Another night of reading to the kids, another set of questions requiring research. On this particular evening, the questions included, “Do geese eat fish?” (they do not), “What does ‘defecating’ mean?” (that one I didn’t have to look up), and “What happens to the coins people throw in fountains?” This last query arose after we’d read a mini mystery about a boy stealing coins from a fountain, which reminded the kids of an interaction between the characters Mouse and Pig (I think) in the Amazon Prime show based on the book series beginning with If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. Pig (I think) was taking the coins out of the fountain when Mouse stopped her, saying that the coins are people’s wishes and so taking the coins is like stealing wishes. “That’s sad,” said Summerly, which compelled me to explore this a bit. I suggested that maybe the wish is really separate from the coin itself; the wish happens when the coin is thrown into the fountain but isn’t part and parcel of the actual metal disc. I hoped they’d buy into this interpretation because I had to point out that the coins do get removed from fountains periodically, and Liam agreed, citing the outdoor fountain in Barracks Road shopping center, which affably spouts water in the summer but is repurposed as a lovely evergreen and poinsettia-decorated centerpiece in the sidewalkscape outside Five Guys Burgers and Fries during wintertime. “Where do the coins go?” was naturally the next place this conversation went, so, like all devoted parents in the 21st century who don’t know the answer but do have internet access, I lay my hands on the hallowed altar of Google.
What I quickly discovered caught me pleasantly by surprise. I’d suspected that the money might go from the fountain directly into someone’s salary, like, say, the County Commissioner or one of the higher-ups in the Department of Transportation. I’d also considered the possibility that it might go toward lining the pockets of some executive who collects (what I hear is exorbitant) rent from the shops whose storefronts line those streets. However, and you probably already know this, the money from fountains in public places typically is given to a charitable cause. For example, the almost two million dollars (in USD) annually dredged from the Trevi Fountain is dedicated to the charity Caritas (a Latin word which means “care for all”) to benefit Rome’s destitute and homeless. Minnesota’s Mall of America donates its fountain currency to a number of charities, including the highly deserving Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. It’s so nice to be surprised by goodness in the world, like seeing a bright coin flicking a fleck of sunshine back out into the world on a mostly cloudy day.
The next morning I circled back to this subject with the kids to tell them that I had an answer to their question. Then I told them that I’d changed my mind about the coin being separate from a wish. Even though it might not directly relate to the wish of the person who tossed it into the fountain, it is representative of a wish, a very real one. That wish is for a better world, a world with fewer people in need, a world with more knowledge directed toward healing. The money represents a Roman father out of work and struggling to feed his family, wishing he could offer them more. It represents a mother who quits her job to dedicate time to the care of her son, diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age five, and wishing for a less worrisome way of life. Those coins and those wishes are inextricable, as are they inextricable from the pervasive wish we all carry around like a weight: we want to make the world a better place. With that in mind, the next time we see a fountain I’ll up the ante and give each kid each a whole handful of coins. And I don’t know if I’ll ever visit The Mall of America, but if I do, you’d better believe I’ll empty my pockets of wishes, and every one will be for a cure for juvenile diabetes. That way, my wish and the wish my money could possibly contribute to fulfilling will be one and the same.
Thank you, Mouse and Pig (I think). Keep teaching the kids the right lessons, including the most important one of all: care for all.