The weekend before last was typical for this time of year: hauling out and dusting off the lawnmower, giving the backyard lawn a healthy dose of Moss Out, sweeping off the back deck, and many assorted chores all centering on the return of decent outdoor weather.
As a bonus, my mother was visiting, basking in the utter chaos that generally swirls around our home at all times.
On one particular day, as his mom and I were scurrying about from one task to the next, Michael was entertaining his grandmother by demonstrating his ability to count money. He had a handful of various coins, and was proceeding to explain their worth in great detail, before inserting them into one of several favorite stashing places: the inside of a plastic Easter egg, a discarded bell, a sock, any of three wallets, or his toy candy vending machine bank. His actual savings bank, a wooden dog with a hollow plastic chamber and an open esophagus (down which the coin travels before ceremoniously plonking onto the coins already in the chamber below), sat nearby and utterly unfed. He prefers not to put his money in the dog bank since the dog keeps what he eats, unlike all his other repositories which are joyously yielding.
Later, on another trip through the house, probably moving from kitchen duty to vacuum duty, I noticed Michael was at it again with the coins. Only now his pile was bigger, and he had assembled a larger array of coffers to cram coins into.
After lunch, Michael was still going strong with coin counting and stashing. His pile seemed to be growing.
Mind you, the incongruity of his inexplicably multiplying coin piles did not strike me as odd. I have a remarkable ability to ignore or to simply accept as normal things at which others might furrow their brows. If one of my kids walked through the house holding a Zebra by the reins, I would likely not bat an eyelash. It is this ability that frustrates my wife terribly, because with this talent comes the open mindedness that allows me to hold two utterly opposing facts in my head simultaneously in complete harmony.
So it’s this that I claim as the reason for which I was not alerted to this sudden interest in counting and managing coins.
And why it didn’t even occur to me until later where he might have gotten them.
It is important to know what had happened the week before. Michael had been given a small box from his school, a box for collecting donations for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. The kids were all to gather coins from friends and relatives and bring back their boxes when they were full. The class with the most donations would win some sort of prize.
Michael’s mother thought it would be a nice idea if I took the box with me to work and ask my colleagues to donate.
Boy, did they ever! The box was stuffed to overflowing on the first day, and not just with coins, but paper money as well. On the second day, one of my co-workers politely set down two quart-sized Ziploc bags brimming with all sorts of coins. Including one very interesting Mexican coin: a center copper circle surrounded by a ring of nickel.
I brought the loot home to show Michael, and he was greatly impressed. He was even more thrilled when I handed him the Mexican coin.
Then I realized that getting the coins to school is going to be a challenge. Hmmm… how’s he going to carry all of that weight without throwing out his back or toppling over?
“Michael,” I said, “the coins are going to be too heavy. And they won’t all fit in the donation box. I’m going to swap out some of the coins for paper money so you can pack it in your backpack.”
“Okay! Then do I get to keep the coins?”
“No, they’re not yours! This is a donation for your school!”
I don’t think he quite grasped the gist of the exchange. He had the box, the coins were collected into his box, I was going to put paper money into it instead, so naturally the coins would be liberated from any ownership. Right? Simple!
A few days later I took the bags of coins and gathered them into groups of quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies to make up even dollar denominations, with Michael looking on, longingly. He was transfixed by the glimmering display of shining metal circles that lay on the couch cushions. I was able to change out about $45 before I ran out of bills. The rest of the coins he’d collected that weren’t swapped out would fit in the box with the bills – but only just. A little duct tape wrapped around the box and it was ready to take back to school.
I sent him off to school packing his small fortune with explicit instructions that he was to take it straight to his teacher when he got there (and as you might have guessed, his class did win the contest).
Now I was left with a whole lot of coins, and an empty wallet. I found a nice, big plastic jar in the garage that I was saving for just such an occasion, and dumped the coins in that for safe keeping, thinking I would take the whole thing to the bank in the near future. I set the jar in what I believed to be a safe place in the living room, off the beaten path and away from prying eyes.
So I thought.
Which brings us back to Michael’s counting house.
I’m not sure what circuit breaker finally tripped within the sputtering recesses of my brain, but there came a moment when the connection was made: Michael + sudden, inexplicable surplus of coins.
I stopped in my tracks, and marched over to where Michael was.
“Michael! Where did you get those coins?”
“Did you get this jar and take the coins from it?”
“Michael, these are not your coins! This is not your money! You don’t get to keep this, the money went to school. This is actually daddy’s money.”
I could see he knew he was in trouble for something, but he didn’t quite make the connection. I believe that in his mind the coins really were his, and he was just reclaiming them.
A lot were gone. I had no idea how many.
“Where are the rest of them? Where have you put them all?”
“Michael! Tell me what you did with all the coins!”
“Okay, sport. Put away into the jar everything you can gather here. If you’ve put some in your dog bank then I’ll just have to forgive you that amount.”
“Okay, daddy.” He scoured his many caches and gathered a couple of handfuls of quarters, nickels, dimes and pennies.
I waited while he dropped the last of the loose change into the jar.
“Do I still get to keep the Mexican dollar?”
“Yes, you can keep that,” I said.
“You’re welcome. And from now on, if you see money lying around, you need to ask before you just take it.”
“Okay,” he said.
He hasn’t touched the jar since, but just the same, I keep it hidden now.