Dad loved me so much that he paid my taxes! They both found this pretty funny as this meant more to me than anything at a toy store, and also that I thought we all made beds for a living.
Since this moment, I have never asked for anything without this memory firmly in the back of my mind. How grateful I am that they have ever been willing to spend their own money on me, without me having to do anything for it. Even in college, I was known to calculate the cost of each class, as motivation that the simple act of sleeping in cost them $50 each time I did it.
You bet I never missed a class, regardless of my grades. They showed me at a gut level that the value of money is so huge, and also means nothing in the end. I am eternally grateful, and still think taxes are unfair.