A common refrain around my house: “It’s not fair.”
The phrase is most often delivered in a whiny tone of voice and relates to a perceived slight.
It’s not fair that Cooper gets to play at a friend’s house and Katie doesn’t. It’s not fair that Katie is invited to a birthday party and Cooper can’t participate. It’s not fair that Cooper gets to go out for ice cream and Katie doesn’t.
What goes unspoken: It’s not fair that Mommy has to listen to so much whining.
I’m a sibling, too, though. I remember feeling left out. Whether or not that feeling matches reality doesn’t matter; only the perception counts.
As a parent, I actually look forward to those minutes or hours when one child is gone and the “slighted” child is with me (notwithstanding the initial “not fair” cries).
Tuesday afternoons afford one-on-one time with each of my children. We all drive together to Katie’s gymnastics lesson. While Katie practices, Cooper and I sit in the stands and visit.
Then I drive him to occupational therapy. I leave him at the clinic and turn back to the gym, where I pick up Katie and we return to the clinic to wait for Cooper’s appointment to end.
Each child gets some undivided attention. I ask about recess and lunch (during which the most important social events of the school day take place) and receive details in return. Cooper doesn’t risk getting interrupted by a random Katie thought or pointed commentary and vice versa.
Last weekend, Cooper attended a triathlon-training clinic. Katie chose to spend the afternoon with her grandparents instead of waiting around for her brother.
We all benefited. Katie received the undivided attention of doting grandparents, and they enjoyed her company without having to intervene in occasional sibling arguments. I was able to bike with Cooper, watch him run and take him to lunch.
We ate at the Mecca Restaurant on Harry Hines, a Dallas institution since 1938. With just Cooper at the table, I felt comfortable telling him about my first memory of the diner. Katie is still too young and impressionable for my tale of rebellion.
I skipped class exactly one time in high school. A friend invited me to ditch our first-period European history class in favor of breakfast at the Mecca. I hemmed and hawed and finally said yes, giving in to peer pressure and my disinterest in the class. (My affection for history developed much later.)
I was a nervous wreck during the breakfast. Though we were 10 miles and two towns removed from school, I was certain that at any moment someone we knew would walk in and discover our malfeasance. I don’t remember what I ate, but I’ve never forgotten that ache of worry.
Wide-eyed Cooper sat across the table from me, nursing a chocolate shake, fascinated by my confession. (I threw in the obligatory “you should never do that yourself” speech.)
We chatted the rest of lunch about his triathlon training and the college flags decorating the diner and surprising facts about koala bears. He told me his latest silly jokes. To get to Grandma’s house, we drove through some of my old neighborhoods, and I shared some more stories that made him laugh.
When we arrived, Katie shared that her day included watching a movie and baking and eating pie — activities that Cooper enjoys himself.
This time, though, he didn’t declare “not fair.” He was also mum on details of my confession and the chocolate shake he devoured. On this day, at least, no one felt slighted.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.