Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Garfield, Augustus, Obituaries, & New Year's Resolutions

As my 7 year old sat down to breakfast, he asked in all seriousness, “Who would win - Garfield or Augustus?” He’d obviously been in the middle of this scenario when I’d called him to breakfast and he paused over his plate for my answer.

Playing my well-worn role of the clueless parent, I asked, “Who’s Augustus?” I knew that Garfield was obviously the fat orange cat found in the funny pages (my children love the Garfield movies which I find obnoxious because they always lead to farting and burping jokes), but I hadn’t a clue who Augustus might be or what he might be trying to win.

My child sighed at my incredible slowness, and said, “You know, Augustus.” Cue – the imploring you’re-not-really-that-stupid-mom-are-you?- look. When I registered no recognition, he shook his head in disgust and said, “From Willy Wonka?” He took a bite of French Toast and watched me, waiting for my answer.

I scanned my brain for some recall of any kind of recent battle between Garfield and Augustus and came up empty. “What are Garfield and August trying to win?” I asked.

Again, the sigh and now a roll of the eyes thrown in to hammer home his point about my ineptness. “An eating contest!” Duh, like I should have known this!

As I stalled for time to make my decision, I asked for more information. “Why are they having an eating contest?” My child hasn’t discovered the hot dog eating contests on TV yet, but the last time my husband’s best childhood pal was here, he and my son had a pizza eating contest (which my seven year old won I’m not proud to say), so I know this is a sport he is destined to aspire to, no matter how much I hammer home the idea of eating only what you need.

My son shakes his head at my silly question and takes another bite of his French toast. “Who would win?” he asks again between bitefuls. “I picked them because they’re the biggest eaters I know.”

“I’d have to go with Garfield,” I decide, picturing my own fat cat the time he got the lid off the catfood cannister. My son nods his head at my wise choice.

I think one of the primary functions of children is to remind us that we should never let reality get in the way of our thought processes, especially our dreams. Reality can really hamper possibilities. This conversation was a good reminder for me as I contemplate my New Year’s Resolution. I’m all about New Year’s Resolutions. How about you? Have you made any? Using your imagination to dream up an amazing life is a wonderful thing to do. And each resolution should move you another step towards that amazing life. I usually do my dreaming and scheming during a run, but since my runs have been limited to the tread mill by the godforsaken snow and ice for two weeks, I’ve been pondering my resolutions on paper. So far I haven’t gotten to anything very imaginative or even worthy of a Garfield vs. Augustus challenge.

I think the place to start is to dream up the person I want to be and the life I want to lead with no considerations for reality. I once did an exercise for a class in college in which we had to write our obituary. We had to write what we would be remembered for and how we would be described. When we finished the essay, the professor told us that we had just written our life’s mission statement. Mine was pretty lofty at the time, but I’ve held on to it and edited it as my values and my world view have shifted. Every morning now when I read the newspaper, I always scan the obituaries. I’m not looking for anyone I know (although from time to time a familiar face does appear). I’m just curious. I look at the faces and I read some of the write-ups and I think about who those people were. I wonder why that particular picture was chosen. I wonder what kind of life they had. I wonder if they were happy. I look for a good mission statement. As I read the mission statements revealed in the obituaries, I think I’m unconsciously comparing it to what my own obituary will say. I would like to be better at living out my own mission statement.

New Year’s resolutions call us back to our mission. They can help us stay on the track we want to follow. I have a copy of my own mission statement I wrote twenty years ago that I keep in my wallet. I rarely look at it and am always surprised when I come across it as I’m searching for whatever store bonus card the cashier happens to be demanding. But today I will pull up my mission statement on my computer and I’ll look it over. I’ll decide if it’s still my mission and whether I’m making any progress towards fulfilling it. I’ll imagine my life the way I want it to be and then I’ll sit down and write out some New Year’s resolutions to help me get there.

And New Year’s resolutions aren’t just for adults. It’s a great idea to have your kids come up with their own resolutions. Teach them now that we are all under construction. We can all be healthier, happier, life contributors. My family has a memory book that we started at the new millennium. Each New Year’s Eve we all answer five questions in the book. Those questions are:

1) What do I want to be when I grow up? (it’s funny how my husband’s and my answers keep changing too – shows how growing up is truly relative)

2) What’s the best thing that happened this year? (the answers from the kids when they were toddlers and preschoolers are pretty good – they say a lot about what’s memorable for children)

3) What’s important to you? (This is my favorite question. I love seeing how my kids’ values are developing. They always make me catch my breath)

4) What have you learned this year? (This one causes all of us to be grateful and takes the most thought.)

5) What do you think will happen in 2010? (Sometimes this gets pretty wild as in “Chickens will rule the world!” from my preteen and sometimes it’s very simple as in “Santa Claus will come.” from my then two year old.)

It’s a brand new year – the perfect time to take stock. What’s important to you? What do you want to be when you grow up? And most importantly, What have you learned? Ask yourself and ask your family. If you’re so inclined, find a few minutes and write your new year’s resolutions or better yet your obituary. If nothing else, it will give you a chance to hit the pause button on your crazy life and consider what your mission is.

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