This is the season for making all sorts of resolutions about how to lead a healthier, saner, happier existence. I know people who resolve to give up such vices as smoking or drinking in the belief that deprivation of the body will in some way enhance the soul, but, commendable as these resolves may be, they are not particularly relevant to the chaotic parts of my lifee. Giving them up would be about as meaningful as giving up jogging.
My resolves are going to be much more painful to abide by, for they go to some very deeply entrenched bad habits that make for messy households and messy lives. I share them here, not as some public confession, but in the hope that other poor souls who share some or all of these vices might profit from these resolutions and join me in the effort to reform.
For every piece of paper that comes into the house, at least two must go out. This applies to newspapers and magazines, as well as publishing house grand-prize schemes, which I leave lying around until I find time to fill them out so that I'll win $1 million in prize money. The chances of that happening, however, are about as remote as my taking up jogging, so in the general interest of household tidiness, I resolve to toss them out the moment they come in. Take that, Ed McMahon.
I further resolve:
* To remove the dinner meat from the freezer each morning before I go to work. This will not only save trips to the supermarket after work but resolve all manner of sibling disputes over what they want for dinner. How children who look alike, think alike, sleep alike, sound alike and keep their rooms alike can have such different tastes in food is beyond me, but one's treat is invariably the other's torture. When they complain about the menu, I'll say: "I'm sorry, but it's defrosted and you wouldn't want to waste food that some hungry child in (fill in the appropriate country) could have used."
* To balance my checkbook. At $17 a clip, bouncing checks can get expensive. It also sets bad examples for college students, who then write home for money.
* To do periodic maintenance on my car. This resolve flowed from the fact that we awakened to a flat tire Christmas morning, a dead battery the following morning, and a front tire that the gas station owner promptly declared to be "very dangerous." Two hundred dollars later I was on my way to work.
* To write all appointments down in a weekly calendar, not just those I want to keep. To do expense accounts on time, not just when I have run out of money. Same with health insurance claims.
* To look through all forms sent home from school before I watch the evening news, instead of piling them up on the kitchen table. Also to adopt a sterner policy within the family's fine arts committee as to which of my daughter's creative efforts merits saving for posterity and which can be discreetly disposed of after an appropriate period of public viewing. At the rate of 10 masterpieces a day, this can amount to a very large pile of, well, masterpieces on the kitchen table. If her early artistic promise materializes, and she turns out to be another Picasso, I will shoot myself.
* To do the laundry before my children run out of underwear -- not afterward.
* To begin Christmas shopping in August. I harbor no delusions about finishing it that month, and there is no sense making impossible resolves.
* To read my children a story before dinner instead of reading the paper or watching the evening news, both of which are bad for the digestive system anyway.
* To rent a beach house in January instead of waiting until July and then discovering at the last minute that the children would be missing the first week of school, which they did.
* Not to say "she's deceased" to solicitors who call in the middle of dinner. After all, they're trying to make a living too.
* To be on time. My son the 9-year-old saved up his allowance and gave me a beautiful watch for my birthday and Christmas, so I not only have no excuse for being 20 minutes late for my life, but I also have a very touching inspiration for trying to reform. Honest, I'll try.
If I can manage half of these resolves, by next year I'll be an entirely new person: organized, courteous, thoughtful, efficient, deliriously happy. Then I could start a franchise organization with a name like "Happy Homes" and cook up a whole spinoff industry of self-help books for unfortunate people who are still in the same boat I was once in. I could cash in on my reform, and then I'd really be a new person.
I'd be rich.