by JENNIFER STEUER
There are three sandwiches on a table for lunch. The plates are dark blue with small yellow flowers around the edge. On the plates are potato chips, slices of two kinds of apples and a little bit of coleslaw. The two slices of whole wheat bread are cut diagonally and in between these pieces of bread is strawberry jam and smooth peanut butter. The three Steuer kids sit down to lunch. Each of them gets a plate.
Each child got lunch, so that was fair. Each child got the same amount of everything, so that was even. PB and J is a popular combination. However, there is a big problem. Benjamin doesn’t like apples. Rebecca doesn’t like coleslaw. Olivia will die if she eats peanut butter and isn’t treated immediately. A lunch of peanut butter and jelly with apples and chips sounds great and easy for me to make – so easy a child could do it! However popular, even and fair aren’t the same for everyone. If each person receives the same as the others, then everything is even. Fair is when everyone gets what they need.
Rick Riordan, author of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, said, “Fairness does not mean everyone gets the same. Fairness means everyone gets what they need.” Trying to figure this out as the kids have gotten older has been so hard. There have been some arguments between the kids and times they turn and declare ‘IT’S NOT FAIR!’ no matter how much something is explained. If Rebecca has a dentist appointment to have some of her extra teeth pulled and she misses breakfast before school and we grab some munchkins and frozen hot chocolate while she gets the feeling back in her face, Benjamin and Olivia feel like they have been shortchanged. That morning, in that moment Rebecca was getting what she needed. I have done similar things with Ben and Rebecca – and that was fair.
As they get older and start to see their individuality, maybe they will see the differences between fair and even. When Olivia, Benjamin and Rebecca were born, they came as a set of three, and most people see the three of them as “The Triplets.” Now, they are becoming different people with vastly different interests and needs. I can look at what is going on in our lives and know that we might need a night of just hanging out at home and not really doing much. I can say to Olivia to come snuggle with me and watch some reality television, which we both know is not reality. Benjamin is a snuggle kid, but on his terms. Rebecca will read with me.
All of the kids need underwear. Fairness means that each of the children will get the size and kind that is needed. All of the kids need shoes. Fairness means that the child who needs sneakers with more of an arch will get that kind of shoe. Children need to eat, and each child will get the food they need. Each child gets what they need. This is fair.
Meeting the needs of each child 100 percent of the time is impossible. I’ve tried, and when I really push to meet that goal for each child, I end up so frazzled. There are the needs of the three children, but there are also the needs of the parent. In fairness, my needs have to be met as well because otherwise I cannot function effectively. I give as much as I can to my family, and I know that they do the same.
Being Olivia, Benjamin and Rebecca’s mom is hard. It always has been, not in a negative way, but sometimes coordinating appointments and being able to get groceries, bills paid and the work at home done can be stressful. As long as every time they sit down to a table set with three plates with little yellow flowers, and it is food they can eat, will eat and enjoy eating, I know they are getting what is fair. Treating everyone fairly may not always look the same to an outside observer, but we know that no matter how things shake out, by the end of the day, everyone gets what they need. I love my children and I want them to get a share shake in life, I think knowing the difference between what is fair and what is even is important.