While we are constantly negotiating issues around equity and fairness in little and big ways daily, this one recent incident caused both P and me to pause, since we were really unsure what to do.
Last week, we went to a dance performance that included some audience participation. We were warned at the start of the show that because there was a large number of children attending, not all would get picked to join in. I immediately started to fret, remembering this incident. P and I were sure to repeat the performer's words that not everyone would get to participate directly to our guys, adding our own "but it will still be fun no matter what." We were there with a friend from school, and early on, one of the dancers came over and grabbed our friend's hand, C's, and F's. S watched patiently, enjoying his brothers and friend scrambling out on the stage. Each time the dancers came looking for more participants, S held up his hand but was continually passed over. As the performance grew on, I had a harder and harder time enjoying the other kids' dancing, worrying about S's feelings and wondering how pushy I should be (or not) about getting him picked. At one point when we quietly asked him how he was doing, he turned and said, "It'll be Ok if I don't get to do it," but no sooner did those words leave his mouth, he was wiping tears from his cheeks. It was heartbreaking watching him trying to hold it together, to enjoy the show, but yearning to participate.
If only the other three weren't chosen, perhaps we would not have been so uptight about S not getting to participate. Ultimately, we knew it wouldn't be tragic if he didn't get to dance but there would be hurt feelings and surely some fall-out. Was this a good time for him to learn the "life's not fair" lesson? We weren't sure, but neither P or I thought it appropriate to intervene with the professional dancers' pickings. In the end, just before the performance finished, one of the tall, willowy Italian dancers came over and gently grabbed S's hand. He bounded out to the stage and both P and I audibly sighed, as if we were holding our breath since the time his brothers scampered out there. From our darkened row, we could suddenly just be, drink in the moment, and watch S delight in his opportunity.
Interestingly enough, after the performance, another parent came over to our side of the auditorium to speak with her friend. Loudly, she began complaining with grand indignation how those dancers kept passing over her child and had the nerve to pick the kid next to him, three times, in fact. She went on to kvetch about the dancers and their seemingly-targeted snub (in her eyes) of her son, especially since she had told them again and again that her child didn't get a turn but this neighboring kid did over and over. The whole experience was clearly ruined for her (and most probably her child), and while I had just been feeling the anxiety of potentially hurt feelings from S, she was a good checkpoint for us. This mom wanted to do right by her son. I totally got that. However, her bitterness about the injustice done to her son just sounded... just wrong somehow.