As AJ grows older, it becomes more and more clear that he is not grasping a term that we lovingly call the “life isn’t fair” principle. Alanis Morrisette gave a nod to it in her 1990′s hit song, “Ironic,” and it is one of the hardest principles for kids to grasp as they move into that abstract stage of tweenage years from the concrete black and white stage of childhood. The life isn’t fair principle not only notes that there are times that other people will get more than you, but also they might get it unjustly. The key to the life isn’t fair principle is that, as a moralistic person, you acknowledge the principle, try harder, work longer, and keep going without biting their heads off or losing yours.

Tonight, as AJ is in his 11th year, we went to dinner. All day he has complained that his stomach hurts and it’s cramping and it “must be a growth spurt, Mama, ’cause I just can’t get full. I eat and eat and eat.” AJ thinks his mama doesn’t understand, but as a mom who went through many of those, her last at 21 years of age, I remember them well. For dinner, I asked him to eat a lot of protein to help fill him up and some fruit. He wrinkled his nose and asked about the free ice cream that McDougals offers. It’s a small 2 oz cup, the size of most sauce containers in sit-down restaurants. Lately, he has not been getting these small treats as I am watching my carbs and I’m not keeping things like that in the house. I grudgingly nodded and said if he ate all of his good food, he could have the small, 2oz cup of ice cream.

As we ate, we watched grown adults overload their cups to 4 times the amount of ice cream allowed, many of them laughing at their cleverness as they walked away. We continued to eat slowly and AJ cut his chicken and grumbled, but he ate it because there was ice cream at the end of this gray rainbow. However, when he was done, he happily jumped up to go to the ice cream machine, pulled out his cup and…nothing. There was no ice cream left. The sign blinked, “Freezing. Freezing. Freezing.”

He turned to me with an unhappy, accusatory glare. Leon and I had already eaten our ice cream because we hadn’t spent our time grumbling about eating healthy food. “Mom, it’s out!” He turned again and managed to get ice cream the size of a quarter out of the machine, but that was it. A group of college students who had just gotten full cups and hadn’t yet received their food, and who would likely be there after the ice cream had frozen, watched him carefully and I noticed a couple averted their eyes. I wondered to myself if all of those adults who had gleefully taken much more than their share would feel as gleeful if they saw AJ’s crestfallen face.

In the past, at times like these, I would have taken him out for ice cream elsewhere, but I can’t shelter him from this stuff. This is a minor disappointment, not a major one. I chose not to fix it. I said, “Bummer. Life isn’t fair.” Leon nodded and asked if we were ready to go. “I ate it in one bite!” AJ said unhappily. “Mom, all those people were filling their cups more than they were allowed and I didn’t get enough.”

AJ, that is just how life works sometime. Life isn’t fair. Sometimes, you eat the ice cream you get and move on. Maybe grumble a little less next time so you can get more. Or be ok with no ice cream this time and some ice cream next time. Life isn’t fair. However, there are plenty of folks that would kill for the life you have on most days. Their life isn’t fair, either. It’s going to be ok.

Next time we go, we still will not do our ice cream first. Belief systems are about hanging firm even when things don’t turn out the way you’d like. It’s a hard lesson. Life isn’t fair.