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!