Loose Change Lessons

In 1986 I lived in Glasgow, Scotland with my parents and sister Susan while Dad was a visiting professor at the University of Glasgow for a semester. We lived in a flat and had no car. We walked or took public transportation everywhere. On the way to school there was an ice cream store. I don’t remember the name of it but one of the treats they had was an ice cream sandwich of sorts called a “Wafer”. Essentially home-made ice cream packed between 2 wafer cookies of sorts. It was delicious.

Kids like ice cream. I was a kid. But I don’t remember getting an ice cream every time I walked by. What I do remember is that Dad has always been proficient at finding loose change on the ground. Eyes peeled to the ground, he could find a coin in the smallest of spaces. Most days, he would come home and deposit that day’s change in a jar. When the grand total in the jar equaled enough to buy 4 wafers, off we went to the ice cream store. Then, the process would begin again.

Hundreds of times walking by=no ice cream

A couple times with a jar of change=appreciated ice cream

I was reminded of this story when in Chicago with my kids on a trip. We had eaten breakfast in the hotel room and my kids had been given a glass of Archer farms apple juice which we had brought from home. I noticed as we left the room that some of the juice had gone unfinished, which is fairly normal. But at least we had attempted to meet their basic needs. Within the hour, we were waiting to get the pass we had purchased for touring the sights and I decided to buy my wife and I a cup of coffee. All four kids in tow, we waited in line and I ordered the coffees.

Suddenly, the kids just expected to also get—of all things—a juice box of apple juice. Not the cheap variety mind you, but $2 a pop. That’s 2 bucks times 4 kids. My initial reaction was “no”. “No” is a complete sentence. Unpopular decision. We parents are faced with these decisions all the time. “Oh come on, we’re on a vacation.” or “pick your battles.”

I talked to my kids about this blog/story and for me it comes down to appreciation. If you are privileged in life, then showing appreciation can neutralize your behaviors of entitlement. My Dad’s lesson in loose change was an intentional teaching point. I’m sure had I asked for some impromptu ice cream he would have bought it for me, but I never expected it. Whether it is ice cream or apple juice, sometimes waiting for enough loose change might just teach you a valuable lesson in appreciation.

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