A collection of essays, outdoor adventure stories, ruminations, wordplay, parental angst, and blatant omphaloskepsis, generated in all seasons and for many reasons at 64.8 degrees north latitude

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Poor Resolution

When I returned home after our family’s winter vacation – with a backpack crammed with dirty laundry and a feeling of nagging panic about all my unanswered work emails – I discovered several New Years letters and photos in my mailbox, snuggling up against my burly credit card bill.  That is to say, some of my friends sent actual mail, in envelopes.  They put appropriate postage on the envelopes, along with my full address, correctly spelled.  In the letters, they described noteworthy happenings and momentous achievements of 2011.  In the photos, all members of their families, even their dogs, were smiling… at the same time
These, I suspect, are the friends who not only make New Year’s resolutions, but also keep them.
I’ve sent out my share of December-ish emails over the past fifteen years, and even a smattering of cards, but I’m beginning to realize that the true Holiday Letter may not be an art form that’s within my reach.  I have trouble keeping track of what continents my friends inhabit, let alone their street addresses.  When I take photos, I usually have to crop out whichever kid has a finger up her nose.  When I try to characterize my family’s  achievements, I end up with a blog full of essays with titles like “Jedi Dentistry” and “The Zen of Attention-Deficit Snowpants.”  The proper ushering in of a new calendar year is beyond me, because I am the kind of person who not only fails to keep New Year’s resolutions, but cannot even remember what, if any, I made. 
I sat down on the floor with my daughters and let them open the cards.  They scrutinized the photos and eyed me suspiciously.  “How come we don’t know who these kids are?” they demanded.  The idea that I can have friends whom I haven’t talked to in twelve years makes no sense at all to people who are only half a decade old.  The previous millennium seems as recent to them as the Pleistocene.
Because Mommy is not very good at keeping up with people.  Wasn’t that one of the things I resolved to do better last year? 
I don’t recall exactly, but I’m pretty sure 2011 was the year in which I was going to (1) become vastly more organized at work, (2) author three or four academic publications, and (3) finish all projects ahead of deadlines.  I also wanted to (4) get a novel published.  I hoped I’d teach my kids to (5) swim like guppies, (6) ski like miniature Norwegian Olympians, and (7) read books with chapters and actual plots.  At the very least (8), I’d make sure they regularly picked up after themselves. I’d acquire (9) such unflagging patience that I’d never say things like, “I don’t care if your crayon masterpiece is incomplete, just put on your jacket before I start screaming.”   I’d become (10) a real athlete, as opposed to a person who just kind of happens to run and bike and ski a lot.  I would eschew (11) chocolate – at least in unreasonable quantities.  In 2011, I intended to (12) clean up my piles of paperwork, sacks of unlabeled sewing stuff, and topsy-turvy bookshelves.  I was going to be (13) less wasteful, more charitable and less hypocritical.  And I would (14) send personal mail to all the friends whom I really think about a lot -- really I do.
That hypothetical 2011 was an awfully good year.  A landmark year.  A year worthy of real envelopes and commemorative seasonal postage.  Alas, however, reality intruded.  
“Who’s this?”  One of the kids handed me a photo.  I named the college friend smiling next to his wife.  They are having a baby.  Either that, or she swallowed a cantaloupe.  I found the announcement of the good news in the attached letter, and immediately felt the urge to start talking parent-stuff with them.  Don’t worry, I’d say.  You just kind of learn as you go along.  But I’m not sure I’m a credible witness.
In the non-theoretical 2011, I didn’t drop a single Santa-stamped missive in the mailbox – and my good-intentions tally-sheet is looking a bit bare.  My desk at work (1) is littered with crooked stacks of paperwork, dirty dishes, and semi-legible exhortations to myself.  The only journal articles I’ve gotten my name on (2) include me as the eleventeenth author, along with someone’s third cousin, the local barber, and a stray Golden Retriever.  As for deadlines (3), I am now working on not one, not two, but three overdue projects.  My current goal is to avoid having to extend the extended extensions.
Three novels (4) are festering ignominiously on my hard-drive.  The twins can only swim (5) if I strap plenty of Styrofoam around their torsos and allow them to abstain from all contact between their faces and the water.  They can ski (6) a couple of miles at a waddling shuffle, falling spectacularly at every hint of a hill.  Their reading skills (7) extend only as far as “Biscuit’s New Friend” and “Puppy Mudge Has a Snack.”  I won’t even comment on (8) other than to inquire as to whether you have ever stepped on a piece of Lego while barefoot?  The answer to this question links directly to my abject failure in area (9), particularly pertaining to use of the Mean Mommy Voice.
As for (10), I was the second-to-last swimmer out of the water in last summer’s half-Ironman, and the second-to-last skier across the finish line in the White Mountains 100 last winter, and in neither case did I look even vaguely dignified. 
What was (11)?  Oh.  Chocolate.  Ummm… have you got any?  Because I think I already ate everything left over from Christmas. 
My personal organization (12) sadly matches my organization at work.  Although some of my stray bits of fabric turned into heartfelt kid-woven potholders at Christmas, the remainder have taken revenge by multiplying.  Likewise, when I take unwanted books to the charming folks at Gulliver’s, they reward me with credit towards more second-hand books.  I lug around a weird assortment of necessities – spare bike tubes, Dora Bandaids, plastic spoons, banana chips – in a bag that squirrels chewed holes in five years ago.  I have fourteen unmatched socks.
I flew on far too many planes in 2011 to qualify (13) as un-wasteful or un-hypocritical.  I deleted nine out of every ten emails imploring me to take important political action.  I sent my kids off to school without even considering volunteering for the PTA.  Finally, number (14) brings me full circle, because, as previously mentioned, intending to write to friends is not the same as actually doing so.
Zero for fourteen. Clearly, I missed the mark on every resolution I made.  Or perhaps I only flubbed every resolution I didn’t make.  And therein I spy the loophole, the glorious ambiguity, the escape route for my guilt.  Because if my primary flaw is inability to remember my own goals, then perhaps I can engage in a little after-the-fact bar-lowering.  What if my resolutions were just a trace more lenient than I recall them being?
In that case, I can revisit my intentions with a rose-colored spotlight.  I can feel pleased that there is nothing (1) actually rotting in my cubicle. I can take comfort in the fact that three lead authors (2) remembered how to spell my name in the et al. section, and that I managed to (3) secure all necessary project extensions before anyone at Grants and Contracts suffered apoplexy.  The three novels (4) will serve as good practice for the next three, which could turn out to be startlingly publishable.  My kids are at least willing to get into the water (5), to get back on their feet again seventeen times in half an hour of skiing (6), and to attempt to decode the drastically un-phonetic mess that is written English (7).  Upon at least one occasion they have put away Legos spontaneously (8).  Even if I have not acquired greater patience (9) I’m pretty sure I’ve never shrieked at them in the grocery store or started swearing like a sailor.  I did manage to finish (10) a triathlon, a marathon, and a hundred-mile ski race. I’m pretty sure that along with all the chocolate I ate there was some (11) that I resisted.  There was that one day when I cleaned out a box or two of stuff (12), and I did give both time and money to good causes (13), albeit in a sporadic sort of way.
And number (14)?  Keeping up with friends?  Well… I’m flat out of stationery, but there are outlets for people like me.  E-mail.  An online kid-photo site, for those who are genetically programmed to appreciate that sort of thing.  More email.  Facebook.  A third e-mail account, just for good measure.  And, of course, the last resort of the desperate mass-communicator: a blog.
As I wrote a check to cover the large credit-card bill, the kids were still looking at the photos.  They honed in on one.  They liked the look of this family.  “Let’s go visit them,” they proposed.
So… if we show up on your doorstep one of these days… it wasn’t my idea.  But I wholeheartedly approved it. Because, you know, even if I’m a little uncertain about my resolutions, and even if I’m incapable of maintaining an address book, I’m sure I miss you guys.
Happy Belated New Year, everyone.

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