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Fair: The Other 'F' Word

Photograph by Getty Images

When I turned 16 in 1990, my parents generously bought me a two-toned brown 1978 Cutlass Supreme that my friends and I affectionately named The Dookie. I was so in love with that car because it spelled freedom and independence and only broke down four times in the first six months I drove it to and from school. Four years later, it was my little sister’s turn to lawfully get behind the wheel of her own car. The Dookie was long gone, so she got her own set of wheels. It was a subdued, mono-toned red Acura that didn’t inspire a fecal-themed nickname.

In short, her car was as sleek as mine was laughable.

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It was hard not to compare our experiences. It was even harder not to roll out the “F” word in front of my parents. Only in jest of course. (Except not really.) I couldn’t help myself, and one night long after both my sister and I had moved on to our second or subsequent cars, I said it: “That wasn’t fair.” The general theme of my argument was that my sister got way better stuff than I did—the car being the emblematic example.

As I remember it my mother mentioned something about Reaganomics and my parents’ improving economic situation as my sister was hitting milestones like “old enough to drive.” At the time, I remember thinking that blaming Ronald Reagan for why I drove The Dookie and my sister got a totally pimped out ride was amusing. I gave my parents points for being creative but it didn’t fix my feeling that everything my sister got was better than the version I got.

Then I became a parent.

I do wish I could make everything “even” for them, but I can’t.

I began to understand how impossible it is to make things fair for my two children, especially if by “fair” I mean “totally equal.” Both of my kids have just starting slinging around the word “fair,” and sometimes I just laugh because they are arguing over who got a bigger serving of food that neither of them has any intention of eating.

But sometimes it stops me cold. Like when my 4-year-old daughter complains that I am still nursing her little brother. Her nursing days came to a close when she was 10 months old because the milk dried up when I got pregnant with her brother. That brother is now 32 months old and still nursing.

I hold my breath when she says it’s not fair. First of all, she’s right. It’s not fair that her brother gets the gift of nursing up to three times as long as she did. It also sucks that she has to sit around while her brother and I are nursing—he never once had to wait for her to nurse to go outside and play.

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I don’t know what to do except agree with her and tell her how much I loved nursing her and that I wished we could still nurse. Because that’s all true. I try to think of a president or policy or anything (El Niño? The Defense of Marriage Act? Reality TV?) that I could blame the inequality on, but nothing really works like Reaganomics worked for my parents. I do wish I could make everything “even” for them, but I can’t. It’s different, and there’s nothing I can do about it, except trust that even if it’s not perfectly fair, it may be OK.

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