Monday, September 8, 2008

You Ought to Read This

I was watching television on Sunday afternoon, and heard a foreign policy analyst say something uncharacteristically brilliant. "Sometimes," he said slowly, "we need to focus not on what we ought to do, but what we can do."

Whether his statement holds true with respect to foreign policy, I don't know. It does seem to be one of those fundamental truths that might apply to my daily life, though.

Sometimes, I need to focus not on what I ought to do, but what I can do.

I have a coffee mug that has a great quote from JFK on it.

Stop smirking, there's nothing remotely funny about owning a coffee mug that has JFK quotes on it.

It says, "Ideals are like stars. You will not succeed in touching them with your hands...[but] if you choose them as your guides, you can reach your destiny."

Ideals determine how we decide as individuals and communities what we "ought" to do.

Ideally, polite people always say thanks and please.
Ideally, a parent is always empathetic, and never resorts to power plays to get what they want.
Ideally, a spouse is compassionate, giving and understanding when it comes to their husband or wife.
Ideally, a blog post doesn't ramble on with numerous examples when trying to make a point.

But ideals are not real, and I tend to forget that.

My coffee mug is right, I can't touch ideals with my hands. When I think I can be my ideal, instead of recognizing it as an implausible guideline, I find myself teetering on the dangerous path towards apathy and even inaction. Sometimes, it seems that the whole universe moves against my quest to attain my ideals, and doing what I ought to do to reach them proves totally impossible.

On a day, for example, where I think I can be the ideal parent, the following can (and has) happened.

I conduct a daring rescue of my daughter from her fourth day of preschool only to be handed a pink folder by her teacher which contains twenty minutes worth of homework in it. Instead of sitting her in my lap and letting her recuperate from the trauma of preschool in front of an episode of Diego, I must now sit with her at the breakfast table and do her "math homework." Being only three years old and having been at school for six hours, my daughter thinks it is way more fun to play "Pencil Pick Up." I finally lose it after the fourth round of this game and tell her if she doesn't start paying attention to me, I will give her a time out. And that I might, and I'm not proud of this, send her back to school today.

Not my finest moment as a mother.

I ought to have just let her watch TV. I ought to have laughed at her game of picking up her pencil. I ought to have understood that she was tired, and she didn't want to sit. I ought to have remembered that there is something fundamentally flawed in making a three year old do homework. But I didn't.

Days like that make me want to just throw my hands up and scream, "You know what, this is just stupid. I am never going to be able to (end world hunger, make people listen, be a size 2), so I'm just going to (become an investment banker, watch TV, order a Big Mac)." And, then, instead of doing what I can, I beat myself up because I think I'll never be the person that I "ought" to be.

But, you know what? A foreign relations analyst on CNN reminded me that doing what I can is just as good as doing what I should. Because, often, what I can do is all that's possible.

Trying to be ideal and doing it badly is far better than having no ideals, or worse, doing nothing about them at all. There's nothing wrong with wanting perfection or trying to achieve perfection as long as you know that perfection is not real.

Real is what you do and why you do it.

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Blogger Crys said...

i love this whole post.

i often live my life that way, based on "should do" and "ought to". it's what happens when we're striving for those ideals that matters. and really, it's the good stuff.

Tuesday, 09 September, 2008  
Blogger Avitable said...

I don't have any ideals. I'm just perfect as is.

Tuesday, 09 September, 2008  
Anonymous Happy Mommy said...

This is exactly the kind of thing I have to keep reminding myself of, as a parent. I often find myself feeling like maybe I'm not qualified for this 'mom stuff.' Then I remember that I often do what I "ought" to do, and the times when I don't I have to realize that I'm human.

Tuesday, 09 September, 2008  
Blogger Komal said...

This post reminded me of a book I was thinking about sending to Nuha. It was called "So Few of Me" by Peter H.Reynolds. I thought it was cute, it was all about doing your best or all you 'can' do. I know your post was mostly centered around ideals, but I still think it's a good transitional book for kids who are having to pick up more responsablities such as preschool. :) I liked the quote by JFK.

Tuesday, 09 September, 2008  
Blogger sybil law said...

I need to live by both those quotes more often than I do.
But your 3 year old has homework?!
That's ridiculous!

Tuesday, 09 September, 2008  
Anonymous Traci said...

Brilliant, just brilliant!
I agree with Sybil, on the homework issue too.

Tuesday, 09 September, 2008  
Blogger Faiqa said...

crys: Thanks, it feels good to know that I'm not alone :)

avitable : Dude. Seriously. You're getting out of control with all the self love. DO NOT EVEN THINK ABOUT expounding on the various meanings of "self love" here.

happy mommy: The major qualifications for mommyhood are good intentions, lots of love and def. being human.

komal : I love JFK. I have all of his speeches on CD. Is that dorky?

sybil: It is ridiculous. Is it wrong that I just did the homework for her tonight? I hope I didn't just jeopardize her chances of getting into MIT.

traci: I'll pass along your disapproving virtual glare to Nuha's teacher.

Tuesday, 09 September, 2008  
Blogger Komal said...


Tuesday, 09 September, 2008  
Blogger HoosierGirl5 said...

Hey....popped over here from Avitable's. This is an excellent post! I wholeheartedly agree with you on all points, but particularly that homework for 3 yr. olds is totally ridiculous.

I am so glad I "met" you. Feel free to stop by my place sometime. I'm a teacher, too.


Wednesday, 10 September, 2008  
Blogger Faiqa said...

hoosiergirl5: I will def. stop by & thanks for reading/commenting!

Wednesday, 10 September, 2008  
Blogger sybil law said...

I actually know someone who went to MIT. He tried to kill his mom. True story. He was a genius, but crazy as a loon.
I'd have done her homework, too!

Wednesday, 10 September, 2008  

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