The best thing I have ever done with 40 dollars

Our family lives amply. We have a summer house, tennis lessons, and someone to scrub our toilet every other week. Or more specifically our four toilets because why would we ever want to wait to pee. We can pay for braces times 4 because now kids get braces twice. We grumble, we track, we wish it weren’t so, but we still have the money to buy organic berries to get their seeds stuck in those expensive metal brackets.

I have spent 40 dollars treating a friend to sushi lunch, getting a pedicure, and adding a new chime to my video doorbell. In fact most things we buy are MORE than $40. The electric battery for my fancier than necessary lawnmower costs $150. The replacement cushions for my outdoor furniture somehow add up to $800. We spend 3 times $40 on annuals to put in expensive pots to make the entry to our house more cheerful.  I could go on. And on. And on and on and on.

The staff led us in the same cheer that they offer each other every morning.
Last week my son’s middle school had its “big” fundraiser. Big of course is a relative term as this school with its 65% free and reduced lunch raised one quarter of what the elementary school raised despite having 3 times the students. If you can work through that run on sentence and that math you could attend the honors portion of his middle school. Instead of vacation packages and other opulent offerings we sold kid’s art and $5 raffle tickets. Luckily we sold a lot of both of these items. Despite living on teacher’s salaries the staff showed up in large numbers. They bought gift cards, signed up for each other’s pie making classes and even donated in the paddle raise.

We also featured choir, Shakespeare and chamber performances by students. I had worried that the kids would distract from the drinking and spending and realized quickly how wrong I had been. They arrived in gowns, straightened each other’s ties and trailed committed family members behind them. Ahead of time we had arranged to waive the $15 admission for families of performers and any other family who needed it. This was an inelegant effort. As you can imagine in a school with 750 students speaking a dozen languages there were some families who didn’t receive the full information.

One of these women arrived on the arm of her seventh grader. The girl’s eyes were bright as she scanned the room for the music stand she had painted. The mother’s eyes were cast downward. I had told the City Year volunteers working the door that all of the comped tickets were on their list. By the time the mom realized that her name was missing her daughter had found her music stand and was gesturing with excitement. The mother wouldn’t take a step into the room.

I had drifted over and asked the mom how I could help. She told me she didn’t need help she just needed to take her daughter and go…they didn’t have a ticket.

Setting up her stand. 
When I told her that every family whose kid had contributed to the benefit got free tickets she was suddenly as bright as her daughter. She hustled across the room and they looked together at the colorful music stand, their eyes as large as the ones her daughter had painted. The eyes on the stand cried tears of music notes. In a moment of life imitating art the girl’s eyes also welled with tears as she noticed that her stand was one of three featured in the prime corner of the room.

The price on the music stand? $40.

There was no way they could take it home. I suggested that they pose for pictures with it. They must have taken 25 shots. After digging into the buffet I saw the mother and daughter leaving arm and arm as they had arrived.

A half an hour later I went to put my name on the music stand that Oliver had painted, as instructed, in the colors of our living room. When I told him to do it I felt a bit guilty…this was certainly curtailing his creativity…but I wanted it to look good with our red leather couch. A few stands over the large eyes cried their musical tears.  As I added my name to this piece as well, I was pretty sure her mother would not care if it complimented their decor.

Such a little thing. One missed pedicure. One fewer sushi lunch. And yet it wasn’t a little thing at all.

The art teacher reported that the student had tears in her eyes once again when she realized she could bring her piece home. The next day Oliver thrust the following note into my hand:

I think about our bounty a lot. We give back in many ways. Even when we write big checks it never feels like enough. Yet somehow this forty dollar gift left me feeling more effective than many of my larger scale efforts. 

This student wanted me to have seen her mom’s face. But I already had. I saw the beauty in her mother’s facial expression as she marveled at the beauty in her daughter’s artistic expression.

I can imagine what she looked like when her daughter presented her with the stand to keep. And I can imagine it again and again as she watches her daughter create art supported by the music stand, and in some small way, me.

Do you have a small gift that moved you in a big way? I would love to hear your story…

Published by

Anna Palmer

Anna Rosenblum Palmer is a freelance writer based in Denver, CO. She writes about sex, parenting, cat pee, bi-polar disorder and the NFL; all things inextricably intertwined with her mental health. In her free time she teaches her boys creative swear words, seeks the last missing puzzle piece and thinks deeply about how she is not exercising. Her writing can be found on Babble,, Great Moments in Parenting, Ravishly, Good Men Project, Sammiches and Psych Meds, Playpen, Crazy Good Parent, and YourTango. She also does a fair amount of navel gazing on her own blog at

19 thoughts on “The best thing I have ever done with 40 dollars”

  1. This made me sob. Not tear up a little, but ugly cry and sob.

    I am heartbroken that we live in a place where the income disparity is so vast and getting bigger. I am heartbroken that there are parents who can’t afford to buy their own children’s art. I am heartbroken that there is a need for 65% of the kids in the school to get free lunch and 100% of the kids in the school in the community I work in to get free lunch.

    I am so incredibly grateful to you for your generosity. Your monetary generosity for sure, but far more than that, your generosity of spirit. Sharing a story like this makes me remember to be grateful. We are raising someone else’s kid and it’s hard and messy and devastating, and I can get to feeling a little woe is me about it occasionally. but there are ALWAYS things I can do to be helping other people and this was such a good reminder of how my life is so easy, relatively speaking.

    Thank you.

    1. I am so glad you got something out of the post. I got something out of the experience that is for sure. I am going to meet with the school next week to see if we can create a program where parents can automatically double our school costs (lunch, field trip, art club, t shirts) so another family can get those items without worrying about it. There is such a huge gap in our community.

  2. I am very teary. It is amazing what we take for granted, and I’m so glad you did not take the moment and opportunity for granted.

    A good deed well done!

    I to find myself indulged, sans sushi of course as I detest it,

    As a collector of glass (dishes, china, junk) I treasure a Roseville Pine Comb dish given to me by my HS English teacher shortly before she died, and 39 years after graduation.

    We kept UP a correspondence for decades, sharing books, ideas, critiques, and tokens -small gifts. The bowl came with a note telling me how much my letters meant to her.

    Her daughter told me later on, that at her memorial a “passage” from one of my letters was read as it had moved her so much.

    It was humbling.

    So was this post.

    Good JOB!

  3. This is beautiful. I love love love doing things like this. And the drawing the girl sent you is way cool! Maybe someday, she’ll be a famous artist – the little things really do matter.

  4. I’ll never forget the time you paid the $5 field trip fee and enclosed an extra $20 with a note that it was to cover the kids in my class who couldn’t pay. That was a trip where we didn’t have to cover the shortfall. It was such a kind thing to do and has always stuck with me. Thank you for being a generous soul. (One with very cool kids, I might add!)

  5. Tears are running down my face. My mom always taught me “Pretty is as pretty does.” You are truly one of the prettiest people I’ve “met.” What wonderful lessons you’re teaching your children and others — like this little girl.

    1. I might print this comment and attach it to my desk. I just hung up on someone for the first time in 5 years and even though it was merited I was physically shaking thinking I had “misbehaved.”

  6. As someone that has been on the good side of your amazing charity I would expect nothing different from you for this girl. It sounds like you definitely made a friend for life. Kudos to you :), and I just thought you were the O.G. Crazy Cat Lady!

  7. That’s lovely, and so is the girl’s letter – it clearly meant a lot to them.

    (And I think getting your son to paint his to match in your house is genius!)

  8. Oh my goodness!! This is so awesome that you did that. You never know how far a gesture will go. I have done this for kids in my classroom who couldnt afford things like sneakers or food. Its heartbreaking sometimes. One day they will be in a good place to pay it forward with kindness!

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