I believe in piggybanks and everything for which they stand. For me, the portly, blue piggybank that sits atop my refrigerator symbolizes saving but much more importantly, giving. I purposely display the faded blue piggybank with its chipped ear and missing coin -plug in front of the cookie jars that I have collected over the years. Its place of prominence is so that I can effortlessly glance up and remember that there is goodness, kindness, empathy and selflessness in this world and that they reside unassumingly in a grunting, scratching, and know-it-all sixteen year old who happens to be my son.
Going to the market always frustrated me. Raising two children alone on a public school teacher’s salary made budgeting an art especially at the grocery market. Grocery shopping is torture under any circumstances but especially when money is limited and there are two bottomless pits waiting at home, so even though it was a beautiful spring day, my mood was foul. I whipped the old station wagon into the driveway as I compared my neighbor’s house with its blooming flowers and shrubs to my house with its peeling paint and old windows. My house looked as if it had wandered into the wrong neighborhood, realized how exhausted it was and plopped down. Oh well, at least my car matched my house perfectly so there would never be a doubt where it belonged in case someone got the idea to take it. There were so many things I wished I could do for my children and for myself but lacked the time and the money for either and given the choice of my profession, I didn’t have much hope that I would be able to in the future.
As I pushed the car door open, I noticed my son on the front porch with a little girl about his age. She appeared to be about six, wore old dirty clothes and was in desperate need of a bath. She wore thick glasses and her unevenly cut hair was stuck to her head in greasy clumps. I thought back on the times when I had given my own children haircuts to save money and regretted the outcome almost as much as they did. Regardless how hard I tried to cut their hair like a professional, I remembered sending them both to school on different occasions with quarter inch bangs after I had “evened “them up one too many times. I was jerked back to reality when I saw my son thrust some wadded up money in the frail girl’s hand and in turn, she tenderly handed him a faded blue piggy bank. After the transaction appeared to be complete, she wandered off while I was unloading the groceries. When he came to help me, I asked him who the little girl was and what had just taken place. He explained somewhat timidly that she had come to the door trying to sell her piggybank and that he had purchased it. Immediately I felt my blood pressure rise and I bit my tongue. After my husband had abandoned us, I had worked two jobs and gone to school to finish my teaching degree. I had worked myself nearly to death and even after I went to work as a full-time teacher, I still had more month than money. I did my best to provide for my children and rarely allowed myself any luxuries. Just a few days earlier, I had sacrificed in order to give my children a few dollars for their good grades in school, and now the thought of my son spending it on a worthless piece of junk angered me. In the calmest and most controlled voice I could muster, I asked him why he had done such a thing and his sincere reply brought tears to my eyes. “Mommy, that girl came to the door trying to sell her piggy bank. I don’t think she really wanted to, but she looked like she really needed money more than me and I didn’t want to just give her my money and make her feel bad,” he said.
It was at that moment that I developed an unwavering respect for my son, learned a lesson about the true meaning of sacrifice and became even more aware of how our society has a misplaced admiration for those who deserve it the least. Major league sports stars, musicians and film and television stars are worshiped and reviled and paid heftily for their antics while teachers eek out a living and are often looked down upon by those they educate because of their low salaries. Teachers are trusted with the education and socialization of our nation’s young, but we are not compensated for this most awesome responsibility and in fact are often looked down upon for our willingness to serve. My anger grows over the fact that our nation’s teachers often live in the poverty cycle they work so hard break. Some teachers are uninsured because of the high cost of health insurance and some realize they will never be able to retire because they will be unable to afford it.
Years have passed since I turned that old station wagon into the driveway and saw my son helping someone less fortunate. Time, being the silent thief, has snuck up on me and as of late my son has begun to think about his college plans. He mentioned just the other day in a rather nonchalant way that he wants to be a remains teacher, just like me. I sighed heavily. I thought about how much he will have to sacrifice, especially if he has a family and then I glanced at the faded blue piggy bank that on its shrine, high atop my refrigerator to remind myself that there is goodness and kindness, empathy and unselfishness in the world because of teachers and their sacrifices.