Toenails and Kisses

“Let me see your toes.”


“Oh, come on. Let me just take a look. Hey, your owie is healing. It’s all gone!”

My six-year-old daughter has had a bad case of athlete’s foot the past few weeks. Months? I’m not sure.

I’d bought her some ointment, taught her to use it, and packed it in her backpack.

It’s so hard to keep track of these things when she’s only at my house Wednesday-Friday, and every other Saturday. She’s at her dad’s the rest of the week.

Tonight was her first night back, the Wednesday Re-Entry.

“Let me file your nails. Some of them are really jagged.”

“That tickles!”

She hates it when I clip her nails. Somewhere, deep down, she must remember when I clipped her pinky fingernail too closely and made her bleed. She was just a few weeks old, then, and I didn’t know what I was doing.

I still don’t.

“Oh, look at all this weird dead skin next to your big toenail. That must be from your broken nail. Didn’t you have a broken nail?”

“Um. I think so. A broken nail?”

“Yes, it was split down the side. You had to wear a bandage.”

“Oh yeah.”

“Well, it’s all healed now. This is all dead skin. You won’t feel a thing.”

She let me clip away the dead skin. I couldn’t believe how trusting she was being. This is a kid who needs a bandage for the slightest scratch, the most infinitesimal owies.

“Wow. I didn’t feel anything.”

“Yep. Cuz the skin was all dead.”

“Let me see it.”

It was so nice to be sitting together, again, after three days apart. I can’t believe how quickly her nails grow.

They get so jagged while she’s gone. So grimy.

Her father has a weird thing about clipping and filing nails. It reminded him of his mother. He couldn’t stand it when I filed mine. He never clipped his own, just bit them to the quick.

“I’m so glad you’re here with me. I love you honey.”

“I love you too, mommy.”

I wondered if he has ever clipped her nails… if he brushes her teeth, washes her hair.

I noticed that her fingernails had the remnants of sparkly purple nail polish.

Last Friday, the last night she was at my house, I was all done-up for my 20th high school reunion: hair, make-up, a pedicure, and my yearly manicure.

My daughter was jealous. She was mad I didn’t take her to the nail salon too. She told my mom, who was babysitting, “Mommy cares more about being pretty than being with me.”

Guilt trip! Nice try!

I gave her a “lipstick kiss” and told her I loved her.

Lipstick Kiss

I told her they could do nail polish if she wanted, but then I forgot to get it out for them.

We both forgot about it the next day.

Sitting on the couch this evening, together again, I almost asked her if her stepmother had put nail polish on her.

Then I caught myself. I thought about my husband’s ex-wife, and how she must feel when I do things for her boys.

I rephrased it, made it open-ended, deftly avoiding saying her other mother’s name.

“Who did your nail polish?”

“I did.”

“Oh, wow. Nice job!”

She’s really growing up.

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Part of the solution since 1973.

36 thoughts on “Toenails and Kisses

  1. What a precious post! I remember the days Sweet Pea’s stepmother would take her shopping and do all that girly stuff. I’m not much of a “girly-girl” and I would be so jealous, but on the other hand, so glad that she had someone to teach her those things. Of course, her stepmother would probably never believe that I really did appreciate it, but I did. Especially now that Sweet Pea is 16, dresses me, and is teaching me how to be a “girly-girl!” 🙂

    1. It’s strange sharing our children with other parents, isn’t it? And then parenting other people’s kids? So much complexity. So much to figure out, and the communication channels are not exactly easy to navigate. Thanks for stopping by. I really enjoyed reading your blog.

  2. Hi! Congratulations for making it to ‘Freshly Pressed’!

    I bite my nails. I got that from my dad. He got it from his dad. I’ve never needed a nail clipper or a nail file but I’m trying to change that.

    1. Ah… the family tradition continues!
      For my Sweet Girl, it’s too early to tell which side of the family tree will win out. The nail-biting side or the nail-filing side? Only time will tell.

  3. Beautiful post, I truly admire you for the strong woman you are, and the loving mom who sees the importance of the little things. Great job! And congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  4. Great goods from you, man. I have understand your stuff previous to and you are just extremely fantastic. I actually like what you’ve acquired here, certainly like what you are stating and the way in which you say it. You make it enjoyable and you still take care of to keep it smart. I cant wait to read far more from you. This is really a terrific website.

  5. Well, you don’t sound much like the “evil stepmother” (as your mini-“about” indicates) to me — in fact, the idea that you even thought about what the mother of your step-kids thinks disproves that notion. Bravo to you!

    And man, can I relate to “re-entry.” Only my kids are gone for two weeks of every month. If you don’t mind, I want to share a link to a post I wrote that I think you can relate to — any parent who experiences the ebb and flow of emotion when your child/ren leave you can relate to this, I would guess:

    It is the most difficult thing in the WORLD to be away from your children for any extended period of time. I’m so sorry you’re going through it, but it sounds like you’re doing all the right stuff to stay connected — and to respect your daughter. I wish you both the best! 🙂

  6. This was so moving. I read every word. I’ve never been in a similar situation but it felt like I did. As far as technique is concerned, this should get a medal for “show don’t tell.” You articulated everything without “telling” a thing. I loved the structuring of it too–the way you slowly start at the toe nail and make it about so much more revealing more and more about yourself, your little girl, others and the situation. Was a pleasure to read.

    1. Thank you. That is exactly what I was trying to accomplish. I’m new to this kind of writing and really appreciate your comments. Thanks for reading and taking the time to give feedback!

  7. I love this! Why do we have so many emotional experiences over our nails?? Strangely it’s my wild child who sits totally still and LOVES to have his nails trimmed. My sweet girl bites hers and for many years didn’t want me near them.

    1. For me, in parenting, there is so much emotion, so much history, so much subtext running beneath every mundane little interaction. It’s so hard to be present, completely present, in the here and now. Writing this post helped me realize just how much was going on with me during that rare moment of bonding-while-grooming (which is usually such a stressful fight).

  8. Very sweet. My folks divorced when I was five. I’ve have a step father that I adore and a father that I had a difficult relationship with. Now that I’m a parent, I wonder very keenly if there were times that, although we had our troubles, I poured salt in my father’s wounds when I talked so casually about life with my mom and stepdad.

    Touching piece.

    1. Thank you. This was for the writing prompt on finding Meaning in the Mundane. I think it’s so important for kids to be able to talk about “both” their lives, but it’s not always easy. Good for your father for not letting on whether he was hurt (unless that’s the reason your relationship is difficult!) Thanks for reading and commenting.

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