It is embarrassingly clichéd to write about New Year’s Resolutions, and I apologize, but I ask you to consider: If we didn’t have this annual orgy of self-recrimination, followed immediately by a surge of zeal to do better, next year, starting tomorrow, would any of us ever really reform or repent? If there were no January 1st, would you ever say to yourself on New Year’s Eve, as I do, “Starting tomorrow I will do 50 sit-ups every day?” Of course you wouldn’t.
So let’s be grateful. The end of the year is a happy, productive time when we can take stock of our lives, run through our list of personal renovations, resolve to start flossing twice a day, fix those annoying household–
–Wait, I’ll be right back. I think I hear someone banging outside.
Four months ago, our doorbell suddenly began making a noise like someone running a wire hanger through a blender. My husband and I danced about in agitation, wondering what to do. We leant on the bell button. We banged on the little box beside the door. Eventually we folded up matchstick covers and jammed them into the mechanism to dampen the noise. This turned FTZZZZT! into …ftzzzzt…, but it was a day and a half before the thing finally died. Ever since, if one presseth the doorbell button, it availeth not.
So for four months, if we’re expecting a package or a visitor, someone is usually deputized to wait in the front hall, as in, “Paris, please set the table, Violet and Phoebe, clean up the blocks, and Molly, you’re Door Girl.” It is wonderful how quickly we ourselves have adapted, though it is a shame how many babysitters and dinner guests have stood outside in the rain, tapping feebly on the glass, wondering if they got the time wrong.
“Meghan, you really must get that doorbell fixed,” a helpful houseguest pointed out earlier this fall, as I was pelting down the stairs towards a distant thudding that meant the UPS man had arrived.
“Thank you,” I called back breathlessly, “I know.” But it was thoughtful of her to mention it.
I showed the broken doorbell to an electrician who had come to interpret the mysteries of our fuse boxes. He shook his head in a taciturn, $84-an-hour sort of way, and sucked his teeth.
“Now that,” he said, “That is the kind of thing that can run you, oh, five- six- seven-hundred dollars.”
“Oh, dear,” said I, wringing my hands. Then I remembered: “Wait, isn’t everything becoming wireless? Couldn’t we get a wireless doorbell?” I peered at him hopefully. It didn’t occur to me straight away that a fellow who makes his living fixing electrical wires might not greet the dawning of the wire-free era with unmixed pleasure.
“I don’t know about that,” he said stiffly. He looked back at the useless box and murmured, “Seven-eight-hundred dollars…”
So repairing the doorbell goes on my New Year’s To-Do list. My latest idea is to install a brass bell-pull outside the front door, and rig up some elegant Edwardian system of ribbons and pulleys that would cause a little silver bell to tinkle at the top of the stairs when anyone stopped by. You’d hear it throughout the house, and whatever the depredations of terrorists or the power company, it would always work. That’s my idea of wireless.
Oh, and then there’s the phone. Currently we only have one handset in our four-story house, which means if you’re on the top floor you don’t have a prayer of hearing the ring, and if you’re anywhere lower down you will hear something, ever so faintly, leap up, and start taking the stairs two-at-a-time. This gets you to the phone just in time to receive a dial tone. At which point you hang around, tapping your foot, checking the dial tone until it breaks up into beeps, signaling that you now have a message from the caller, who himself was probably tapping his foot irritably waiting for you to pick up while muttering, “Honestly, one phone in a house that size, when will they join the 21st century?”
My friend Danielle’s house will soon feature so many smoothly integrated systems of wiring that she will be able to speak from her bath to the delivery man at the front door while simultaneously signaling to the children in the playroom that their pizza has arrived and pouring a gin-and-tonic in the kitchen. Rich in experience with modern home devices, she has graciously offered to set up a phone system for us. It is a terrific opportunity, and I really must take her up on it, but whenever I think, “Danielle’s absolutely right, we have to get a phone system,” I remember that any system will come with an Owner’s Manual and, being an Owner, I will be obliged to read it. Thus does the reforming urge die away slowly, like the doorbell.
This year, though, I think I’m finally mature enough to throw away the collection of rose petals I’ve been accumulating since the age of sixteen. That is when a boy first sent me a box of long-stemmed red roses, by special delivery, and the violent romanticism of the experience never left me. I felt like Holly Golightly. I vowed to save every petal that followed, with the misty idea that some day, as a faded but still-glamorous grandmother, I would show a great heap of dusty flowery bits to my granddaughters as proof of what a thinking man’s crumpet I once had been.
Somewhere in my early twenties, I forgot to save the remnants of several bouquets, so the collection isn’t complete. It now exists in order to generate dust whenever anyone opens the lid of its wooden box, thinking it’s something else. Now of course I don’t have to save anything but a copy of this column; I can show my granddaughters a yellowed NRO printout and they will know the blossoms once existed.
So much to do, so much to do….
Wait: Who says one’s resolutions have to be acted upon this particular new year? If you move one measly apostrophe, making it New Years’ Eve, why, we all have as long as we, well, get. What’s the hurry?
–Meghan Cox Gurdon is an NRO columnist. Gurdon lives in Washington, D.C. and writes as much as her young family will permit. Her NRO column, “The Fever Swamp” appears weekly.