My kids are the fairness police. If one kid gets four pieces of broccoli, there's an all-out war if the other kid gets only 3. It's impossible to reason with him and explain that, yes, she may have just gotten three, but the third one was so huge that it equals two. Therefore, she has four. The kid with four starts to scream and crying big tears. I take the third, largest floret, cut it in half, and suddenly the other kid is satisfied.
Never is the concept of fairness more keenly felt than when it comes to taking turns. Pushing a kid on the swing, an activity that has every opportunity to be relaxing and pleasant when being done with one kid in tow becomes a regimented, panic-inducing activity when you're a parent flying solo with two kids. If it's thought that one kid has received extra time (despite a timer counting down to the second how much time each gets), there's a meltdown that requires an immediate departure from the park.
Darla and Jude are continuously keeping track of turns, even when it's longterm turn-taking. We have an ice cream cone shaped spoon. This spoon is the most coveted item in the house, and it's the only spoon Darla and Jude want to use when they eat cereal. We should be following a stringent system, alternating the ice cream spoon from one kid to the next. I can tell you, however, that Jude has gotten the ice cream cone shaped spoon three times in a row. I know this not because I have been keeping track, but because Darla has and I'm confident she feels as hurt and abandoned as a child left alone at a mall.
Every decision I make, I weigh out how this will look if seen through my kids' eyes. If I smile at one kid, I have to smile at the other. If one kid gets another pair of shoes, so does the other. If I feed one, suddenly the other is demanding basic nutrition, too. It gets exhausting contemplating how one sibling perceives my treatment of the other sibling. Sometimes, I can't wait for when they're adults, and they're not so concerned about turn-taking. But then I remember the feeling I get at every four-way stop sign intersection.
I pull up to the stop sign carefully, watching the other cars approaching. If I get there first and the car, the one that would be next in line, decides to keep going, I get enraged. If I arrive at the same time as another car, and I'm on the right, but the other car decides to go, I feel personally injured. There's one intersection a few blocks away from my house that I approach with so much anxiety since my right of way is routinely taken away there. I leave this interaction with an increased heart rate and a feeling that the world is out to get me. This intersection is proof that the world is out to get me.
As someone who continually foregoes her comfort for that of a complete stranger (not in an altruistic way, more like in a people-pleasing way), I find turn taking the only place where I can let my righteous indignation fly. I tap my toe furiously as I watch someone cut in line until I explode and tell them to get to the back of the line feeling like the father on a Christmas Story who informs Ralphie that the line he got on "ends here, it begins there."
If ever there's a restaurant that doesn't have a hostess stand and, instead, has a kind of honor system piece of paper everyone puts their name on, I am on high alert. I anxiously hover around the list to make sure no one comes up and crosses off my name because I am hyper-focused on fairness and turn-taking as my kids.
As I reflect on this reality in my life, I'm keenly aware that fairness is something humans of all ages are monitoring. At least, as an adult, I'm not reliant on one person to ensure that the world is being equitable to me. I can spread it out to store managers and every other driver on the road. My kids place the responsibility squarely on Greg and my shoulders. Maybe, someday I'll finally absorb the age-old lesson that life isn't fair and there's no use taking it personally.