Friday, June 14, 2013

As a Matter of Fact, Life Isn't Fair

Yesterday was Anna's last day of school. For whatever reason, Anna's school lets out a little more than a week earlier than the public schools in town every year. This means that she comes along to both drop off and pick up Ethan from school, and of course that she's bouncing off the walls talking about how happy she is to be out of school.

In the past, this was not an issue for Ethan. Two years ago, the fact that she was out of school didn't seem to phase him, and last year, he seemed more happy that she was around to come with us at drop-off time.

This year, I heard something new as we navigated around puddles and dashed through the rain drops to get into the school at 12:30 p.m. I heard a complaint.

"Why can't I be done with school? I want to stay home like Anna."

Last week, Ethan's best buddy from his class took a day off to go to Six Flags and of course filled everyone in the next day on how much fun he'd had.

"I want to go to Six Flags sometime," Ethan told me sadly that afternoon. "It's not fair!"

And there you have it. Those three little words. Another one of those milestones you don't think of as a milestone: the concept of jealousy, fairness, of realizing someone else has something you want and that you feel upset about that.

I think Ethan picked up on fairness by listening to Anna. Like any typical kid, she's been harping on it (or the lack thereof) for years, sometimes quite loudly and dramatically. How many times has Ethan heard her cry out, "It's not fair?!" Probably hundreds.

But sometime recently, he started paying attention. He started making an association. Sometimes, I'll see that he hears phrases and first tries them out and sometimes doesn't get them quite right. He's been doing this lately with "lucky." He'll throw a ball to me and I'll make a nice catch and he'll say something like, "Oh, you were very lucky." And I know he's probably heard a kid say that at school and he's trying it out for size, but it just needs a little tweaking.

This fairness thing I think has come relatively quickly because it's tied to strong emotion, and we all know that learning that has an emotional element just seems to come faster, to make more of an impression. At some moment along the way, Ethan understood that Anna really wanted something, and didn't get it, and burst out with an "It's not fair!" and he had that a-ha moment.

Of course, there are the greater nuances we haven't gotten to yet. We haven't gone in depth about fairness and the fact that sometimes in life it's impossible to be perfectly fair -- and that life in itself is not always fair.

But here we are, starting the conversation. In the car the other day, talking about Six Flags and listening to Ethan pout, I said, "Do you know what you're feeling now? Do you know what it's called when you really want something someone else has and you're upset you don't have it? That's called jealousy."

It didn't really sink in at that moment. These things are going to take time. We're just getting down the concept of "embarrassment" right now. But it will come. And I just know sometime soon I'm going to catch myself saying what every kid hates to hear their parent say:

"You know what? Life isn't fair!"

And maybe he'll hate to hear it, or maybe his literal self will take that at face value. Maybe he'll think, "Okay, life isn't always fair. That's just the way it is." Oh how much easier would it be, for all of us, if we were all able to do just that?

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