Friday, May 25, 2007
All-wheel drive? Check. Power steering? Check. Whole new me? Probably not.
Resolutions. New initiatives. Fresh starts. It's easy to view New Year's Day as a starting point for new undertakings. And Labor Day is another obvious benchmark; long after our years in school are done, I don't think any of us ever completely sheds the sense that back-to-school time signifies the beginning of an epoch.
Nonetheless, I find opportunities all year long to tell myself that it's time to make a fresh start. With every solstice and equinox, I convince myself that this is the season I'm going to start exercising more and getting more sleep. Each time I receive a new work assignment, I resolve I'm going to do it better and more efficiently than ever before. Whenever I return from vacation, I'm bursting with the conviction that I'm ready to start being a better housekeeper. Even seeing Bon Appetit magazine arrive each month in the mail is a cue that I'm going to buy higher-quality ingredients and cook more beautifully from this point forward.
I didn't expect buying a new car to provide me with yet another fresh start, but that's just what has happened. Earlier this month, with great respect and appreciation for the 121,000 miles we'd logged on our old car, we went shopping for a new one. We didn't buy anything overly fancy, just new. And as soon as I started driving the new car, I felt inspired.
I tell myself that I won't eat in this car. I'll keep it crumb-free. I'll keep my eyes on the road one hundred percent of the time. My last car, which I drove for nearly nine years, was a veritable snack bar of sorts. Sesame seeds in the console; popcorn ground into the carpet. A thousand little coffee splashes surrounded the cup holder.
And it was also in many respects an extension of our house. My two children constantly rush inside from the garage empty-handed, leaving whatever they took into the car behind. Thus, in the back seat we had hats and mittens; magazines and library books; school papers; party favors; stickers; lollipops. It was safe to say that if we'd ever been stranded in a snowstorm, we could have not only eaten for a week but also kept ourselves sufficiently entertained based solely on the interior contents of the car.
I can't blame the children for this, though. It's a habit that I can trace directly to the first car my husband and I owned together, which was a gift from my parents before we were married. Since we had the car for several months before we shared a household, we started leaving mutually owned property in the car. First it was just a game of Scattergories; then paperwork related to our wedding; then small pieces of fine china. "It's just a mess!" I wailed one day in frustration. "I see it more as a community storage area," my husband said with equanimity.
Stepping into my new car, with its classic new-car smell and the many features that have been developed for even the basic models since we last purchased nine years ago — thermostat controls! IPod docking stations! — I can almost believe that I'll be the person I've always wanted to be. That color LCD clock will never register one minute past the time I'm supposed to be at my destination; in this car I'll arrive everywhere on time, somehow overcoming three decades of being punctuality-challenged. The kids will sit sedately in the plush and tidy back seat — surely this car will witness no sibling squabbles. And why stop there? No bad news will float out from this radio. These tires will never meet an ice patch they can't adhere to. I'll always brake in time when met with a sudden traffic tie-up. I'll never peer at the gas gauge while holding my breath and coasting, urging the car to make it just another two miles on fumes.
As I become acquainted with its shiny newness, my imagination goes even further. The storage area in back will know only bags of healthy, organic groceries — no six-packs of Diet Coke will mar its smooth rubber-matted surface. I'll vacuum the interior every Saturday, somehow finding 20 minutes in the weekend that previously has not emerged. We won't let junk mail pile up in the back seat, or balled-up Kleenexes litter the floor. We'll do it right this time.
We'll do it right this time. That's the mantra of every fresh start, isn't it? Every New Year's Day, every first day of school or work, every start of a new exercise program. And for me, the grand occasion of registering my new car is part of the scheme as well.
No car can fix all my bad habits or change my personality that dramatically. I should know that by now. And yet that's what's so wonderful about New Year's Days both actual and metaphorical: the possibilities. Maybe I'll do better this time. Maybe I'll get everything right. Maybe I'll become the person I want to be.
Or maybe I'll just try. Try to drive more carefully, be on time more often, keep my life neater. The real New Year's, the one in January, is all about resolutions, but maybe the metaphorical ones give us a little more leeway. Maybe these other benchmarks are for admitting that sometimes trying is just as meaningful an act as resolving.
© 2007 The Carlisle Mosquito