Everything, really, is spin. How you tell the story. What to leave in, what to leave out.
For example, I could tell the story of the first day of 2007 in a way that makes me sound like a homegrown Martha-Stewart-slash-Supermom. Like a person, in fact, who would never need to make a New Year’s Resolution again.
Here’s the media-approved version of New Year’s Day, 2007.
We arrived home in the early hours of the morning after bringing the kids downtown to watch the New Year’s Eve fireworks. Everybody slept soundly and woke at a reasonable hour, and we got busy preparing New Year’s dinner for my family, who were coming at 5:00. During the afternoon, while Jason cooked the turkey, we listened to the radio drama of Narnia on VOAR while the kids and I decorated a gingerbread house. I made a genuine old-fashioned steamed Christmas pudding in my vintage 1911 pudding bowl, given to me last year by Aunt Gertie. In the evening, my parents and Aunt Gertie came to enjoy a lovely turkey dinner and watch the children play with their Christmas toys while we showed videos of the children’s Christmas concerts, which Aunt Gertie hadn’t been able to attend. The guests went home early, the kids retired to bed, and Jason and I relaxed watching videos by the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree.
Sounds pretty, doesn’t it? And not a word of a lie. Everything I said is absolutely true. There are just a few tiny details left out.
We did decorate a gingerbread house — from a kit — while we listened to Narnia on the radio. Unfortunately, due to my usual hurry and my unwillingness to peruse the directions, I discovered after the house was built that I had thrown out what I thought was just the top of the package but was actually the “E-Z Build Tray” meant to hold the walls in place. Without this support the roof caved in, sending numerous Skittles crashing into the interior of the house. We rebuilt it twice and finally got it decorated with one wall partly collapsed. It looked like Gingerbread House meets Hurricane Katrina. Emma kept sticking candies on it long after Chris and I had lost interest, so she really gets credit for any festive element in the end result.
I did make a pudding in the old-fashioned pudding bowl. The problem with a steamed pudding is that there’s no way to check and see if it’s done. Last year’s pudding came out of the mold looking pretty much like it’s supposed to look. This year’s had to be scooped out in spoonfuls to lie quivering on the plate. It had a gummy, sticky texture. Everyone politely said it was tasty anyway. It probably would have been if we’d been able to drown it in sauce, but I hadn’t made enough sauce. The kids, of course, wouldn’t touch it and ate the gingerbread house instead.
We did have my parents and Aunt Gertie for dinner, although Aunt Gertie, who at 92 is more and more reluctant to leave the house, had to be coaxed to come over (she lives next door). I lured her over by assuring her the kids really wanted her to come, which was true at the time. By the time supper was ready, I was wondering if she might not have been happier left at home.
As we got ready to sit down to dinner, both kids refused to come and eat with their relatives: Emma because she was sulking from an imagined slight earlier, and Christopher because he was hard at work doing a drawing on his computer. I went upstairs and began urging them down to the table with dire threats. (“If you don’t come downstairs with a smile on your face right now, Pixel Chick Will Die!!!”)
Emma stomped downstairs wearing Eeyore-like expression, while Christopher said he’d be down in “just a minute.” I went into his room and rapped smartly on the top of his computer to get his attention. I swear I did not know that this would cause the computer to crash and reboot, thus losing the last hour of work he’d done on his incredibly complex drawing (he dislikes saving to back-up his work, although I think he may have learned a lesson about that last night). Did I mention that one of my New Year’s Resolutions was to be more patient with my children? Hmm…how long did that one last?
Meanwhile, my longsuffering husband, who had pretty much cooked the entire meal, had suffered long enough and was calling out to me to leave Chris alone up there; he needed help in the kitchen and couldn’t get the whole meal on the table by himself. We both became somewhat testy, in those harsh piercing whispers you use to convince yourselves that your guests are somehow unaware that you’re arguing in the kitchen.
Miraculously, all the food got on the table and both children joined us around the marginally festive board. Gradually the mood lifted (not that it had anywhere to go but up, by that point). Emma read a story to Aunt Gertie and showed us all the wonders of her Polly Pocket Cruise Ship. Christopher was able to re-create his picture on the computer and joined us in a happier mood for the viewing of the Christmas concert videos. Peace and harmony didn’t exactly reign supreme, but they were allowed equal representation and a vote.
By the end of the evening I was generally happy with everything except the 10,000 dirty dishes covering every available surface in the kitchen. The part about us collapsing on the couch watching movies by the Christmas lights was totally true. I neglected to mention the running feet and high-pitched giggles from upstairs that continued until 9:35 p.m. I blocked those out.
It’s so easy to do that — to block out the inconvenient facts that clutter up the pretty picture. I find I have a lot invested in spin, in making my life look good — to others, but especially to myself.
Magazine covers remind me that this is New Year’s. It’s time for a New Me, a New Life, New Directions. Oprah wants me to Live My Best Life, as usual. She also assures me this is the year I can become the Woman I Want to Be.
The thing is, I’m pretty sure this is my best life. And I think I am the woman I want to be. The person I am now, the life I’m living, fulfills most of my dreams and goals. I feel I’m honouring the important commitments in my life. I truly cannot imagine wanting to be a different person or live a different life.
Or … is that all spin? If I tilt the picture to a different angle, what do I discover? No, I don’t uncover a longing to be a different woman or live a different life, no matter how many collapsed puddings or crashed computers or disaster-stricken gingerbread houses or grumpy kids I have to cope with. What I do see is that within this life I’ve chosen, there is so much room for improvement. So many areas where I can be, not A Different Woman, but a better version of the one I am now. I am not discontented, but I am ambitious — I believe I can do better, be more patient, more attentive, more mindful in so many areas of my life.
Yes, I still believe in making New Year’s Resolutions. No, I’m not going to tell you what they all are. Except that next time someone gives me a gingerbread house kit, I’m going to hang on to the E-Z Build Tray. There’s no point making things harder for yourself.