I love new year’s resolutions. I love the clean white lines in my fancy journal. I love my gel pens, laid out in colorful precision, and all the possibilities of the empty page. I love the optimism of it all. But, honestly, my resolutions since I had children have tapered off a bit. I’m tired. On some days I’m good at just making sure my children are fed and watered. My own goals and dreams and visions for the future are buried under piles of laundry and the discovery of month-old orange peels stuffed under the couch cushions.
Well, I thought, as I extracted the fuzzy rinds, at least someone had a healthy snack.
My resolutions for this year were not written in a pretty, leather-bound book. They weren’t written at all, in fact. I resolved—I think—to not resolve anything. Yet my desire to begin the new year with some sort of intention in place still itched at me. It has been a tradition of mine, since I was a kid, to stand still on New Year’s Day and look at the coming day, and year, and make plans.
This year we decided to get the boys a puppy for Christmas. We already own a neurotic little dog and two very irritated cats, so of course adding a baby furry nutball to this situation seemed logical. Rey, our new little husky/poodle/something mix is adorable and fluffy and really, really good at tearing the house to shreds. I knew, going in, that this is what puppies do. They look at expensive rugs and think, How can I destroy that? Rey eyes the ornate legs of my grandmother’s antique kitchen table and thinks, I must eat these. And so on. But as is the blessed side effect of all baby creatures, they destroy things while looking really, really cute.
So Rey contentedly chews on our house, and we carry on and try to potty-train her. “Consistency!” the puppy-training book tells me. “Lots of patience! Gentle perseverance!” I read these admonitions aloud to my family as we try, yet again, to outthink a two-month-old puppy. These words all sound to me like the goals that one should write down for resolutions. I would stop to add them to my journal—if I could only find it. Perhaps Rey already ate it.
Predawn winter in Kansas has a special kind of cold—one that always manages to find the back of your neck and ears. I have become well acquainted with this type of deep cold because I am standing outside in the darkness, once again, asking the puppy to please, please, please go potty. Rey is sniffing at every snow-frosted lump in the yard, and I am staring up at the sky.
It’s that deep stillness of early morning that is so very alone, but also so very close to God. My resolutions remain unwritten, but I don’t mind. They are changing, and I think that’s because God is always changing me. I know God is unchangeable, so I have basically surmised—especially at this cold hour with a reluctant puppy and my new sleep schedule—that serving others is the gist of my resolutions this year. No list needed.
Just serve God and serve others. Simple, right?
The puppy, in her endearing oblivion, is a constant reminder of this resolution. She needs so much from me. Rey awakens very bittersweet memories of the baby days, when I was finally getting sober and at the same time finding motherhood to be so very hard.
I am an alcoholic in recovery. My children were tiny when I finally quit drinking. It’s painful to admit and painful to remember. But I am also one of the lucky ones, the blessed, who came through to the other side of addiction. Every day is a grateful one. I have my life.
Early sobriety for me was right around the same time that my children were in the throes of potty training. Just to be clear: the first days of recovery are really hard. Potty training is also really hard. This time in my young family’s life that should have been devoted to my children and toddlerdom was, instead, fraught with my self-absorption and pain. It was not a perfect process, and I was far from a perfect mom back then. (Spoiler alert: I am still not a perfect mom.) I remained sober, but my sanity was barely intact.
At times, the memories seem steeped in regret.
And now, I’m looking into the deep brown eyes of my sweet puppy and remembering all of it. The impossible hours. The mess. The constant, aching tiredness. The frustration and the addiction and the surrender. I pet Rey’s silky ears and smoosh kisses onto her soft brow. She snuffles and licks me, a furry bundle of vigilant merriment, even at 5:00 a.m. So there is joy out there, in my cold backyard with the darkened sky.
I will resolve the same thing tomorrow, but one day at a time. I resolve to feel my feelings, no matter how tangled or strange or sad.
I’ve been sober for some years now. Yes, alcoholics are moms too. They are even Christian moms, with darling children and loving husbands. Yes, even us, the ones in the pews with our cute sweaters and smooth hair. Even us. And in recovery, the whole resolution thing is right on par with living sober. I resolve, just for today, not to drink. I will resolve the same thing tomorrow, but one day at a time. I resolve to feel my feelings, no matter how tangled or strange or sad.
I resolve to be afraid—and still alive—all at the same time.
I resolve to look at pain without running. And to accept joy, without fearing its absence.
I resolve to parent without perfection—because there is no other way.
And I resolve to always, always keep a sense of humor. The puppy will make sure of that.