We recently went on a vacation to Florida. It really could not have been better; the weather was idyllic, the ocean had the perfect waves, there was a giant water slide and constant poolside activities for the kids. One early afternoon they offered face painting. Milo got right in line to get his face painted like a vampire. The red paint around his mouth was dripping down his chin like blood in the hot sun. Gino was next. I checked in on him then I went to put something at the chairs. As I was about to walk back to watch his face painting progress, I saw him speed walking, stiffly toward me. I noticed one of the staff members racing behind him. As he threw himself into my chest, she stood in front of me, shaking. My heart thumped hard, was it food? When I pulled him away from me, would he be covered in hives? Would he be covered in vomit? Would he be coughing and gasping? I pulled him away, and all I could think was Thank God, he was only covered in blood. I mean, how sick is it that I reveled at the sight of blood? His lips were pursed to catch the drops trickling from his nose. He had fallen into a very deep and rocky flowerbed. He was fighting hard not to cry in front of everyone so we hurried to the room and got him cleaned up. We placed the obligatory band-aids on the scrapes on his chest, covered his nose in a thick coat of Neosporin and put an ice pack on his face. He was sad. Not because he fell into the flowerbed but because he may have missed the face painting.
When we returned to the pool, the face painters had waited for him and since his face was pretty beat up, they drew a huge snake up his arm. I saw the woman who witnessed the fall approaching us. She was holding an apologetic smoothie in her out-stretched hands… a peace offering. I mean, as if he hadn’t been through enough already. I walked away from Gino as he finished getting the snake tail painted and let her know that he was allergic to milk. When she asked about a cookie, I told her he was allergic to egg. When she suggested a bag of pretzels, I told her he was allergic to wheat. I stopped her in the middle of her litany of food suggestions, knowing that it was futile, and I suggested instead a non-food item. She returned ten minutes later with an orange Ugly doll and a t-shirt that burst into colors in the sun. Gino was suddenly the happiest kid in town. The fall became his very favorite part of vacation. You can ask him!
Every game that the kid’s club hosted, Gino would win. When he won the limbo, instead of an ice cream cone, he won an orange juice and three Chai tea bags (I think my mom had some influence on that prize)! When he won the balloon hula-hoop toss, instead of getting a bag of goldfish, he got two free movie rentals. For a guy who couldn’t indulge in the poolside refreshments, he sure was making out like a bandit.
Toward the end of our vacation, Sal and Milo were feeling a bit slighted from all of the attention that Gino was getting. In fact, Milo was so desperate for the same kind of attention from the staff that he wanted me to tell them that he nearly broke his neck in a wave. The wave barely covered his head, but he could not have been more serious. Sal felt like he deserved a cheese quesadilla from the poolside restaurant because frankly, it was safe for him and he wanted it. I said no many times but somehow I turned around and he had weaseled his way into getting one. As Sal was licking his bean-and-cheese-filled fingers, Milo honed in on this and begged me for a quesadilla too. He felt that being able to eat one without Gino would somehow level the playing field. I couldn’t muster up the energy to talk to the chef and find out if the quesadilla had egg or soy or if there may be any cross contamination issues. I knew this wasn’t fair of me but we had great alternatives and I simply didn’t want to take the chance. As a consolation, I told him that I would bring him to Chipotle the day we returned to Chicago. It wasn’t a great deal and he knew it, but it would be good enough.
The instant the plane’s wheels hit the concrete a few days later, Milo piped up, “Mommy, remember you promised me a cheese quesadilla?” but when we pulled into the garage, the kids were exhausted. We had been up at 4am and it was showing. I put them on the couch in front of an episode of Bubble Guppies and hoped that they would sleep. I set off to the grocery store. As I was about to head out though, Sal jumped up and said he wanted to go with me. He knew that going on this trip would likely result in food. I could see hunger in his eyes, and of course, he was right, he would get food. He hadn’t forgotten Milo’s cheese quesadilla promise and suggested that it would be totally unfair if he didn’t get one too. A large cheese quesadilla with a side of black beans and chocolate cow’s milk. $5.
When we returned home through some sixth-food-sense, Milo could tell Sal had eaten at Chipotle. Maybe he could see the satiety in Sal’s eyes. Milo insisted, in no uncertain terms, that it was his turn. I could not have been more exhausted. He couldn’t have been more insistent. As Milo got dressed, I saw Gino’s eyes gaze downward. Despite all of the spoiling on vacation, this was different for him. His expression rode directly on the border between sadness and anger. I don’t even think he knew which emotion that he felt more. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to cry or slam a door. Even though the quesadillas were meant to even out some inequality from vacation, vacation was over. We were back home and suddenly things didn’t feel fair. I told him to think of something special he wanted to do with me when Milo and I got back. At Chipotle, Milo joyfully shoved down his cheese quesadilla with a side of black beans and a chocolate cow’s milk. $5.
When Milo and I got home, Gino was sitting on the stairs with his coat on. As we headed out, from the couch, Lucy yelled out, “Me? Pink surprise?” I couldn’t believe that she was in on this too! Gino chose to go to the toy store. We first picked out the cheapest but cutest pink surprise we could find. A pink bracelet. $10. Then I encouraged Gino to choose a small toy, perhaps a multicolored pen or a puzzle or a deck of cards. He, instead, found a build-it-yourself transistor radio and once he set his sights on that toy, nothing else could measure up. $20.
It cost me $40 that day to make things feel fair. Obviously, I am not the master negotiator. But boy, if a build-it-yourself radio helps ease the ache of a quesadilla-less world and make things feel right and just, so be it. I know that there will come a time when all of this overcompensation simply won’t be enough and no matter how many toys or color-changing t-shirts that I shower over him, he will come to the very true realization that it just isn’t fair. I hope that when all I have left to offer him is a big hug that somehow that will be enough for both of us.