Pulling into the parking lot at Albertson's, I went over the grocery list in my head: chicken, lettuce, rolls, apples, milk, cereal for the kids, a premium ice cream. The last seemed like an extravagance, but we had friends coming for dinner. I still had some cleaning to do, and I needed time to shower and dress.
"Come on, guys," I said to the kids as I shifted into park and turned off the ignition. "Let's see how fast we can do this."
I scrambled out, and lifted my two-year-old daughter, Andrea, from her car seat, holding her against my hip.
Seven-year-old Max, my oldest, volunteered, "Let me help." "Okay," I responded, "you close the door when everybody's out." With three kids, I always felt like I was forgetting something. Daniel...Where was Daniel? I felt a tug at my sleeve and turned around.
There he was, my four-year-old. He wasn't one to say much. Even when we said our prayers at night, Daniel kept his thoughts to himself. I put my hand out and he grabbed it as we headed to the store.
We were halfway there when Daniel dropped my hand and walked over to the cart return area. He stopped, peering at something by his feet. "Daniel, leave it, whatever it is," I said. "We need to go." He reached down and picked up his prize, a grimy square of greenish paper. I glanced at it. A dollar bill. "I'll take care of it till we're home." I shoved it into my pocket.
"Yeah, Mom," Max agreed. "That's a lot of money to lose."
There wasn't time to explain how little money a dollar actually was, not even enough to buy the dinner rolls. "No one will miss it, guys. Trust me."
I put Andrea in the safety seat of the shopping cart while Max walked beside me, grabbing cereal boxes and putting fruit in plastic bags. Daniel trailed behind. We had almost made it to the cashier when Daniel said, "What about the money, Mom?"
"We need to go," I said.
I coaxed a bag of M&M's out of Andrea's hand while I set our food on the conveyor belt. I wrote a check, wincing at the amount, and we left the store. As we passed the spot where Daniel had found his dollar, he lagged behind. "Mom, maybe someone really needs that money," Daniel said.
"Look, it's only a dollar," I said impatiently, fishing the crumpled bill out of my pocket and unfolding it. I did a double take. "Daniel," I exclaimed, "you found a hundred-dollar bill!"
"See, Mom," Max said.
We sure could use that money, I thought as I pushed the grocery cart to our van. And someone out there surely needed it too. But how would we ever be able to track down the owner?
"Yeah!" Max said. "It's so much money."
Daniel stopped in his tracks, and looked up at me. "Then let's give it back."
"But how?" I asked.
"We wait here, and they come get it."
The rocky road ice cream was melting, the milk was getting warm, Andrea was due for a nap. And I had to finish the vacuuming before our guests arrived.
"We don't have much time to stand here waiting," I said, though I hated to think of someone losing so much. But then Daniel looked up at me from beneath his dark eyelashes and said quietly, "Mom, you never have time when it's important."
I took a deep breath and glanced at my watch. If I took a really quick shower and skipped vacuuming upstairs...
"Okay, we'll wait ten minutes." We put the groceries in the van and sat inside. I looked around the parking lot to keep from staring at my watch. All I saw were other people like me, distracted, hurrying to fit in all they needed to get done. If I had passed that hundred-dollar bill, I wouldn't have noticed it at all. Lord, I asked, what else have I been missing?
We watched as they walked toward the store, their heads down. To my amazement, they stopped by the cart return where Daniel had found the bill. Carefully, the couple searched the area, the man's shoulders slumped, the woman near tears. "Wait here a minute," I said to the kids. I jumped out of the van and walked over to the couple.
"Did you lose something?" I asked the man.
"Yes," he replied. "A hundred-dollar bill."
I pulled the bill out of my pocket. I watched the man's eyes widen in disbelief, and he almost crushed me in a bear hug. "It's a miracle!" he exclaimed. "Thank God."
"Could you thank my son too? He was the one who found it."
The couple hurried over to our van. The man thrust out his hand for Daniel to shake, and the woman patted his head, tousling his hair. "I knew someone needed it," Daniel said.
I watched the relieved couple walk back to their car. Then I shifted the van into reverse, and looked over my shoulder at Daniel, whose deeds spoke louder than his words. Dinner might have been a little late that night, but Daniel's lesson had come right on time.