Remember how frustrating it was as a kid, when you knew something wasn’t fair? Especially when a parent told you that you couldn’t get your way. The urge to stomp one’s foot and cry and whine and maybe run out of the room with angry tears running down one’s face was so strong.
As adults, of course, we have greater perspective, a much more nuanced understanding of what’s fair, what’s not, and what’s worth getting upset about. The fact that your sibling’s cookie seems to have slightly more chocolate chips than your own is no reason for rudeness. Or having to wait and go down the slide second rather than first doesn’t necessitate screaming in frustration. Be patient; wait your turn, the grown-ups say. Enjoy the cookie you’ve been given; you’re fortunate to have a cookie in the first place.
But oh, how infuriating to be a kid and to have fewer chocolate chips or to have to watch as your sibling went down the slide first.
Weren’t things supposed to be fair? To be equal? After all, grown-ups were telling us all the time about being fair to others, being kind, making sure everyone had enough toys to play with or snacks to eat. It wouldn’t be polite to keep both trucks to yourself if the other kid in the sandbox had none. It was rude to eat 17 handfuls of potato chips if your sibling hadn’t even managed to reach the bowl yet.
It can seem inconsistent to be lectured about being fair to everyone else in the kindergarten class, and then told not to howl when — by some infuriating act of fate — your brother happens to get his dessert first — before you! — for the second day in a row.
I remember feeling that frustration, those indignant feelings, and so I try to let my kids down gently when life doesn’t conform to their ideas of what’s fair and what’s not. Life isn’t fair, said every parent a million times.
The latest case involved my daughter’s birthday. It’s still over six months in the future, but she plans for it from time to time. I nearly fell out of my seat when she declared that she would be getting a baby goat. After all, she said, her brother got a pet fish when he turned seven. So it was natural that she would get to pick a pet as well.
“It’s only fair,” she said, looking at me with serious eyes. I’d hoped she was kidding. Her expression told me otherwise.
I stifled the dozens of exasperated exclamations that came to mind, instead gently telling my daughter that even though her brother got a fish for his birthday, it did not entitle her to choose a pet for her birthday, especially one that would someday grow into an actual adult goat. We cannot have a goat in this house. Or the yard, for that matter. Or the garage or even in the neighbor’s yard.
Fortunately she took the news well. A tiny part of me was sad to dash her dreams of owning and raising a baby goat. The larger, rational side of me, however, knew that a pet fish is not quite equal to a pet baby goat, however frustrating that reality may be.