Monday, January 8, 2018

Shoulds

INGRID THOFT

Last Monday on JRW we tackled the topic of resolutions.  Some people are fans of setting ambitious goals on January 1st, while others think it’s a set up for failure.  As I contemplated Jenn’s post, I kept coming back to “The Shoulds. What are they exactly, other than sounding like something from “The Phantom Tollbooth?”

“The Shoulds” are all those things I think I’m supposed to do:  the things I should be doing.  I should be eating more protein.  I should be writing X number of words a day.  I should be emailing that friend with whom I haven’t had much contact recently.  I should, I should, I should.  Make no mistake, I do want to do these things, but somehow, the motivation gets quashed by the feeling that I have no choice.  

I decided to pay greater attention to my shoulds for a couple of days.  It was an interesting exercise during which I realized that I should on myself a lot!  Given that I’m a basically productive and healthy human being, it seemed extreme how often I was scolding myself about a potential course of action.  So I decided to start questioning my shoulds.  There are some shoulds that are a given and can be backed up with solid evidence:  You should brush your teeth if you want to hold on to your pearly whites for years to come.  However, should I eat fish when the burger is more appealing?  Should I volunteer for another project when I feel overbooked as it is?  Maybe.  Sometimes, a should is really a building block to a greater desire: I should eat the fish because I want to keep my cholesterol in check.  But sometimes?  A should is just full of should.

Tell me Reds, do you battle “The Shoulds” on a regular basis?  Do you have some you’ve banished from your life?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: That is such a fascinating way of looking at the world. One thing I noticed: I often say to myself--"Oh, Hank, that is SO dumb." And I realize that might be a bit unnecessary.  Why am I criticizing myself? When I should be my biggest fan? 


I guess my to-do list is my shoulds. I SHOULD write the article. I SHOULD plan the class. I should do my words for the day, answer emails. I should call my family more.  That's a very important should which I too often put off.  I should read more broadly, but why, when the next Shari Lapena  or Clare Macintosh is coming out? 

As for the food things, they always change those anyway. So I just say, well, I think they're wrong about bacon, I think it's fine. I should have more.

HALLIE EPHRON: Ah, bacon. And eggs. And steak. And crispy pan-roasted potatoes… and really good heirloom tomatoes.

Yes, I often get a case of the shoulds. Should walk not drive. Should write more words. Should volunteer for X. Should not take credit for getting husband to volunteer for X. Should buy the bargain brand.

I think overall it's a good thing, that inner taskmaster. Until it keeps you up at night. Because really, you should get a good night's rest.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Do you think this is something that mostly afflicts women? I mean, we're all kind of socialized to take care of things - spouse, kids, house, community - and there is a relentless drumbeat of articles and images in media telling us we're not good enough as we are: lose weight, eat better, entertain more, Martha Stewart your house, etc. 

I really noticed this several years ago, when our church needed another adult to serve with the youth group. NO ONE had stepped up. I didn't want to, because I had just ended a ten-year stint teaching 3 and 4 year olds in Sunday School. I talked to Ross about it: "You should do this. You're a teacher, and you love this age group."

Ross: "No, I don't want to make the time commitment. I want to read the paper at Coffee By Design after church, not sit in the undercroft with thirteen-year-olds."

Me: "But NOBODY is coming forward! And I'd really rather not."

Ross: "Then don't!"

Of course, I did. It turned out to be a wonderful experience - although it did take a LOT of time - but I was struck by how easy it was for Ross, a good and caring guy, to prioritize what he wanted over what he "should" have done. I'm not saying men don't feel it - if you should take out the garbage, you should take out the garbage - but I don't think it drives them the way it does most women.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Julia, I think you are so right on the gender thing. It's not the first time I've realized that my hubby does not suffer in the least from the SHOULDS. If he wants to do something, he does it. If he doesn't, he doesn't. I, however, live in a universe of shoulds. A lot of them are just practical (should plan meals, should shop for groceries, should pay bills, should WORK) but too many are obligations that I don't have to do. I am getting a little better at saying "NO." 

And reminding myself not to beat myself up, like Hank. Too often I catch myself saying, "That is so stupid. I am such a dummy." Would I say that to my granddaughter? NO. Then I shouldn't be saying it to myself, either. Wait, is that a should?

JENN McKINLAY: Shoulda Coulda Woulda - I find I say that more than I should. Ha! I have really let go of "shoulds" over the past few years. Frankly, I just don't have the time or the stamina. Julia, I think you are 100% correct that it is different for women. I live with three men. I am woefully outnumbered, and it is even worse because all three of them are musicians. If there is an available hour in their day, it doesn't occur to them to give away time they can be playing guitar/drums to volunteer or, say, scrub a toilet, pick up after someone else, etc. and so forth.

And here's the biggest difference, if something isn't done, they don't consider it a reflection upon their character like I do (used to do). I think they are wearing me down (which is a good thing), because I no longer get in a tizzy if the house is a mess (it pretty much always is) and I don't feel like a failure if my world doesn't look like it popped up out of Pinterest. Woulda coulda shoulda  - Meh. Life is too short to spend it beating myself up (that's what book reviewers are for - LOL), but I'm with Hank. Bacon is always a good idea.

LUCY BURDETTE: It's not so much that shoulds feel like a reflection on my character, as I prefer things to be neat and tied up. John is a sweetheart and truly a team player, but he can step right over a mess--he literally doesn't see it. If you don't see it, you don't feel you should do something about it, right? I think that's part of the male/female difference, and it may very well be socialized.

RHYS BOWEN: I think I've spent a lifetime of shoulds. The good child who always got As and turned in homework on time. Vice president and editor of the college newspaper. And after that met every deadline, volunteered at schools and church and community.... I don't think I've ever goofed off! How boring is that?

So I've been overwhelmed with shoulds. Like Julia I tell myself that somebody has to do it and nobody else has stepped up so it has to be me. But now I'm asking why I have to be the only good child. And I'm only now just learning to say NO. It's very kind of you to invite me to speak at your fundraiser, but sorry, I don't really want to.

Rhys' inspiration by poet Jenny Joseph
So from now on I'm going to be the poster child for "when I get old I'm going to wear purple."   And as I'm writing this I'm thinking I have ten minutes before I have to go to church for choir practice and get the breakfast started before John gets back from his church. And I need to write five pages today. So I guess I'm not exactly going to wear purple yet! 



Readers?  What do you think about "The Shoulds?"

79 comments:

  1. No one can castigate themselves over a “should” better than I can, but I am getting better about not automatically saying “yes” or volunteering for something I’m not really keen on doing myself. I have to admit, though, that it’s quite difficult and I still get caught up in things because I didn’t have the gumption to refuse.
    As for the bacon, I occasionally announce that the meal I am cooking will contain absolutely no bacon just to prove that I can. But I really like bacon [and it’s good in lots of dishes] so that doesn’t happen too often . . . .

    I’d have to agree with the whole “men don’t suffer from shoulds,” except that John regularly does things like emptying the dishwasher and once when I asked why he was doing it, he just shrugged and said, “Because I can do it.” Nice!

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  2. Good for you for occasionally testing your bacon will, Joan. But don't do it too often! John is definitely a keeper!

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  3. Let's see if Blogger allows this post...second try!

    Yes, the Shoulds have been a part of my life forever. The Type A perfectionist who wanted to do everything (right), and take on more.

    But I have been a lot easier on myself the last few years. Almost burning out at work was a wake-up call. So learning to say NO has helped. Delegating tasks to others. And I realized a lot of the Shoulds were WANTS and not NEEDS.

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    1. That's a good point, Grace. Being able to delineate SHOULD from WANTS. Also, we all carry a lot of SHOULDS that really belong to other people: "You should do this..." or "I'd like you to..."

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    2. Agree with you, Julia. I lot of my Shoulds came from my parents, grandparents and first bosses. I am sure they meant well but it took me a while to figure out it was ok to say NO to those expectations.

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    3. Excellent points, Grace and Julia. It's worth thinking about the origins of our shoulds.

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  4. I like the idea of wearing purple with a red hat, myself!

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    1. As so I. But then, those are our colors!

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    2. As long as I can throw in some turquoise, too. ;^)

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  5. I should have a case of The Shoulds, but like Ingrid says, I usually find motivation quashed almost as fast as I realize what I should be doing. It takes a team of horses to get me going sometimes.

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    1. Imagine if there were a cheeseburger at the end of every task...

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    2. with bacon I hope.

      And if there was, I still shouldn't complete a lot of "The Shoulds" because all those burgers can't be good for me.

      But I do like the way you think.

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  6. I find it amazing that you eight best selling authors with over 100 published books between you are caught up in the "shoulds". Goodness! What if our 'shoulds' could be turned into coulds? that way more will and choice is involved in our self talk.

    I think I stopped 'shoulding' on myself when I realized Martha Stewart was not following me around with a mini cam recording my life. My life; my choices. If the house has dust bunnies the size of a sasquatch, who knows except me, the kid, and the cats. About 20 years ago I think there was a study that said type B folks lived longer. With that in mind I let go a bit. I may not live longer, but I will be happier.

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    1. I like the idea of turning shoulds into coulds -- it gives it more of an element of choice and takes the pressure off. I could clean the bathroom right now (since no one else is going to do it), I could write, or I could spend a little more time on the internet. Right now it's Choice C, but likely later A and B will come into play.

      I agree that some of it is gender-related, and also maybe age-related somewhat? My 20 somethings still often need me to be there should person, especially around the house. *sigh*

      Fascinating topic, Ingrid.

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    2. Coralee, that made me laugh! Yes, we are quite the complicated group—all of us, I mean!

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    3. The idea of "coulds" instead of "shoulds" is really interesting, Coralee. I think it's always good to remember that, in most circumstances, we have a choice about what we take on and therefore accept as a priority. And I think the idea of looking at things in terms of a choice, MaryC.

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    4. Coralee, was that the period when Martha Stewart was IN PRISON????

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  7. Love this! And I'm a 'charter member' of the 'shoulds' club. There is this little hamster or horrible little woman in my head who says all kinds of 'shoulds' to me - always has. I am getting a little better at quashing or maybe even smashing her/it/whatever. I agree with the gender difference, but I think that at the time I grew up (born in the late 50's) boys were taught one thing and girls another. My husband doesn't seem to have a horrible little man in his head shouting at him. I have been better at saying 'yes' to things like 'it's time to take your daily walk' and 'it's OK to say no to this or that thing' and 'life won't end if you go to bed with the dishwasher not emptied'. A work in progress. With a little bacon - only a little. LOL

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    1. Kaye, I think it might be easier to say no to the shoulds if I picture a little hamster in my head! Yuck. I need to get it out of there!

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  8. Psychologically "should" is a negative word tends to be a big disincentive.I suggest looking at that nagging list of "to-do" as opportunities to achieve greatness or at least satisfaction in having accomlished something as you look back on your day.

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  9. Beyond 'laugh every day" and "make someone else laugh" I don't do shoulds. Like Jenn said, life is too short!

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  10. Sometimes I get my shoulds done by making an appointment with myself. Because it's no use to do what you want to do but feel guilty about it. What a waste. So I say, okay, self, you can read this book, but at 3:15 you'll do ____. That often works!

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    1. I will sometimes see how much of an onerous task I can get done in a short amount of time. Only ten minutes? How much of the kitchen can I get cleaned up? I'm usually pleasantly surprised by how much I can accomplish.

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    2. Funny you “should” mention it Hank. I just finished the quotidian jobs—empty dishwasher, walk dogs, make bed, tidy kitchen. Then I made a cup of tea, but my eye fell o. Those boxes of CDs destined for the attic. I told Alexa to remind me in an hour, after the tea is drunk and the Reds have been read. It’s the beginnings new nag of today’s audio list!

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    3. (I reread all the above and have no idea why the audio corrects happened. Be glad I'm not a writer.)

      The boxes have been moved from the sun room to the bottom of the stairs. Enjoy, Julie. Next things are those pesky PT exercise. Either that or the torture chamber in the dungeon-I-mean-basement. Untenable

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  11. There is no try, only do, right? (Isn't that a mangled quote from Yoda?) It's hard to think in those terms, though. It helps me to have a written list, to tick off whenever those jobs/activities/responsibilities are completed/accomplished. That slows down the shoulds significantly.

    All last year I was in a daze, and I had to give myself permission to be so. Yes, I probably should have been writing, but I really felt my time was better spent staying informed and being as proactive as possible.

    The one "should" I keep in mind these days is to keep in touch with my mother. She'll be 88 this weekend, and is starting to get needier, at the same time as my brother, with whom she lives, is getting distracted by a new love. She wants me to spend time with her, and I want to make that effort while I still can, despite the fact that she lives an hour away.

    And life is too short for margarine. I much prefer butter over satin sandals!

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    1. I totally agree, Karen. No margarine. Never margarine!

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    2. There is no excuse for margerine. Ever.

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    3. Margarine never darkens my door!

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    4. But we have all been proven right, haven't we? I thought the current wisdom was that butter is actually healthier than margarine anyway!

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    5. I think so. Even before the studies came out. I mean, real is always better than fake, right?

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  12. Yesterday, I stripped the Christmas tree and piled all the decorations on a table before I collapsed in a chair. I could have returned to the short story I'm writing, but I SHOULD have boxed the decorations and inventoried each box with a sharpie before I packed it away. An ice skating competition on TV saved the day...I enjoyed the skating and got the job done before the dogs ate the ornaments.

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    1. I watched some of the skating, too, Margaret, and marveled at their talent. Those competitors must have had epic shoulds, I'm guessing, as they fought for a spot on the Olympic team.

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  13. Oh, Jenn, I feel your shoulds! "But I just got my guitar back from the shop!" "Which piece do you like best, A or B or C", while I'm in the middle of cooking, laundry, emptying the dishwasher, sweeping, etc. And I also catch myself beating up on myself--I wouldn't say that to my family or friends--I should know better!

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    1. We definitely need to stop beating up on ourselves. The world does enough of that for us!

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  14. Oh, the Shoulds! They just creep in, don't they? Ingrid, Hallie, Jenn, Julia & Rhys, I picked up on the volunteer theme and that is such a sneaky place for shoulds because it's usually something good and worthwhile that we're being asked to do. No one ever asks us to volunteer for something that is not a good cause...can you imagine a Signup Genius to provide alcohol to an underage party? or..."We need one more driver to bring graffiti artists to the art museum..."

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    1. LOL, Hillary! And some of us might, for a nanosecond, consider signing up!

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  15. I find the generalizations about men to be just a bit much. While we as a gender haven't exactly been distinguishing ourselves as caring, I think you'll find that many of us, myself included, are champions at shoulding on ourselves, and at beating up on ourselves for inevitably failing at some of them. We might not show it as much, because we shouldn't. Or wait, should we?

    Changes in sex roles over the course of our lifetimes have seen women taking on more of the shoulds that used to be assigned to men, such as providing for a family, and men taking on more psychological shoulds, such as expressing our feelings. It seems to me that the ability to accept some shoulds as key to who we are ("I shouldn't kill people"), and to recognize others as having been laid on us by others ("You should do everything you're asked to do") is a real key to mental health. Feeling guilt about the wrong things is not productive.

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    1. Well said, Jim, and you make such good points about the shoulds that have shifted between the sexes.

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    2. Jim, my husband would agree with you completely. He beats himself up constantly over what he thinks he should be doing.

      Luckily, he has me to balance out some of that, or he'd be worried sick all the time.

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  16. A good friend once told me, "The Shoulds will kill you." I believe him. I define the "Shoulds" as stuff I feel obligated to do with my free time to please others. That means the stuff I need to do for my job is off the table. I made that deal a long while back; I like to make my house payment and feed the dogs, therefore I work. The "Shoulds" impact the time I save for myself.

    I feel them most acutely when I'm on vacation. I find myself in some new place, armed with a list of things my friends have recommended, ever mindful of my sister, who documents everything, and I think, "I should go to this tourist attraction and take lots of pictures." But I don't want to. I argue with myself, that I likely won't be back here any time soon, so I really SHOULD. The first time I recognized a bad case of the "Shoulds" and said, "Screw that. It's my vacation. I'll go where I want and do what I want!" was a moment of liberation.

    And I think, in a way, that brings me back around to the male/female; play guitar/do laundry question. Women are trained to keep the household running. Men are generally not. If we don't train our sons to notice the pile of laundry on the floor, and put it in the washer their own damn selves, they will have all the free time and all the clean clothes, and we will have none of the free time, with only the fleeting satisfaction of having the laundry done today. In an ideal would, wouldn't everybody have both a few chores and some free time? Now there's a "Should" I can support!

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    1. I know some people whose entire vacations are chocked full of shoulds, and they never come home relaxed! Good for you, Gigi, for taking control of your time, and I love the way you describe work, and the deal you've made. When you think about the time as "your time" it makes giving in to the shoulds seem even worse!

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  17. NOT volunteering is easy for me. What's not easy is saying no when a nice person asks a favor. And yet I know it's worse if I agree to do it and then don't. Priorities.

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    1. Or agree to do it, and then resent having to do it. Better to say no from the get go.

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    2. I volunteered as a youth basketball coach for 25 years. Believe me, I'm never volunteering for anything ever again. I've done my time.

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  18. I grew up with a grandmother who was always telling me "you should..." so I hate the baggage that comes with that word. What if I don't want to? And I was the eldest child, so it was always assumed that I would do all those "shoulds" without a single complaint.

    And yes, I think men and women look at this different. Certainly The Hubby and The Boy don't agonize over "should" like The Girl and I do.

    Mary/Liz

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  19. This is such a great piece, Ingrid! As for "the shoulds", dare I say, their time is up! Sorry, I couldn't resist. I just watched Oprah's Golden Globe speech and I'm feeling very empowered.

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  20. I have become very good as ignoring "The Shoulds." It's the lazy bachelor in me.

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  21. I love Coralee's comment about seeing "shoulds" as "coulds." I "could" agree to speak to that nice book group, or I "could" write. Somehow that makes it an easy decision and takes all the anxiety out of it. Or most of it, anyway! I think a big issue here, whether we are male or female, is whether we are brought up to be--or just are, naturally--pleasers. You might guess that I am a pleaser...

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    1. I think you're right, Debs. If you're less concerned with making other people happy, the shoulds seem to diminish.

      Coralee is definitely on to something with the coulds. I'm going to try some rephrasing and see how that goes...

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  22. OMG, I want to hide - from the shoulds. They rule my life. And yes, who died and left me queen of the shoulds in my world and when did shoulds turn into gotta? That's what happens and it is wearing.

    Should we ban the shoulds? Is there a twelve step program? Coralee, you have the perfect idea. It's all point of view. Love it -

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  23. Ingrid, I am NOT a big fan of that word "should". I had to deal with a few people who tried to tell me how I should live my life and they did not know me at all. I know the difference between right and wrong. I follow traffic laws. I treat others the way I want to be treated. I take good care of myself. I knew what was expected of me and I work very hard to accomplish my goals. I am a grown up, not a little kid anymore.

    Diana

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  24. I like the idea of "could" instead of "should" but am not sure I can change all that internal dialogue this late in life. But, maybe, if I think of that hamster...

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    1. Getting that hamster out of your head is very motivating, Christine!

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  25. I had a funny thing happen on Saturday -- I have a dear friend who lives in Ohio -- our children went to nursery school together and she moved to Ohio more than 35 years ago. I have seen her once in a while -- one of my daughters went to Oberlin. Last year her husband died, and I think we both felt very emotionally close to one another. But , , ,
    We arranged a phone date for Saturday -- and then made it a Face Time date. The first thing she said was, "Do you hate me for not keeping in touch?" and I said the same thing. We are all so hard on ourselves. I have sent her notes and cards -- she prefers the telephone. She doesn't do notes and cards, and I don't do the phone. We are simply different. We love each other -- we care about each other -- why do we overlay feeling guilty on that??? But I have to say, we had a great time and many laughs doing Face Time.

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  26. I've managed to ignore a lot of shoulds in my life, mainly because I have a lot of have to's. Right now the have to's are overwhelming. Mom was released from the hospital Friday afternoon and is over at the nursing/rehab facility on campus where she lives. She isn't back mentally 100% yet. At some point I have to make her acknowledge she cannot live by herself anymore. And that is going to be a battle. I always said I wouldn't make her do something she didn't want to but her choice will be assisted living or paying someone to be in her apartment 24 hours a day. I am hoping the social services people will present that as her options when the time comes. As for shoulds, I should do a heck of a lot of things around the house. But my current (angry) attitude is screw it, I'm going to sit down and read!

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    1. Pat D, I'm so sorry you're having to deal with such difficult have to's right now. This aging thing is really crummy! Taking some breaks is a good strategy for keeping your blood pressure in check and giving yourself a breather. Take care of yourself!

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  27. Lucy said of her dear one: "he can step right over a mess--he literally doesn't see it." I heard a piece on NPR a few years ago that said this is a gender thing, and it's biological, not sociological. Because men evolved to be hunters and danger-spotters, exploring the vistas, while women evolved as gatherers and child tenders staying close to home -- I am grossly over-simplifying, of course, repeating the gist of the story -- eyes evolved to fit those tasks. Mr. Right can spot a pheasant at 150 yards but he can't see a pea on the kitchen floor, and I'm the reverse. It really could be biological -- or just that I'm severely nearsighted!

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    1. Leslie, lol. My hubby is nearsighted but still doesn't see the pea on the floor!!

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    2. Or the pee on the floor? Lol

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  28. Ah, this post hits excruciatingly close to the bone. I dance the Should Dance far too often. This year perhaps I'll relax a little. I really should . . .

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  29. Try, try again. My posts keep going to outer space. I have so many have to's in my life right now I can completely ignore the shoulds. And I just flat don't care. I'm afraid my attitude is either don't care or angry right now. Not too much in between. But I'm working on it. Have to!

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  30. Lucy you are so right. Men must have a different connection between eyes and brain. My husband cannot see what he's looking for in the fridge when it is front and centre....we call it a 'man look' here in Oz and all my friends agree they just don't SEE..... the bags of salt that need to go into the pool (that's one of my should's for today), the box in the pool room that I mumble about as I step around and he steps over....another should on my list for today.... The fact that they don't see means an awful lots of should's for us women!!

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  31. I know I am posting so late today. I "should" have gotten online earlier, but I had to finish reading a book for a review that I "should" have posted today, and there are so many books coming out just this week that I "should" post review for right away. I "should" finish taking down the Christmas decorations. Yes, the tree is still up. Judge away. I hate that I am starting the year with so many "shoulds" and feel like I'm already behind. Stress is not fun, and stressing over things that aren't life and death or can actually be done all in good time is stupid. So, I'm stressed and stupid. I did take the pug back to my daughter's yesterday, after keeping the dog for ten days, and my husband is back in Kansas, so I hope to start getting caught up now that I'm here alone. At least I know I "should" get caught up now. OK, time for me to quit.

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    1. You're not behind, Kathy, you're ahead! You've already got your tree up for the holiday season!

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    2. Hahaha! Ingrid, you have made my day, even though it's night!

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  32. What a great discussion! I don't think it's just women -- I'm totally a "should"-er. But I do try hard to acknowledge the voice, because if I don't really hear it, then it's just this background noise of discontent and character criticisms. Once you hear it for what it is -- your inner critic, or maybe your least favorite parent's voice -- it's easier to disregard.

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  33. Hello Nick Petrie! Thanks for chiming in! Can't wait to have you join us tomorrow!

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  34. It's those books, the ones on the Great Books lists and the Important Literature lists. Sometimes I think I SHOULD read The Mill On The Floss, or War and Peace, or Don Quixote, or Ulysses, or One Hundred Years of Solitude. And dozens and dozens more. The Classics, you know. I guess I'd be a better human if I read and absorbed them. But I don't want to! I want to read mysteries, and some science fiction and fantasy and non-fiction about interesting people.

    I looked up a list of 100 "great books". I've read about a third of them, many in high school or college, when I had no choice (Moby Dick). That's enough for me, despite that nagging Should bout reading more of them.

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  35. Rick, I fully support your preference for reading mysteries. And those other genres. But mostly mysteries. ;)

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