just ponderin'

… on freakin’ should people, and the rule book

At 5:30 a.m. yesterday morning I left Lexington, Kentucky traveling northeast at an average speed of 74 miles per hour. If I only stopped when absolutely necessary (and once at a Five Guys burger place because you can’t just drive by those), and avoided the George Washington Bridge, what time would I reach Dunstable, Massachusetts?

Wrong! (but only because I totally know that your brain exploded when you realized that was a word problem).

The answer is “Late”.

Okay, for you math geeks, it was 10:04 p.m.

So today I am a tired woman. And, after being gone for a week, I’m back at Command Central (my nearly perfect husband’s term for our house, from which all things flow (money, advice, guidance, money, pep talks, money, encouragement, money, love, and um – oh ya – money)).

The bi-annual drives take place for several reasons, not the least of which is that Sam’s instrument of choice was not the jazz flute, which I heavily encouraged early on due to its portability.  Plus, who doesn’t love jazz flute?

So, by the time we loaded Olive (Sam’s big bass), Sam’s other stuff, and Mac’s stuff (and by stuff, I mean ‘shoes’) in the car, there was only room for two of us. So Mac, who does not appreciate the hilarity and adventure of a road trip the way Sam and I do, flew down and we picked her up at the airport in New Orleans. We spent a couple of days moving Sam in, meeting up with his friends, and showing Mac around (translation: eating beignets) and then she and I headed up to Kentucky via Nashville.  And, I will tell you, people thought I was nuts.  Absolutely nuts.

And no matter how many times I would say that I enjoy the drive, and was looking forward to the trip, folks would offer up alternatives. As in, “Couldn’t you just ship the bass down and just let Sam fly?” or “Can’t you just send Mac’s stuff to her?” or “Why didn’t they just get a storage locker?” This is so confusing to me. I absolutely get the, “Oh my God, I could never do that!” To which I would laugh and agree that it sounds crazy but we love it. But offering alternatives, when I’m not complaining or asking for advice, because the concept of driving wouldn’t sit well with them? This is dangerously close to one of my few, big pet peeves.

Should People.

Shudder.

Now, I should clarify something right away. I am not a black and white person. Not even close. I am happy dancing my way through life in a world made up of infinite shades of gray.  I don’t insist that everyone be comfortable with shades of gray. I’m not opposed to black and white people. Some of my best friends are black and white people (I have no puce friends though. I am lacking in that department, and I wish I wasn’t, because I like to say puce (which in the ’90s I think was called ‘dusty rose’, but I wouldn’t call my puce friend that)). What I have trouble with is the concept that there are folks who believe that there is one way to approach something and, most of the time, it’s their way.

Here are a few things that would not have happened in my life if I followed the edicts of ‘Should People’:

Should person edict: You are too young to just date one person. You should date many people through college.

What wouldn’t have happened: I would not be married to my nearly perfect husband. (side note: John is outraged at this statement. He believes he could have come out on top even if there was a lot of competition. Also, when I mentioned that I could have been dating the 1984 version of Channing Tatum, John didn’t flinch and said that he would put his 1984 hair up against 1984 Channing Tatum’s hair any day. In addition, John also wants you to know he is in no way threatening me as I type this (nor is he typing this. (He wouldn’t do that)).

Should person edict:  You should never be spontaneous with a housing purchase.

What wouldn’t have happened: We would not have bought and restored the house in Maine.

Should person edict:  Children should go to college within three hours from home

What wouldn’t have happened: Mac and Sam would not be having great adventures and experiences in areas of the country they may never have seen, let alone deeply experiencing the differences in people and cultures that they are getting by living (vs. visiting) in these places.

Should person edict: You should just accept that your son (dyslexic, hearing impaired, and recent life-threatening seizure survivor) might never graduate high school, let alone college. You should put him in a program he can handle.

What wouldn’t have happened: Sam would never have graduated high school (last few semesters on honor and high honor roll) and would not have gotten into college, where he is currently working toward his dreams. (side note here: Sam was the one who came to us and said that he knew himself, and that he would rise to the level of work expected of him (and that the opposite was true as well). We fought the ‘should’ recommendations with him. He won. And the kid rocked the rest.)

Now, here’s the funny thing: I do not tell anyone that they should date just one person in college, or spontaneously purchase real-estate, or ship their kids off to college at least three hours away, or not take advantage of certain special needs programs.  You do what makes sense to you. I’m totally cool with that.  I’m more of a wait and see gal. If I think you are nuts for proceeding down a certain path, and you are a dear friend, I might say ‘Wow, that sounds nuts’ but then I’m really interested in where things might go from there. Who knows!

I loved Steve Jobs’ Commencement to Stanford in 2005. He encouraged the graduates not to be trapped by other people’s dogma. He also made it clear that we can only connect the dots backward in life, and that we have to trust that the dots will connect forward, as we set out on our paths. There are no guarantees.  Steve Jobs may not have been a perfect person (who is?), but he gave a near-perfect speech that day.  I’ve listened to it many times. It flies in the face of the word, ‘should’. Hmmmmm….

Where was I?

Oh!

And Should People aren’t just concerned with your big life choices either. Once, at a local food place (the one that has very expensive fresh fruit and cheeses and even a plant nursery, and John calls it a cult because I’m so in love with going there) I picked up some really yummy looking green grapes and a woman standing behind me said that the red ones were sweeter. I looked at her, thinking she was just commenting to the universe. And I was still looking at the green ones and this woman said, again, that the red ones were sweeter. Weird. So I said that my kids really liked the green ones, and she said – as if I just didn’t get it – that most people go for green because they are used to them, but the red ones were sweeter.

And then she didn’t go away!

So here’s something very unexpected (according to my friends and family) about me. I am very easy-going in general. I have one friend who accuses me of not even knowing when I’m being insulted. I tend to let those types of things roll off my back. But I have a ridiculously powerful oppositional reflex to Should People. Like that day, I looked right into the eyes of ‘Ms. Red Grapes are Sweeter’ and plopped three 1 lb. bags of grapes in my cart. And then I turned around and walked toward the grapefruit.

Just. Like. That.

Oh ya. I am a super powerful human.

If you tell me you read a really good book last week, I might ask you about it and even pick it up based on your excitement. If you tell me I should read a certain book because it changed your life. I might not do it. And if you want to ensure that I not read the book, like ever, ask me about it every single time you see me (as in, “Did you read that book yet? Oh you absolutely should!”) I will probably run to another section of Barnes and Noble if I see it.

Not kidding.

A woman the other day asked me and Mac if we’d seen My Fair Lady and when we said we had not, she was absolutely adamant that we should see it. And she even asked us about our schedule over the next few days (before we left on our trip) to make sure we had time to see it together because it is so good, and then she said if it wasn’t on ‘On Demand’ that it was probably at the video store and we could get it on our way home because everyone should see it and it was a crime that we hadn’t. I was so uncomfortable that I thought I might climb out of my skin as I smiled and tried to back away. And Mac was feeling exactly the same as I was!

It must be a genetic trait.

We’ll probably never see that movie now.  The mere mention of it will probably make us laugh out loud for the rest of our lives. Seriously, don’t even buy it as a joke for us for Christmas. We’ll use it as a bookend (and probably draw a mustache on Audrey Hepburn).

I was once walking Princess Blaze on the Land Trust trails near my house. She is barky when it comes to other dogs. Not people. Just dogs. She was off leash while I took a photo, when another dog came down the trail in the opposite direction. She barked him up. She didn’t run right up to him, just took a couple of steps forward and stopped and barked (She’s a Princess, after all. He was clearly not approaching properly and, most likely, would not curtsy correctly). Turns out his owner was a trainer, who proceeded to tell me what I should do with my dog (A dog she had never met, or even seen, before). That I didn’t have the collar I should have. That I wasn’t reacting to her the way I should react.

And then she even tried to take Blaze’s leash to show me how to do a few things as yet another dog rounded the bend and ran up to us like a crazed jackal. So here I am with Blaze, now leashed, with psycho dog running and leaping around us and a loopy trainer trying to take Blaze’s leash from me. And all I can think of is ‘What the Hell?! Isn’t this crazed Beagle – who is leaping and barking and out of control – a better candidate for your should training?!”

And after the Beagle finally ran off with his owner, and Blaze was exhausted (and I was totally flustered), I told Blaze to lie down, and she did. And the woman actually said, “See. This is what we want.”

Huh?!

I didn’t even know what to say to that.  So I said “You have a very unique perspective on training.” Which, in my mind, even a layman cryptographer could have decoded into its true meaning – which was “GO AWAY!” – but this woman was clearly clueless (having not read Deciphering Social Cues for Dummies).

So she kept talking and I listened and I finally asked her for the Rule Book.

As in, “Do you have a copy of the Rule Book?”

This is my secret weapon question for Should People. You can use it too. I decided not to trademark it or copyright it because I want it available to all mankind (sort of like the moon).

And the Should Trainer stopped and looked confused. She may have even tilted her head to the side, like Blaze was doing during this whole exchange.

Should Trainer: “The what?”

Me: “The Rule Book.” (as if it were the most rational request in the world.)

Should Trainer: “Which one?”

Me: “There’s more than one?”

Should Trainer: “Training Book?”

Me: “No. Rule Book.”

Should Trainer: “I don’t understand.”

Me: “You seem so certain. Like there’s a set of rules for dog training …”

Should Trainer: “The research shows that (insert a bunch of training stuff here. I wasn’t really absorbing at that point).”

Me: “Oh, I know. I’ve read a lot of training books. The thing is that there is a lot of conflicting information and opinions. I just want the Rule Book.”

Should Trainer: “Oh, I know right? Wouldn’t that be nice.” (rolls eyes, sighs and smiles as if we are in full agreement on her psycho beagle based training techniques.)

Me: “I guess. Unless the rules were different from yours.”

I was absolutely calm, and even smiling. This was an astoundingly interesting conversation for me. I waited for what I said to sink in.

Should Trainer: “Well the research shows…”

Ugh.

The deal is this: There are very few real requirements for ‘shoulds’ in the world. There’s a lot of what feels right to each of us, as individuals. But what feels right for me, might not feel right for you. But that doesn’t mean that either one of us is wrong. Red grapes, green grapes; best book, worst book; training method of the moment or not; fashion trend of the moment, or old jeans and t-shirts… Can you really apply ‘should’ to these things? Are there really rules?

I often wondered what would be in the Rule Book if there really were one. Not one related to any organized religion, but just to humanity in general. I would like to believe it contains just a few rules, so that they are easy to remember (and so that I don’t need colored index cards to study for a quiz on them).

Maybe:

Be nice.

Love when possible.

Don’t hurt people.

Help when and where you can.

Don’t be afraid to say you’re sorry.

Try.

I suppose ‘don’t break the law’ might be a good one, just for society and all. But my point is that we are all different. There are many ways to reach a goal, and many goals that can be aimed for. ‘Should’ and ‘Shouldn’t’ are very powerful words and both have their appropriate uses (like “You shouldn’t put your hand on that hot stove, little Johnny” and “You shouldn’t try to wrestle a strange German Shepherd’s leash away from her owner while a crazed Beagle is present”), but both are overused I think. Believing that our way is the only way can lead to feelings of superiority and self-righteousness (and women staring blankly at you while plopping three pounds of green grapes in their shopping cart).

Luckily this is easy to remember: Watch your use of the word ‘should’.

You should do that.

Or not.

Maybe you shouldn’t.

(But I’m gonna).

Thanks for readin’.

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