New Year’s is high on my list of guilt-producing holidays—second only to Mother’s Day. On Mother’s Day I am repeatedly reminded that any resemblance between myself and the mothers described in the Sunday School program (the ones who smile affectionately at babies throwing strained beets on freshly waxed no-wax floors and who never allow their children to speak cross words to one another) is purely imagined. On New Year’s I face the glaring reality that, in spite of my optimistic hopes and aspirations, the magic chime of midnight does not automatically transform me from the tired, ineffective person of the old year into the bright, efficient “New Me” I continually resolve to be.
Last year was a case in point.
At 11:30 New Year’s Eve I observed with some dismay that I had failed to write my New Year’s resolutions. I showed the children where to find the hats and horns, then turned the television to the Times Squares festivities.
“New Year’s isn’t like it used to be,” I mused wistfully, recalling my own childhood. At the stroke of midnight everyone on Greenwood Avenue where I grew up would rush to the front porch and shout “Happy New Year!” while banging a thin metal pan with a heavy silver spoon. This would continue for about ten minutes, or until we were sure that the new year had been duly ushered in.
I wondered idly whether one of our neighbors would call the police if I let my kids clang pans on the front porch. I decided in the affirmative—it would be either the police or the Funny Farm. What’s worse, my kids would probably try to have me committed if I suggested it! So back to my tardy promise making.
With paper and pencil I positioned myself at the kitchen table and wrote determinedly. New Year’s Resolutions, 1980. The lofty ideals flowed freely.
1. I will supply my husband’s wants and needs with a sweet spirit.
2. I will not become distraught with my children.
3. I will have my visiting teaching done by the fifteenth of each month.
4. I will lose twenty pounds.
My husband stopped on his way to the refrigerator. In my rush to resolve (it was mandatory that I be finished before midnight, else how would I know what behavior to adopt with the coming of the new year?), I had failed to put punch in the punch bowl and arrange the midnight snacks. I tried to cover my writing with one hand (there is, after all, something so personal about personal commitments), but I was too late.
“Writing your resolutions, huh? Why not save time and just get out the list you made last year?” I was hurt, but undaunted.
5. I will not get behind on my laundry.
My twelve-year-old, having heard the refrigerator door open, came into the kitchen to see what he was missing. He, too, glanced at my list before I could conceal it.
“Making your New Year’s resolutions, right, mom? I don’t mean to interfere, but aren’t they the same ones you wrote last year?” Bypassing the delicate glass cups I had retrieved from storage for the occasion, he filled a quart jar with punch, grabbed a handful of cookies, and retired to the family room.
The televised excitement was rising to a fever pitch. My list of resolutions secured to the refrigerator door with a magnetic tomato, I went in to celebrate the new year with my family.
The next day I was up before the others, mixed up some rolls, put a ham in the oven. Later that morning the marathon began.
From the first kickoff they were entranced, my husband and my son. By late afternoon their attention was judiciously divided among two television sets and a radio, each reporting a different football game. Questions and comments were entertained only during halftime and commercials. Intermittently came the requests: “Hey, mom, we’re out of corn chips!” “Honey, do we have any more of that pie you made last Thursday?” By nightfall I had delivered six ham sandwiches, twenty-seven soft drinks, two bowls of potato chips, one drink of water, and a miscellany of crackers, cheese, and cookies. My spirit, needless to say, was something less than sweet.
Next day, the children went back to school. I got up early to prepare a special breakfast of eggs and pancakes; Jeff devoured a box of Super Sugar Crisp instead. Kim had donned her new designer jeans with a soft pink sweater to scrub the halls for Eighth Grade Clean-up Day. Kerry, who had received two outfits and a pair of shoes for Christmas, announced tearfully that she had nothing to wear. As my blood pressure and vocal volume rose, my gaze fell on the list of resolutions eyeing me primly from the refrigerator door. How could I have made such bold commitments? I must have forgotten that my children were teenagers!
You can guess the rest. I gained five pounds the week I was in charge of the P.T.A. bake sale. The morning after my Psychology final we were washing socks and underwear by hand. On January 29, Sister Smathers called to ask whether I’d done my visiting teaching; I, in all innocence, asked why she was calling so early in the month.
It had taken me sixteen days to break all five of my five resolutions.
Mistakes are only serious, they say, when you make the same one twice. So, if nothing else, I’m learning. It’s 1981, and I have a new list of resolutions under the magnetic tomato. But I know myself better now, and I’ve adapted to my limitations. This year,
1. I will stock the house with piles of sandwiches and gallons of milk and take my daughters to a movie on New Year’s Day.
2. I will forgive my children when they drive me up a wall—and hope they would extend the same courtesy to me.
3. I will not ask to be released from visiting teaching, no matter how quickly the calendar creeps up on me.
4. I will not gain twenty pounds.
5. I will take my husband and children on a tour of the house and show them where I keep the washer and dryer, just in case of emergency. And I’ve added a new one:
6. I will appreciate what little progress I make, despite my shortcomings.
I figure that if I can keep that last one, 1981 will be a very good year indeed.