The other day I was reading to my children the book Ish by Peter Reynolds. It is the story of a boy who becomes frustrated with his artistic ability until he learns that his work does not need to be perfect, just good enough. My children love this book as well as another one like it called The OK Book by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, which is about a stick figure OK who informs its readers that it is fine to not be great at everything they do.
What a long way we’ve come from Goodnight Moon, a book meant to relax a child as she shuts down the world. These books seem designed to reassure children as they go out into the world. Or, is it the parents they really target? With the emergence of hyper-competitive, helicopter parenting, a phenomenon that Judith Warner details so well in her book Perfect Madness, are these books, in fact, a response to parents that need reassurance that their kids (and they) will be fine even if they are not perfect?
It was not too long ago that Go the F**K to Sleep by Adam Mansback became a huge hit (and now is slated to become a film). This book, obviously meant for adults, mocks both the Goodnight Moon genre and the perfect parent for whom raising children seems so effortless. How would “ish” parenting look if we all adopted it? Would we end up becoming free-range parents as embraced by people like Lenore Skenazy? Or, as a mom constantly confronting the work-life balance, would it simply allow me to have an all-around excuse (kind of like those free homework passes my son gets to use). At this time of year, when I can’t imagine how I will grade all those papers, write all those reports, advise all those students, and serve on all those committees, my husband and I go into what we’ve labeled “survival mode.” It signifies that shortcuts are permitted. We can have breakfast for dinner, skip folding the laundry, and substitute fruit snacks in place of fresh fruit in the children’s lunchboxes. Wouldn’t it be great if I could have a comparable survival mode for the office? Perhaps Ish and OK are really just stories about how to cope with disappointment. Maybe I’m just reading too far into it from the state of an overworked mom. Either way, I’ve been told it’s OK!