My daughter Lainey is four years old and I love her. Her two favorite pastimes are playing with friends and eating dessert.
At an outdoor play date the other day there were five kids, two parents, garden digging, cardboard painting, hula-hooping and soccer. The kids were doing great… and then came cookie time.
The hosting mom brought a large platter of petite frosted sugar cookies onto the patio. The kids attacked.
“Now, share!” the mom snapped.
One boy seized the plate and stuffed his mouth. The mom snatched the plate from him, set it down and pled with the boy to behave. Meanwhile, all cookies were swiped. The mom dragged the ornery boy into the house and left me to supervise.
“How many cookies did you get?” a blonde girl asked, pointing her finger.
“Two,” a little boy answered.
“One. And then this one,” answered another girl while holding up a cookie in one hand.
Lainey’s lips were crumby and she held a cookie in each hand. She paused to add it up. “Four," she spat through a mouthful.
The blonde’s jaw dropped. “Lainey had four cookies!” she shrieked.
“Lainey had four cookies!” the other girl echoed.
The girls continued yelling, “Lainey had four!”
I shrugged. They ran into the house to tell the mom.
Lainey clutched her cookies and watched the girls run inside. I saw the wheels turning in her head, weighing cookie lust against the need for social acceptance. The pressure peaked, she crumbled, and tears rolled down her cheeks.
“They’re yelling at me, Dad!” she cried.
“It’s just cookies,” I said and held her. “No big deal.”
The little boy joined us and curiously watched Lainey cry.
“How many cookies have you had?” I asked him.
“Give one of your cookies to Mark, Lainey. Now you both have three.”
She considered it a second, handed one over, then ran to the doorway and yelled, “Hey! I only had three cookies! So did Mark! Three!”
The girls reappeared on the patio.
“It’s just cookies anyway,” Lainey scoffed. “No big deal.”
The drama subsided, and the kids were buds again, but sharing is tough. Altruism is not instinctive—it’s exhausting. Desire, aggression, math, remorse, vindication… Lainey took a nap when we got home.