IF CHRISTMAS EVE is a day for children, New Year’s Eve is the equivalent for adults.
On Christmas Eve, children lie with one eye open, desperately hoping their good deeds will be rewarded come dawn. On New Year’s Eve adults lie with one eye shut, desperately hoping their bad deeds will be erased by the time their hangover kicks in.
Christmas Eve is about recognition and return; New Year’s Eve about wiping the slate clean. Or the plate, if you’re one of the many thousands who’ll start 2013 on a strict no-cheesecake diet.
Essentially, it’s about self-improvement. We look at the turning over of the year as a bone fide new beginning, and a chance to become the kind of person we’ve always thought we should be. The You who can run a marathon, rather than the You who gasps for breath waddling into the fluorescent expanse of Supermacs. The You who fills his days with literature, political debate and French cinema, rather than the You who’s stuck in a rut of Tom Clancy novels, cushioned by a social awareness so dense you could insulate walls with it, and slowly growing more square-eyed in an endless loop of Eastenders and American Dad.
One of the symptoms of adulthood is never being satisfied with yourself.
There are two instances when you see this peculiar trait in all of its idiosyncratic glory. The first is when you compliment someone, only to be gently told all of the ways you’re horribly wrong:
“You vow to better yourself until the New You emerges”
“Me? Looking well? Admittedly, I have been seeing a personal trainer, but I’m really falling apart at the seams and the only reason I’m still standing is that my love handles have welded together to keep me upright as a kind of Paragon of Cholesterol.”
The second is on New Year’s Eve, where it is customary to make an internal list of everything that’s wrong with you, and publicly vow to better yourself until the New You emerges from the chrysalis of the terrible, useless person you’ve only been pretending to be all these years.
Fit back into your pre-motherhood jeans? Learn Italian so you can summer in Tuscany? Cycle to work without retching, jelly-legged, into a ditch a third of the way there? You name it; someone’s waking up tomorrow morning determined to do it.
The notion that happiness can be yours if only you were a little less appalling is overwhelmingly an adult trait… in a sense. It’s also a very childish idea of what adulthood is, and the kind of person we have to become in order to gain entry.
I remember clearly the first time I realised that the state of adulthood was less inevitable than I had been led to believe. I was in my early teens, and sitting in my grandmother’s kitchen as she had a petulant argument with her sister on the telephone. There was sulking, sniping and petty
jibes that would have been rewarded with fame and fortune on an episode of Geordie Shore, which was striking as both women were in their sixties at the time. “Oh, balls,” I thought. “It’s an illusion, isn’t it? We never really grow up.”
“We’ll no longer be distracted by childish pursuits”
It’s become more and more apparent as I’ve gotten older… older, but never really old enough. A wave of nervous terror before a parent-teacher meeting. An insult pitched at a perfect stranger during an online game. A ridiculous phobia once assumed to have a shelf-life. Man-flu. Gossip. Cheating. Getting the giggles at funerals. It never ends.
And so every New Year’s Eve we resolve, perhaps, to be grown-ups for the next twelve months, and to achieve all of the goals we, as grown-ups, are supposed to achieve. We’ll no longer let ourselves be distracted by such childish pursuits as sweeties, bold words, or sitting on the couch feasting on junk TV. Far be it from me to suggest that this is a waste of time: we should smoke and drink less and fill our bellies with salads and our brains with literary classics, and a hearty congratulations to those of us that manage it. But really, the reason many of us fail in our New Year’s Resolutions is that we’re striving to be grown-ups, and we’re all just big kids. Even those of us that have big kids.
Perhaps the true mark of adulthood is the realisation that you’ll die well before you get there, in which case, something we could all benefit from is a little solidarity between the not-so-grown-ups and the children who are still unaware that there is no grown-up sensibility that descends like a well-cut cloak on one’s eighteenth birthday. A more noble, and much easier New Year’s Resolution would be for us to look after the real kids a bit better. Childline spoke with over a thousand anxious kids this Christmas; there are children’s charities all around the country that could do a lot with a gym membership fee.
Outside of the structure of a charity, we could resolve to set a better example: a bit more kindness and compassion shown to others, so that kids don’t yet have to face adulthood for what it kind of is: a larger, wilder version of the lunchtime playground, with all of the messing and sloppy hierarchy and stupidity that entails.
It’s in our childish nature to try to be grown-up by vowing to carve maturity out of the space we already, uncomfortably, inhabit. We’re going to make New Year’s Resolutions. As almost-adults, we can’t stop ourselves.
“Adulthood’s a false idol – resolve to be a better kid”
But maybe in 2013, we could try being a little more pleased with where we are; you don’t burn calories by beating yourself up, after all. Resolve to play more board games. Or sing louder in the shower. Or take long muddy walks with the smallies and the dog.
It might be too much to ask, but maybe if you are going to make a resolution this midnight, resolve to be a better kid. Adulthood’s a false idol, anyway.