Monday, September 19, 2011

Play: Even Steven, fair and square

One day when I was eight and my brother was four, as I sat in my third grade classroom laboring over my cursive letters and erasing holes in my math worksheets, my mother and my brother spent a fantastically fun day at Showbiz Pizza.

Showbiz Pizza was our Chuck E. Cheese and a place I had been only once, for a friend's extravagant birthday party.Hearing from my happy, blond bowl-cutted little brother about his exciting day, seeing his telltale helium balloon bobbing merrily in our living room, I felt stabbed in my pizza and skee ball-loving heart. My mother, hoping that I might respond rationally, downplayed the whole thing: he'd only had a hot dog, just a dollar's worth of tokens, they'd found the balloon in the ladies room.

None of it mattered to me. For months, I simmered over the two of them and their failure to spend their days sitting quietly on the living room couch waiting for the school bus to bring me home and signal the all clear to resume activity. For years, I included that day in my mental list of family slights.

It all ended last week with a  double chocolatey chip frappuccino.

I was out with Little E trying to kill time before we had to go home to the guys who were installing our cabinets and who tend to greet my midday return by smiling at me in a tolerant-but-just-barely way that makes me feel like I am their teacher and I have just invited myself to join their lunch table. Out of desperation for something to do, in the belief that I deserved a reward for my four hours of work and for putting up with the inconvenience of increasing my counter space, I decided that the conditions merited a mocha frappucinno.

As I steered toward Starbucks, I began to falter. Last spring during a frappuccino happy hour promotion, I had inadvertently (and ridiculously) gotten the girls hooked. A trip to Starbucks while Big E toiled in the classroom would be a jab to her heart, I knew, but I really wanted that drink. I realized then how my mother must have felt when, trying to entertain a preschooler and likely bored herself, she sought solace in a midday quickie at Showbiz Pizza. I decided that I couldn't just sit home and wait for the school bus, that Big E could get hers another time.

Torn between not wanting to hurt Big E with the knowledge of all the frappuccino-fueled fun that her sister and I would have that day, and not wanting to enourage overt dishonesty, I concocted a fiction that I thought would serve us all: I told Little E that sometimes if hearing about something would make someone sad, we should spare that person the upset and not tell her at all.

You can, of course, imagine the upset that ensued the next morning when the girls piled into the backseat for the ride to school and Big E saw in her sister's cupholder that telltale cup, with its taunting mermaid and haze of whipped cream residue. She was appeased only by the promise of her own trip to Starbucks that weekend.

And when that trip came to pass, Little E was furious to be left behind and feigned total ignorance of the concept of fairness and equity. More promises were made, and one day soon we will all be going to Chuck E. Cheese.

Fair's fair.

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