There are so many challenges my circle of friends agree on when it comes to our daughters–the fear of mean girls, sexist t-shirts that drive us batty, Bratz dolls as Satan’s slutty Chinese-made spawn, the frustrating division between boys toys and girls toys which just won’t seem to go away.
There’s one place we split though.
Not for us. For our daughters.
I can’t quite describe why I am so squidgy and uncomfortable when I see hot pink sparkles on my daughter’s fingers from a “let’s play salon” session that lasts a little longer than it should. I know I’m (mostly) alone here, because the female entirety of her first grade shows up regularly wearing brightly painted, adorably smudgy and imperfect nail color. Thalia does too. Sometimes. Mostly when we’re rushed in the morning and I forgot to ask her to take it off before school. “Argh!” I remind her with frustration–also sounding a little like a pirate. “Nailpolish is for dress-up, not for school. Just like lip gloss or eye shadow.”
She nods. And hears me. I think.
I’ve created an arbitrary hierarchy of color appropriateness in my brain: pale pink is better than red. Blue is better than pink. Crazy multi-colors are better than anything. And for some reason, any color nailpolish on boys is totally fine in every way. Double standard. Sorry girls.
So you can imagine that as someone with a major discomfort about little girls wearing cosmetics on a regular basis, that I have to fight back every base Sanctimommy instinct when it comes to salon manicures.
Every so often, I head to my local Dashing Diva (I know, the name–how it burns) and settle onto a cushy seat with my toes soaking in some lavender bath, hoping for an hour of child-free, work-free indulgence. And increasingly, my fantasies are interrupted when a seven year old, a four year old, a two year old (for feck’s sake) are joining mommy with their feet in their very own basin of bubbles.
I’ve had discussions about this with friends and they’ve offered me plenty of rational perspectives: It’s about spending time together. She really loves it. It makes her feel grown-up. It’s a bonding experience. It’s only once in a while.
I see those perspectives. I really do. But I also wonder, what’s left? What will our girls do when they’re 10? Or 13? Or 16, the year at which I got my own very first professional manicure for my junior prom. The dress was white. The nails were ballerina slipper pink. The music was terrible. The illicit champagne in the car was Andre, which cost less per bottle than the nail polish.
I really try to examine my own challenges with kids in salons, and determine just what bothers me. There’s of course the pain of hearing a toddler using her loudest possible Outside Voice in an inside sanctuary. (Don’t get me started on the ones who are just there to run around and knock stuff over while their mothers ignore them.) There’s the uncomfortable visual of Korean immigrants pampering the feet of little white girls. But more than anything there’s that original notion of Kids Grown Up Too Soon – we despise those Bratz dolls, and yet, are we offering one tiny signal at a time that they’re not so bad? And are we doing so much for our kids just because we can?
This past week, Thalia came with me to get a pedicure. She doesn’t need her own pampering; just sitting next to me makes her happy right now.
When we showed up, the wait was long. While we decided whether or not we’d stay, another mom, there with her young daughter, looked up with that smile, that eye contact that tells you she wants to talk. I smiled back.
“Are you getting your nails done together too?” she asked.
“Oh…no, she just sits with me while I get it done.” I smiled.
“Ohhh…” she said a little sheepishly, “well this is our first time. She just turned three. I thought it would be nice.”
“Happy birthday,” I said to this sweet, teeny little girl. “I bet you’ll have a wonderfully time with mommy.”
Thalia and I got ready to leave, when the mom continued, “it’s just that…tomorrow. Tomorrow I…”and I was sure her eyes started to well up with tears.
“Tomorrow I got back to work for the first time. The first time since having her. She just turned three. It’s my first day back at work.”
“It’s a good thing,” she said, less than convincingly.
And then she continued on about how conflicted she’s felt, and how she’s had a few dissenters in her life, and how she is just so torn up and conflicted and stressed about this new job, even though it’s doing something pretty wonderful with a local hospital. “So I thought this would be a really nice thing,” she added. “A…you know…bonding thing. Something we could do together, the two of us, before Mommy goes off to work every day. Something we could remember and talk about.”
I understood. Completely.
I mentioned that I had been in discussions about mommy wars that very week, and so the entire inner-conflict of returning to work was very much on the brain. But she should feel proud that she’ll be doing noble work, and that her daughter will grow up to be proud of her mom. Then I asked Thalia to tell the mother what happens at the end of every day.”
“Mommy always comes home and gives us a big hug and kiss,” she said in the cutest little way.
“Thank you,” the mother said. “I really feel so much better now. It’s as if…we were meant to run into you today.”
“Maybe we were meant to run into each other,” I said.
I was reminded of the smart line that Stefanie Wilder Taylor offered, buried somewhere buried in the comments of that Babble Mommy Wars salon, when a self-righteous commenter was challenging working mothers. Stefanie described a revelation about her own experience as her kids got older and went off to day care: It made me wonder if my staying home with her [those early years] was really so much better for her or if it just happened to be the best thing for me?
I suppose you can apply that to pedicures with your 3 year old. I suppose you can apply that to a lot of choices we make.
And then I knew that the next time I saw a toddler with her hands in the hands of a professional manicurist, that there might be more to that image than a pampered rich kid whose parents indulge her. When I see a kindergartener running around with rainbows on her nails, maybe the mother needed that to happen for some reason.
And maybe that’s okay.
As for me, I returned to the salon with Thalia on Wednesday night after her ballet recital, the night before I headed out on my own trip for a few days. She had looked forward to it for two days. And so she sat with me, cuddled up under my arm along the bench, smiling the entire time. She gazed at my feet. She asked if the callous file hurt. I offered her crayons or a book, but she declined; she just wanted to watch. When it was time for the foot cream, I took a dab in my hand and massaged it into hers, as she oohed and ahhed and sniffed her hands feeling very grown-up.
And then, for an extra special treat I let her pick the color.
Not my usual red, but any color at all.
Drunk with power, she chose a bright, shimmery sapphire blue. I told her that now every time I look at my toes while I am in LA, I will think of her.
I think for both of us, that was the best part of all.
Thanks Schmutzie for including this post in Five-Star Friday