It was just a leaf--a maple leaf--sitting on my dashboard, dried up and curled up into the shape of a bowl. My five year old daughter had found it on the playground at school, and proudly shared it with me. I praised her for finding such a treasure, and placed the leaf on the dashboard.
Some time passed, and things in my marriage became very tense and dangerous. I saw my opportunity to leave, and I hastily packed my bags, and loaded my children into the car. In my fear and frustration, the adrenaline pumping hard, I drove away, my eye catching sight of the dried up old leaf on the dashboard. I grabbed it and tossed it out the window. My daughter's face dropped, "My leaf! That's my maple leaf!"
Any hesitation in making my escape could put us in danger if my husband tracked us down. But, that was nothing compared to my daughter's despair in that moment. I stopped the car, jumped out and scanned the street for the leaf. I finally found it, and placed it back on the dashboard, apologizing profusely for my insensitivity.
I didn't remember this story until my now grown, 34 year old daughter, told it to me yesterday. She said, "You know, Mom, one of my most treasured memories of you was what you did for me that day. I knew we were fleeing my stepdad, and I was amazed at your strength and composure in retrieving my leaf, even though you were under enormous pressure. You put my feelings first. What you did for me that day will be with me forever."
These are the kinds of words that every parent lives for; to hear from the mouths of their grown children that they actually did something right as a parent; something that stuck with them. There is no substitute for this kind of acknowledgement, and I truly felt blessed by my daughter's words yesterday.
And, all this time, I thought it just a leaf.