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Child Learns About Resolutions
Makes mostly unrealistic promises to self
I, for one, do not make resolutions for the new year, for two reasons:
I don’t have the kind of naïve faith in myself to suggest that I’m capable of fulfilling a truly ambitious resolution.
I do not deal well with the feeling that I have failed to deliver on a promise.
But Kina hasn’t yet developed the pungent mélange of neuroses that I have, and so the idea that you might make yourself a reliable promise on the first day of the year seems fun and achievable. I still have it in me, I think, to feel that sense of resolve—to dare yourself to be better. Every year, at the cusp of January, we take stock of the things we didn’t do and haven’t become and, rather than curl up into a ball, stand up and proclaim to ourselves that IN THIS NEXT YEAR, I SHALL EXERCISE, BE MORE FORTHRIGHT, OR EAT LESS RED MEAT. It’s a completely irrational form of personal reflection, but it’s charming.
We are at our most optimistic in the first twenty-four hours of the calendar year, furiously setting resolutions in order give ourselves a sense of control over the year itself. This will be not just a new year, but a better year; this will be not just a new me, but a better me. In what other parts of our civilization do we collectively commit to self-improvement? If we held ourselves to a higher standard on a more regular basis than in the hung-over hours of January first, I’d have more hope in our nation, generally. We cannot control a lot of things in life, but we should be reasonably capable of tending to our own gardens.
When Kina laid out her resolutions to me this morning, most of them were firmly in her power to control: improved pajama skills, eating more food (ice cream, in particular), learning to cook, and hitting either fewer people or the same people less frequently. If she got to 50% on any of these—with the exception of simply eating more ice cream—this household would be a happier one. But in looking over the list, you see how much of a role others play in her resolutions—either as objects of those resolutions or as facilitators. She cannot learn to cook without our help. There is no point in being nicer without somebody to be nicer to. Even a resolution to get better at putting on her pajamas suggests that somebody else is putting them on her today. In our resolve to be better, we resolve to change our relationships to the people around us. How many of all our resolutions are about other people? How many of them will we need to turn to others to accomplish?
The principal reason I’ve stopped making resolutions is because I’ve become less and less certain about the causality of time. I cannot know at all whether the path I’m on today will continue three months on, let alone a full year. The unknowability of my context and of myself makes the bet too scary to place. But Kina has that same unknowability, and then some, and she’s just fine with it. Maybe my concern is misplaced. To dare ourselves to be better is to suggest that we believe we can do it, that the promises we make in the first hours of the year are not in fact unrealistic but optimistic. Resolutions are unrealistic in hindsight, but ambitious as we look ahead.
Maybe this year we won’t do so much Scrabble. I bet we can do that.