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The Alex P. Keaton Gene

Several months ago, Bryce and Quinn became obsessed with coins. I think it may have started when my dad mailed them some smart-looking miniature leather pouches filled with foreign coins from old trips; the idea was that the kids would think the foreign coins were really cool and different, but since the kids are deprived little urchins who barely even recognized U.S. coins, I think they just assumed the coins in the pouches were the same jingly shiny fun that John and I hoard from them every time they longingly pass a machine full of bouncy balls or candy. Those coins (Czech, I think) are long gone, probably under various couch cushions and possibly even in the cash registers of some unsuspecting local shopowners who assumed the cute pre-schoolers buying a new 50-cent dinosaur figure were paying with money distributed and guaranteed by the U.S. government.

Quinn lost the pouch that his coins came in at some point after all the coins were gone, and so he started picking up and pocketing any spare change he happened to find. Anytime John or I would get change back from a store, Quinn would demand it, adding it to the small stash in his pocket. Things have now progressed to the point that by the end of most days, Quinn's pants are lopsided with the weight of dozens of coins, and as he prepares for his bath, the first step he takes is to fish all the change out of his pants pocket and place it authoritatively on his dresser - always in the same spot next to the lamp. He's like a pint-sized middle class stereotype, going through the motions day in, day out, tomorrow this harrowing existence of coin collection and transportation starts all over again, sigh. It's become such an integral part of his life, though, that he becomes frantic if we dare not offer him coinage anytime we happen to make eye contact. I met John and the kids for dinner after work the other day and the first thing Quinn said to me was, "do you have any money? I need some money!!!" John, desperate for five seconds of quiet, handed him a dollar bill, which made Quinn livid: "I don't want this paper, I WANT SOME MONEY."

The other night at the dinner table, John said, "when I picked Bryce up from school, his teacher told me that he kept raising his hand and answering correctly on every single money problem." I looked at Bryce and asked what kind of problems they were. His eyes lit up in pride and excitement: "One of them was 37! One of them was 24!" I had no idea what he was talking about, so John said from what he'd been able to deduce, the kids had to figure out how many cents the teachers were displaying in random collections of coins...somewhere. On the chalkboard? In a PowerPoint presentation? On Bryce's desk? We have no idea, but after dinner he got some coins out and tried it with Bryce. I was reading to Quinn across the room with one eye on Bryce and John. John would lay out several coins and Bryce would scan them, then shout a number, "18! 18 cents!" "39!" "42!" and John would flash me a look that said, "yep" and then tell Bryce he was right and start over.

I've known for a long time that Bryce is a quick learner and very bright, but I have to admit that this new coin trick surprised me. To be honest, I've wondered for the past few months if he's in over his head with his current class. They have reading assignments where they are expected to read to their parents for a certain amount of time each day. Bryce is a year younger than 3/4 of his class, so when we started trying to do the reading assignments, it was a very frustrating experience. Bryce would whine and demand that *I* read the words, and I would start out patiently helping him sound things out, but within two or three pages of him slumping further and further into the folds of the couch and the pitch of his voice changing from whine to wail, I'd be sighing and grunting with failed attempts not to make my disdain for this whole reading assignment too obvious. There are a few books he reads now with minimal frustration, but even sitting through that exercise can be agonizingly slow and robotic. When? Tiny? Was? Tiny? He. Ly- like- liked? Licked! Me. Heee? St-stil-stilllll? Do- Du- Doooes! Reading assignment time: not my favorite 15 minutes of the day. (But, don't get me wrong, it's still much better than Teeth Brushing Time, with the obligatory protests and the nightly ear-shattering "AA- AA- AA- AAA!" which means "I! Need! To! Spit!" in Bryce's Mouthfulloftoothpaste-ese.) The difficulty he seems to have with the assignments has made me wonder if the demands of the class are too much for him right now. But when I heard about the money counting in school and then watched his tiny body jumping around in ecstasy as he correctly shouted out the amount of coins on the kitchen table, I realized that, to use a trite pop culture Dr. Phil term, his "currency" is -- literally -- currency. And judging by the weight and jingle-jangle soundtrack of Quinn's lopsided pants each night, apparently his is too.

Huh. I wonder why the thought of my kids one day simultaneously on Wall Street strikes fear into my heart.

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