The Value of Eleven Cents

Find a penny, pick it up;
All the day you’ll have good luck.

I’ve enjoyed this superstition since I was a child and taught it to my child, but I never seriously believed it was true.  The real reason I pick up coins I find on the ground is that they’re money, and I figure every little bit adds up.  Still, the idea that finding a penny brings good luck gives me a little blip of optimism.

I think my son, who just turned five, sees it about the same way.  He’s very logical, and although he loves stories about magical adventures and talking animals, he doesn’t believe in the literal existence of things like Santa Claus.  He doesn’t quite understand how money works yet, but he likes coins and always wants to play with them and put them in his banks, so he picks up any that he finds and often remarks cheerfully, “It’s good luck!”

On our way home from church Sunday afternoon, we stopped into the supermarket for a few things, and we found not only a penny but also a dime on the floor.  I saw them first but let Nicholas pick them up.  We walked on toward home (down the steep hill of our neighborhood business district) singing about pennies and good luck and bagels and such, feeling lucky.

All of a sudden, Nicholas tripped and fell, smashing his face into the projecting corner of a store’s windowsill.

There followed one of those moments of shocked and dreadful silence in which time slows down and holds its breath before the screaming begins.  It was exactly long enough for me to drop into a crouch on the sidewalk and to think, “I am not afraid.” I actually felt kind of like Frog and Toad in the story where they dodge several hazards while shrieking hysterically, “We are not afraid!” and run home to hide in the closet “feeling very brave together”–but I hoped that this Jedi mind trick would help me to cope with what I would see when my beautiful baby boy turned around.

His mouth was full of blood, and blood was pouring down his chin, and he was screaming in pain and horror.  (It was only later that I realized he also was holding his head far forward so that the blood dripped onto the sidewalk instead of onto his white shirt and khakis–that’s my amazing kid!!)  He screamed even louder when I opened his mouth, as gently as I could, to make sure all his teeth were there.  They were, and he had not hit his nose or head.  Whew!  But he had an enormous gash inside his lower lip and big abrasions on the outside of his lip and chin, as well as some smaller scrapes on his arms.

I said, “Oh, you cut your lip!  Oh, that hurts so much!!” and applied direct pressure with my handkerchief.  Employees of nearby businesses came running out with ice and tissues (well, actually toilet paper, which fell apart in Nick’s mouth and got him even more upset, but it was a kind thought!) and offers of help.  Nicholas, with his mouth full, was pointing frantically at the sidewalk slightly downhill, and eventually I realized he was gesturing at his penny and dime, which he’d dropped when he fell.  I put them back into his hand.

The bleeding slowed to almost none after just a couple of minutes.  I decided we would go home to get our car and go to Children’s Hospital emergency room to get the cut cleaned and see if it needed stitches.  At some point during those last two blocks of our walk, I grumbled something about the irony of our singing about good luck just as this happened.  It reminded me of the Easter when I was his age, when I was so delighted about the first day of barefoot weather that I blindly skipped onto a bee, who stung me on the foot.  Grrr, why do these happy moments end in our being busted down like that?!

During our stint in the ER waiting room, I didn’t notice that Nicholas still had his hand clenched.  He was fairly calm and was pleased by the opportunity to watch “Hannah Montana” (gaaahh!!), although he speculated at least as often as I did about why we were waiting more than an hour when the ER was almost empty.  Finally he was examined by a doctor, who cleaned the wound with saline and peroxide.  Nicholas took it about as well as anyone could.  I held his hand and noticed his other fist clenched tightly.

We agreed it was now time for a special treat to reward our bravery and patience, so I drove us to the Carnegie Science Center to see the huge model train layout . . . and they were closed because the stupid football game (nothing against the Steelers; all football games are stupid in my mind) across the street had brought so much traffic congestion to the area and brought the Science Center the opportunity to rent its parking spaces to football fans!   We were very disappointed, and I hate driving in traffic jams, and I was starving (having missed lunch) so completely out of patience.  What bad luck!  Grrr!!  Nicholas, though, soon looked across the river and noticed the incline zipping up and down Mount Washington and said, “Hey, let’s go ride the incline!”  So we did that–we got over there surprisingly quickly and had a pleasant ride.  Then we headed home, having lost our entire afternoon to one second’s mishap.

At home, Nicholas handed me the penny and the dime and said, “Put my lucky coins in my Thomas bank, please.”

After all that bad luck, he still thought those coins were lucky!

That’s when I realized: We did have good luck!  He didn’t need stitches.  He didn’t need one of those shots of local anesthetic that is itself horribly painful.  He won’t be permanently disfigured or brain-injured.  His pain already had receded so much that I never did get around to giving him any medication.  We had an easy way to get to a hospital with a clean, colorful, comfortable waiting room.  He’d received good medical care that would be covered by our insurance.  He’d accepted the disappointment of the Science Center being closed without a tantrum (I came closer to a tantrum than he did!) and we’d found another special treat to substitute for it.  We’d seen beautiful late-winter-afternoon views of our lovely city from places we wouldn’t have been on this day if this hadn’t happened.

And when the doctor poured peroxide onto a gauze pad and pressed it right into an open wound in one of the more sensitive parts of his body, my brave, brave, brave boy just clutched those lucky coins and protested, “Hiss dushn’t ‘feel bubbly’; id HURRRTS!!!” while basically holding still and cooperating.  I must not take that for granted.

Those lucky coins worked for me!  I just didn’t recognize it at first.  Sometimes it takes a little child to show me the true value of eleven cents.

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About 'Becca
author of The Earthling's Handbook, about the environment, parenting, cooking, and more!

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