I have shared a lot of stories in this column since 2007. You've read about the beagle who thinks the garbage can is her own personal pantry, the argument over pizza that almost started World War Three, and my youth group's adventures with snakes and poison ivy during a mission trip to Louisiana. One story, however, seems to get mentioned by fans of this column more than any other. Not surprisingly, it involves my nephew, Eli. So enjoy today's column-a visit from the ghost of Christmas past
Most parents breathe a sigh of relief when their child learns the value of saving money. But even the thriftiest parent would be taken aback by the method employed by Eli, my four year-old great-nephew: making like a human piggy bank, he swallowed a quarter intended for the Salvation Army bellringer. An emergency x-ray revealed it plainly to be sitting in his stomach. The good news was that there weren't any materials in the quarter that would actually harm the little tyke and that there was a strong chance that the object would exit his body "in the natural way." So all we had to do was wait.
My youngest is now in middle school, so it had been a few years since I had a serious conversation with a four year-old. Long enough to forget that there is no such thing as a serious conversation at least as far as the four year-old is concerned. After some small talk about who was our favorite on Yo Gabba Gabba (Eli likes Brobee, I'm for Muno) we got down to business.
Me: Why did you swallow that quarter?
Eli: Because my tummy told me to. (Rubs belly.)
Me: Only food goes in your tummy. A quarter isn't food.
Eli: I was curious for the taste of it.
The family became a little worried when it appeared that the quarter had stubbornly taken up permanent residence in Eli. Another x-ray showed it contentedly sitting in his stomach days later.
I observed one of my favorite traditions on Christmas Eve, when I help out Santa Claus and place a telephone call to Eli for him. After reminding him a few times to go to bed when his mommy tells him to, he asked me if he was on "my good list." I took an opportunity to have some fun and throw him a little curveball.
Me: Ho, ho, ho! Do you do everything Miss Shelly (his preschool teacher) asks you to?
Eli: Sometimes I do and sometimes I don't. Mostly I do.
Me: Ho, ho, ho! You haven't eaten any quarters or anything like that, have you?
(There is a long pause on the line.)
Eli: Oh That
(He regains his composure.)
Eli: Well, my tummy told me to do it because it was hungry. But I will only put food down there now.
I learned in that conversation that Eli is honest, had learned his lesson, and could finesse a story on his feet in a way that would impress the savviest corporate spokesperson.
A few days later it was all over. Eli passed the quarter "in the natural way," leaving the Eastman family 25 cents poorer, but feeling like we had hit the jackpot.
Ian Eastman, M.A., is a community educator with Family Services of Warren County-a charitable agency that helps people solve problems and be happier through counseling, substance abuse services, and support groups. Learn more about this important work at www.fswc.org.