Wednesday, October 24, 2007

“It’s Not Fair!”

That’s not me talking; it’s Toby. I’m not sure how a two-year-old forms the idea of fairness in his mind, but he’s been saying this a lot lately. When I say it’s too late to read another book at bedtime, when I won’t let him have chocolate milk for breakfast, when I say he can’t have dessert until he’s finished his dinner, almost anytime he doesn’t get what he wants, he says, “It’s not fair!” And with such indignation, too.

I think even at this early age, kids have a clear idea of the way things should be. He’s so adamant that he should have his dessert without finishing his dinner, no amount of reasoning will convince him otherwise. His sister gets her dessert, therefore he should have his too. Nevermind that Josie’s finished her dinner. That’s not the point. She gets dessert; he should get dessert. In his world, little boys should get dessert when they want it.

I don’t think we completely grow out of this idea of fairness. When people who get cancer say it’s not fair, they have an idea of the way things should be. In their world, people who eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, don’t drink or smoke, help little old ladies across the street and don’t cheat on their taxes shouldn’t have such a terrible thing happen to them. They ask themselves (or God, or the universe), “Why me?”

And the righteous indignation that Toby adopts in challenging the unfairness of the world is as naïve at the age of forty-two as it is at two. Who says little boys should get dessert whenever they want it? Who says only lazy, unhealthy, cold-hearted people get cancer? How does fairness come into this at all?

I think what Toby’s really saying when he cries out this new favorite phrase of his is, “Hey! I thought I knew what this world was about but now you’re changing the rules on me and I don’t know what’s going on anymore!” Okay, maybe I’m reading between the lines a bit, but isn’t that what we really mean when we say something’s not fair? Our preconceived notions of the way things should be are turned upside down and we’re left struggling to find out why, while desperately clinging to our notion of life as we knew it.

I never asked, “Why me?” or cried, “It’s not fair!” I’ve read enough about cancer to convince me that there are too many factors and unknowns in this to even ask such questions. Besides, remember what our parents used to say to us: “Life isn’t fair.”

And when you have cancer AND you can’t have dessert whether you finish dinner or not, that’s a double whammy. Toby will someday understand. Meanwhile, he’ll just have to live with having a mother who dishes out injustices instead of ice cream.

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