- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 20, 2006

“It’s not fair,” Amy says as she stomps up the stairs. I have just pulled her out of the den and away from the Disney movie that her siblings are allowed to watch to completion. It’s after 9 on a Sunday night, and I’ve already extended her bedtime an extra 30 minutes.

“You got to stay up for a half hour past your bedtime,” I say. “How is that not fair?”

“Everyone else gets to stay up later than me,” she complains as I arrange the army of stuffed animals at the foot of her bed.

“Everyone else is older than you,” I say.

“That’s not fair, either.”

Clearly, she’s decided to take a stand. In a minute I expect her to tell me it also is unfair that she’s shorter than everyone and that her birthday inconveniently coincides with Halloween.

“You know what Amy? Life isn’t fair,” I say.

“I know,” she sighs, thinking I have just agreed with her. “It’s a bummer.”

When you’re 8 years old, there’s only one way to define “fair”: Everyone gets the same thing. In Amy’s perfect, fair world, no one would lay claim to an extra Pop Tart or get more than his fair share of Diet Cherry Coke when splitting the last remaining can in the refrigerator.

All the ice cream portions would be equal, everyone would have exactly the same amount of time on the computer, and taking turns with Dance Dance Revolution on the PlayStation would mean exactly the same (winning) result for everyone in the game.

I don’t know where she got the idea that fairness means equality, but it’s a misconception all my children seem to have adopted as dogma. It’s also a notion that causes endless bickering in my house.

Of course, no one seems to mind when a lack of justice affects him or her positively. Where are the cries of “unfair” from the back seat of the van when I pull in to Tastee Twist with just one or two children in tow, or when one lucky kitchen helper licks the brownie mix off the spatula?

Getting out of Saturday morning chores to go to a friends house? It’s totally fair when you benefit.

I don’t worry about equal justice for all in my house because I think life tends to even the score without much effort on my part.

Oddly enough, my two older daughters are the ones who lately are obsessing over what’s fair. They see the advantages their younger siblings enjoy, and they’re quick to point out that they didn’t get to stay up late, watch PG movies, drink soda or have sleepovers when they were younger. One of my girls even accused me of slacking off and becoming a permissive parent. (She may have a point, but that’s a column for another day).

I guess they expect that I will not only count every Oreo cookie consumed in our home to be sure each person gets precisely the same portion (inviting a controversy over how one counts Oreo Double Stufs, but I also should assure that each child experiences life in exactly the same way from year to year and decade to decade, irrespective of birth order or gender or my own weary capacity for motherhood over the long haul.

As I said, life isn’t fair.

Every so often, when the fixation on fairness reaches the boiling point, I have to remind my gang just how unfair life really is.

When one of them fusses over an unjust turn at kitchen duty or the injustice of having to ride a hand-me-down bicycle (“She always gets a new bike, and I never do.” Sigh.), I come up with a few choice reminders of the ways in which they don’t necessarily get what they deserve.

“While you’re whining about rinsing food off the dishes, why not think about the millions of kids who didn’t eat tonight?” I’ll say. “And while you’re griping about making your bed or cleaning your room, you can focus on the children who have no room or the ones who share a bed with their siblings.”

When they complain about a secondhand bike, I remind them that some children aren’t healthy enough to ride any bike, new or used.

When they tell me how unfair it is that they can’t stay up late on a school night, I remind them of the children who don’t get to go to school.

When they cry “foul” because someone’s else’s turn on the PlayStation or the computer has shortchanged their turn, I ask if they would like to spend the amount of time most of the world’s children will have today on electronic games — none.

It’s easy for children to get caught up in the quest for equality as though they’re entitled to exactly what everyone else has, especially their siblings. I don’t know if it’s an innate sense of justice seeking expression or if our culture promotes the idea that fairness is something we should expect.

I only know that sometimes, I have to remind my children how lucky they are to be blessed with just what they have and nothing more.

Amy is right; life isn’t fair.

For most of us, that’s a good thing.

Columnist Marybeth Hicks, a wife of 19 years and mother of four children, lives in the Midwest. She uses her column to share her perspective on issues and experiences that shape families nationwide. Visit her Web site (www.mary bethhicks.com) or send e-mail to marybeth.hicks@ comcast.net.

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