So we’re hanging at Z Pizza, me and the boys. Levi’s just inhaled his second humongous slice of za and Eli’s barely touched his first. “Mom, can I go get another piece?” my bottomless pit of a son asks. I sigh a bit hopelessly as I contemplate how we’re going to feed him for the next 9 years until he turns 18. “Of course,” I say, forcing a smile. I reach into my wallet and hand him a five. “This should cover it.” Of course the counter is 4 feet away, so if my fin doesn’t suffice, I can step in and cover the difference.
Levi orders politely and pays for his pizza. Then he brings me the change. “Here you go,” he says, as he places a few coins in my palm. “Mom,” he adds, still gripping a penny, “Can I have this for the ‘take a penny, give a penny’ pot by the cash register?” I once again oblige and he bops back to the counter, penny in hand.
When he comes back to the table he looks really perplexed. I notice a penny still clenched between his thumb and forefinger. “I don’t really get this,” he says looking at the penny. “It says ‘take a penny, give a penny.’ But now I’ve just got a different penny. I mean, what’s the point?”
“Honey,” I say trying not to laugh, “they don’t mean ‘exchange’ a penny. The idea is that if you have an extra penny or two, you can leave them for someone who might need a penny sometime in the future. Does that make sense?”
“But why would anyone ever NEED a penny? You say all the time that they’re just worthless pieces of copper that ought to be done away with.”
“That’s true,” I concede. “But people do still use them and sometimes it’s easier to borrow a penny and not end up with a fist full of change.” I quickly realize that this simple concept is morphing into a complex dissertation. “Like if your bill comes to $20 and two cents, you’d rather just pay the two cents than walk away with 98 cents.”
He’s a smart kid, but I can see he’s having trouble wrapping his mind around this. “Whatever,” he harumphs, eyes grazing the ceiling, “Grown-ups are just…weird.”
“Yes they are,” I concur. “Now why don’t you sit down and eat your pizza.”
“Actually,” he announces without a trace of regret, “I’m not really hungry anymore.”
And with that, he tosses his perfectly good slice of uneaten pizza into the trash and I erupt like a verbal volcano. “You just wasted four dollars. We could have at least taken that piece home, or your brother might have wanted it. Why would you do something like that?”
“Because mom,” he reasoned, pointing to a sign on the wall above my head, “It says ‘please discard all uneaten food into appropriate trash container.”
I thought about explaining that sometimes grown-ups don’t actually say exactly what they mean. But I let it go this time, too tired for yet another foray into the realm of his intellectual curiosity.
“Come here, you silly boy,” I said opening my arms for him to snuggle into. He obliged at first and then pulled away.
“Come on, mom,” he said quietly, as he wiggled out of my embrace, “someone might see us.”
I let him go, a bit sadly I must admit. Guess my little guy’s growing up.