When my husband and I got married, even though we were mostly broke, we felt like we had it made. We spent the first four years of our marriage working as “dorm parents” in a high-rise at North Dakota State University. The job included a spacious furnished apartment, three meals a day at the dining center (that’s right, I didn’t have to cook for four years!) and full health benefits, in addition to a salary. The only expense we had was long-distance phone calls.
My husband got to take a couple classes toward his graduate degree for free and I got a part-time job. I came from a banking family where saving money came before spending. My new husband had an economic finance degree. We made a good pair when it came to how we handled money. Every month, we tucked away a good portion of what we earned into a maybe-a-house-someday savings account.
My dad died when I was 17 and, naturally, the bulk of his estate went to my mom, but he’d left a modest amount of money for each of his three daughters. I put my portion in my savings account and mostly forgot about it.
In time, my husband and I thought maybe we should apply for a credit card. We thought maybe someday we’d take a vacation – further than visiting our moms – and a car might be handy. We completed the application and guess what? We got denied. It wasn’t because we had a bad credit score. It was because we didn’t have one at all. We’d never made payments on anything. We decided to buy a television on a payment plan, just to establish a credit rating. As the finance person looked over our financial information, he commented, “You have a nice balance sheet for someone your age.” The words fell from my mouth, “I’d rather have my dad.”
Now fast-forward about 20 years.
“Mo-om! Ugh!” My 16-year-old daughter shouldered her duffel bag and grabbed the sack supper I’d fixed for her to take along on the basketball game bus. Inside was a turkey sandwich – deli turkey, a slice of cheese, mayo and a little mustard between two slices of homemade bread. Bread I’d baked earlier that day. Inside the bag were also some chips, a piece of fruit and a paper napkin.
She and her teammates were heading out of town for a basketball game and I wanted to send her into the game with some good nutrition in her stomach. She, on the other hand, grumbled. “I don’t know WHY you have to MAKE me a sandwich. ALL the other parents give their kids money to buy a slice of pizza when we get to the gym.”
“Good luck. See you there,” I said as she slammed out the door.
Gooey cheese and greasy pepperoni didn’t seem like the best combination to fuel four quarters of basketball, so I’d been packing her bus bags for a few years by this time. We’d been through this before. As often as she whined, I still felt better sending her off with Mom-made food.
But that night, when she returned from the game, something different happened. As always, her dad and I would get home from the game before she did. We waited at the kitchen table for her to get home. Good game or not, we’d all sit around the table and have a snack while she and her dad dissected the game. Then it was time for everyone to head to bed.
At 16, our daughter was much too old to be “tucked in,” but sometimes I’d poke my head into her bedroom to say an extra goodnight. That night, she said, “Mom, I want to tell you something.”
When a 16-year-old is volunteering information, I knew it must be important. I sat on the edge of her bed. “What?”
She drew in a deep breath. “On the way to the game tonight, I opened my lunch bag and started eating a half of the sandwich you made. The girl across the aisle said to me, ‘You are so lucky.’ I didn’t know what she meant. And then she said, ‘All my parents do is give me money to buy pizza when we get to the gym. I wish my mom would make me a sandwich.’” My daughter paused, then added, “I gave her the other half of my sandwich. She really liked it.”
Never, over the next couple years, did our daughter ever complain about the Mom-made lunches I packed for her. Nor did she complain about the extra half-sandwich I often packed for her teammate.
Life is about perspective, isn’t it? What looks like abundance to a financial officer carries with it a painful story that no amount of money can complete. What looks like a brownbag sandwich to one person looks like love in a bag to another.
Oh, if just a little more often we’d put ourselves in some other shoes. Take a look at our lives through someone else’s eyes. If we did that, I think we’d see each other much better. Much truer. And, we’d offer up a bit more kindness.
It’s been many years since Roxanne (Roxy) Henke packed a brownbag lunch, but she still lives in rural North Dakota where she does her best to extend grace and kindness. You can contact her at email@example.com.