In a few days it will be time to once again make New Year's resolutions we know we will not keep even as we utter them. Still, it's nice to deceive ourselves, at least once a year, into believing that we are capable of changing into some other, better version of who we really are.
Whereas in my 20s my resolutions tended toward specific challenges, such as going vegan or running three miles every day, as I've gotten older, I've become fond of the vague New Year's resolution. Among my favorites are "eating healthier" and "going to the gym more frequently." I have no problem living up to such resolutions because I eat so badly now that vowing to eat healthier could mean pork rinds and pepperoni sticks for lunch no more than once a week, and since I have not been to the gym for six months, even if I just went once every 12 weeks, I'd still be going more frequently than I am now. I believe it is important to strive for self-improvement, and so I like to make resolutions I can keep.
A few years ago, I promised myself I would walk the dog every day. Then, when it became clear in February that I would never live up to that resolution, I decided to adopt an amendment: I would walk the dog, weather permitting, every day. Weather permitting was sheer genius on my part, as it is an entirely subjective phrase. Last year, I decided on a more practical resolution that would benefit everyone in my family and improve my own life immeasurably: I'd fold my family's clothes as soon as they came out of the dryer and would never let freshly washed clothes pile up for more than three days. As I write this column, four large baskets overflowing with clean, wrinkled clothes sit on the floor of my laundry room, waiting for someone to do something about them. They've been there since three days before Christmas Eve.
In my opinion, the first of January is the worst day of the year for resolutions. Many adults are not feeling quite themselves on New Year's morning, after all, and are not really in any condition to make solemn vows. I think it is best to make resolutions at times when one is experiencing an authentic change, such as getting married, starting a new job, or being called "ma'am" by someone in her 20s for the first time.
The most sincere -- and vaguest -- resolutions I ever made were on
Dec. 10, 1996, and Aug. 14, 2000. Those were the days I first held my sons. I peered into their faces and told them that we were beginning an adventure together, and that I had no idea what we might encounter on our journey, but I could make one promise I knew I would never abandon. "I'll always do my best to give you the best trip I'm capable of," I told them, and as I looked into their eyes and promised them the brightest future I could deliver, I saw that they were not listening to a single word I said. It was an expression I would come to know well. Still, even though my resolution meant nothing to my children, it will forever be the most important one to me.
That first son is now 16, and in two years he will embark on a life that will take him ever farther from home. His brother will follow three years later. I have not been able to give them all I wanted them to have then, all I hoped for in our adventure together. There have been no trips to Europe, no purchases of vacation homes in Mexico, no weekly dinners at the best restaurants in town. Instead, there have been weekends camping, an occasional rented cabin in the Sierra, and countless meals eaten out of paper bags in the car. But I have given them both the best journey I could, and now, as I am becoming more aware of how short our trip will be, my only resolution this year is to relax and enjoy it as much as possible.
Brigitte Bowers is a lecturer in the Merritt Writing Program at UC Merced.