What Superglue Taught Me About the New Year

the superglue incident (day 263)
Image by jspad via Flickr

When I was a kid, I was terrified of Superglue.


This was because my mom once told me to stay away from it because Superglue was permanent, and if I got it on my hands, my fingers would be stuck together. What happens if it gets on my eyes? I asked, Well, she said, it would glue them shut.


Looking back, I realize that it never occurred to Mom that this exchange would cause me to believe that if I touched superglue, my eyes would be sealed shut FOR THE REST OF ETERNITY. She just wanted me to leave the stuff alone, to understand that it wasn’t a toy.


Out of such misunderstandings, neuroses are born. Until quite recently, I left all supergluing to my husband. I would consent to buy the tube—holding it warily between two fingers—but he had use the stuff.


And then came the day when a toy had to be fixed, and Christian was at work, and had lessons after dinner, and…and I realized that I was being ridiculous. I pulled out the tube, took a deep breath, and glued the sucker back together.


Guess what? I got superglue on my fingers. And Mom was right. It’s permanent. By the time I got to the sink to wash it off, it had already set in a thin film on the pads of my fingers. It wouldn’t come off. And so, for the next three days, my sense of touch was veiled with this creepy feeling of muted sensation.


But then that layer of skin wore off, and the world returned to its proper state. My fingers were not locked together for all eternity. Who’d’ve guessed?


My newfound freedom from Superglue Terror is a really good sign. Because although the adult Kate is in many ways an improvement on my childhood self—in terms of empathy, understanding of faith, even patience and capacity for suffering—although in these areas I’ve grown, I’ve also lost something.


It used to be that when I made my mind up, it was made up. I might wrestle with tough questions for quite a while: a tenet of faith, a bad habit, an uncharitable attitude toward someone or something. But once I changed my mind, it was done. I didn’t waffle, didn’t lapse back into ugly old habits. When I had a choice to make, a theological tangle to unravel, I might puzzle over it for quite a while, but the end of the internal discussion was very clear, and when it was past, I never second-guessed myself. Options abandoned were truly abandoned.


The first time I found myself agonizing over a resolution made and (I thought) done, I was very disturbed. By the tenth time it happened, I realized that this was the new normal, and I mourned the loss of clarity. A beloved uncle nodded sagely and sighed, “That’s the difference between childhood and adulthood.”


It no longer surprises me when I double and triple guess myself, when I seem pathologically incapable of letting go of the struggle. There are decisions I continue to question, slights I can’t forget—some grad school roommates I still haven’t been able to forgive, despite repeated prayers for the grace to do so, despite eleven years’ worth of attempts. The memory of that awful semester still smarts.

, via Wikimedia Commons”] 

This is why I take New Years Resolutions very seriously. For weeks leading up to January first, I soul-search, trying to discern what self-improvement is necessary and reasonable for the coming year. And the frustrating part is that all too often, my new goals end up looking pretty much like my old ones, because I really haven’t made a lasting change in my habits.


But I’m beginning to make peace with this. I realize the truth of the adage old habits die hard. The wonder of childhood, and the reason it’s so important, is that children are so pliable, so easy to mold. In adulthood, our skins thicken while our souls stiffen.


And this is why I find such hope in my newfound ability to use Superglue. It gives me hope. It is possible to teach an old dog new tricks…you just have to be willing to put in the effort.