It’s one of life’s miracles that while I never remember where I put my car keys, I never forget anything pertaining to my grandchildren. Joshua is sixteen now, but the telephone conversation we had that day over a decade ago is as clear as a shiny penny. In fact, it’s all about pennies, and love, and lots of other things.
What is it sweetheart?
My mom sent me upstairs. She said I’m a spoilt boy. I’m not a spoilt boy, he says, wailing in indignation.
That’s the first thing I hear when I pick up the phone. It's my five year old grandson, Josh crying as if his little heart will break.
What happened? I ask, preferring not to suggest that he’d done anything intentionally
Once again, through his torrent of tears his message is clear. I’m not a spoilt boy. I’m not a spoilt boy.
As I listen to my grandson’s deep lament I flash back a few months to our play date, just me and him and a parcel of pennies.
We’re going to play a game today, I say as I tilt the shiny contents of the bag onto the kitchen table.
With a black marker I carefully write in big numbers on a piece of white paper. This is my phone number, and I want young Josh to know it by heart. I begin my campaign of indoctrination slowly.
Let’s read these numbers together, I suggest. With every successful reading I transfer one of the pennies from my side of the table to his. As his bounty grows so do his eyes and he becomes even more invested in our game. Now I have him hooked. Like a gambling addict he can’t turn back while there are still chips on the table.
Let’s close our eyes and let’s say those numbers together, I cajole. I give up one penny for each successful try. With each failure I take one penny back. And so the game goes until my little gambler has all the money and I have my telephone number imprinted in his young mind.
Today that game is paying off. Like a criminal who is allowed just one phone call, Josh is turning to me.
I say into the phone, Just go downstairs and explain to your mother that you’re not a spoilt boy.
I can’t, he wails. She said, I had to stay upstairs.
Bless his little heart, he is completely bereft.
Get a piece of paper and draw a big heart on it, I say partially to calm him down and partly because I need time to message my daughter and let her know my plan for their reconciliation.
Once Josh has completed the heart I give him last minute guidance as he departs on his perilous journey.
Keep the phone in your hand. I’ll stay with you down the stairs. Give your mom the picture, tell her that you love her and that you're not a spoilt boy. Close the phone when you don’t need me anymore.
I stay with Josh until I hear his mom’s voice in the background and then the line goes dead.
I'm reassured and all it cost me was a bag of 50 pennies.