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Have you ever kept a New Year’s resolution? New Year’s resolutions have become a burden. We’re somehow expected to make a resolution each year. Many of us do so. But how many of us follow through? Being commitment phobic, I rarely make a New Year’s resolution. The last time I made a resolution and stuck with it was in the 5th grade.

That was a landmark year for me. It was the first and only year in which I received a failing grade. It was also the first year that I experienced the excitement and the humiliation of having a male teacher. It was the year that we were supposed to learn fractions, decimals, and percentages in mathematics. This is why I failed. Much as I tried, much as my mother tried to help, much as I spent time with my attractive young male teacher before and after school, I could not master fractions, decimals or percentages. To this day, I come in through the back door to figure these basic calculations, extrapolating from what I know to figure out how I know it.

Mr. Ross’ 5th Grade.That’s me, 5 shiny faces to the right of Mr. Ross in the middle row.

My great achievment in the 5th grade was my New Year’s resolution to stop biting my fingernails. It was a more awesome goal than you might surmise. For as long as I could remember I had gnawed my nails. I was rarely conscious of my nibbling till blood smudged my clothes or my homework. My fingers were short and fat, whether this was a genetic anomaly or a result of my incessant gnawing, I’ll never know. But my hands were a sight to hide.

Fifth grade was also a turning point in my academic career; although my year-end grade, with that awful “F,” surely didn’t reflect this milestone. I herald fifth grade as a turn-around year for me. I began to think for the first time. I began to realize that I could get A’s and B’s—in any subject other than mathematics. First I began a secret competition with my friends and later with the traditional “A” students of the class—the brainiacs.

I think it was about this time, too, that I realized I was probably the only kid in class who still got spankings, sometimes multiple times per day. This cast a halo of immaturity over me. I began to pay attention, trying to puzzle out why I was always in trouble. The simple act of paying attention worked wonders for alleviating those humiliating spankings. Perhaps fifth grade was the year that I grew into my own power. There was no superior intellect hovering over my psyche that year. Other than those damned fractions, life was beginning to be a bit more tolerable.

So that December I committed to my first serious New Year’s resolution. This again, was my own secret promise to myself. Since January 1, 1963, I have not bitten a fingernail. That doesn’t mean that I haven’t gnawed at the skin around my fingernails. I continue to battle the urge to yank at ragged bits of flesh or cuticle surrounding my fingernails. But I have not touched a tooth to a nail since that New Year’s resolution. I have also never made another New Year’s resolution!