I’m not sure where I went wrong. I thought the bubble I had built around my household was impregnable. I did everything in my power to avoid using that four-letter word and to make sure my children weren’t exposed to it. I vanquished it as a vulgarity. No, not even a vulgarity – an unheard of, un-thought of, unimaginable and inconsequential nonentity.
But now, against all odds, the nonentity has won.
My son has caught the “fair” bug.
“It’s not fair! It’s not fair!” he whines and pouts every time he can’t get his way. “It’s not fair that I have to turn off the Nintendo! It’s not fair that I have to eat food! It’s not fair that I need to do things like poop in the potty or breathe breath into my lungs!”
Fair? What is fair? I feel the urge to channel The Princess Bride’s Inigo Montoya: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” As far as Widget1 seems to be concerned, “fair” is defined as whatever Widget1 happens to prefer at the moment. If he likes something, it’s fair. If he doesn’t like something, it’s unfair. Noah Webster would take umbrage at this mutilation of language. But the more I think about it, maybe my son’s meaning is exactly what most people, even most adults, mean when they say “fair.” That would explain a lot about politics.
Fairness, or unfairness, is a powerful idea that grips human attitudes and fights for all or nothing. I should know. I was a child with an overdeveloped sense of righteous indignation. My keen sense of fairness resulted in numerous protests and temper tantrums whenever some benefit was not equally distributed among my siblings and myself. If my future self had visited my younger self and told me “life isn’t fair,” I would have kicked my future self in the groin. All the insecurities and selfish cravings and half-truths behind that simple word make it a tough vice to break. Which is why I’ve made a rule to never describe the real world in terms of fairness. Thus, we have reached Muscular Parenting Rule #6 – Life isn’t fair, but your kids won’t believe you.
I don’t know where my son was exposed to the fairness fallacy (maybe his teachers or classmates?). What I do know is that humanity’s natural sense of right and wrong is easily warped by self-interest. Parents can succumb to it too. It’s not “fair” that I have to sink most of my paycheck into my kids. It’s not fair that I have to change their diapers, pick up their toys and clean up their messes. It’s not fair that I couldn’t make it to an appointment on time if my life depended on it because “it’s time to go” is apparently a codeword for temper tantrums, diarrhea, disappearing bottles and forgetting how to put one’s shoes on. It’s not fair that it’s taking me two days to finish this blog post because the demands of parenthood keep interrupting.
Of course the response is, so what? But “so what” is scary. “So what” means we have to consider the possibility that maybe the universe doesn’t owe us anything, that self-actualization is balderdash, and that the Fates didn’t ask for our permission before imposing existence upon us. Or to put it in pre-school terms, “Do what your told because I said so.”