Column: Fair & Square

Within 15 minutes of my returning home from the store, my four children had taken all 12 Fudge Rounds out of the box and labeled the plastic wrappings—
using a black Sharpie—with their initials. Three cookies each. I found this out the next day when my youngest was making a lunch for school and was scavenging for her personal snacks.

“We were just trying to be fair,” she explained.

Oh, my sweet. Life’s not fair. Learn it now.

I heard “Life’s not fair” often as a kid, and I use it often with my own children. From an early age, we believe that everything should be even-steven when it comes to consumer goods. Twelve cookies divided by four children equals three snacks each, to be savored at leisure with no chance that someone hungrier or faster should snatch your stash. Initials needed. Life’s not fair. But the truth doesn’t stick.

Parents of young children are pummeled by the quest for material equality. “That’s not fair, he got that, she got that, I didn’t get that. That’s not fair, fair, fair … The oldest got more, and the youngest hasn’t got enough, and the middle gets special treatment, and she got that one thing that I wanted and now it’s gone.”

It is exhausting. At times soul sucking. But it is a necessity to continually remind the young sprouts that even-steven should not be a goal. Why? If this desire isn’t kept in check at an early age, the sprouts turn into bitter oaks.

Admit it.

As adults, we can look around at what we have given and what we get and wonder, Hmmm… is that fair? Didn’t I work hard enough or be kind enough or do good enough? What made them special? Why did I get less? It looks like I got less, doesn’t it? Did I? What did I do?

Stop counting the Goldfish crackers on your napkin square.

Life’s not fair, and we should count our lucky stars that it isn’t. By no effort of our own, most of us were born in a free country with ample opportunity to grow and learn and thrive. We were given resources. We have food and clothing and shelter. In light of the world’s population, we are rich beyond belief. Yet an insatiable desire to get more is engrained in our culture. If this desire is not redirected at an early age, it will lead to a lifetime of disappointment. Enough will never be enough.

A simple solution to envy? Thankfulness. By counting our blessings instead of our portion, we are reminded by the overwhelming abundance of what we do have. It redirects our desire.

“You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit.” My children chanted this in preschool—courtesy of their astute teachers—and I loved it. I use it even now, and they are well past the sippy cup stage.

It’s a tough lesson to embrace, especially when you don’t want one greedy sibling gobbling up all the Fudge Rounds. So sometimes—I get it—a black Sharpie is needed. I keep one on hand for my own stash. I just try to remember to be thankful when I’m gobbling up my goods.


Other columns by Ashley Gordon:

The Cost of Convenience

On the Road

The Good-Enough Mother

Dog Days

Marriage Proposal