“Can I paint mine?” Emma asks looking down at her toes.
“Umm, no,” I responded, I put the brush back in the nail polish. I had no good reason for saying ‘no,’ except that I wasn’t ready yet. Wasn’t ready for the slippery slope of prettying herself up to start. Wasn’t ready to start the pressure to be pretty.
In weeks following I asked my friends how old their daughters were when they started painting their nails.
“Oooh, pretty young,” was the frequent answer, with stories of getting red painted nails on first Christmases and buying purple polish for play. I wondered if I was being too strict.
Then we had a rough day. Emma accidentally jumped on Carys, making her cry real cries of shock and pain. Too many moments where I had to shush and usher her away to take care of the needs of the other. I also realized I could use it as leverage to clip her nails.
“Emma you want to paint your toenails?”
“No,” looking down at her toes. I asked once more. No. Had I blown it?
Then I got a yes. I pulled her into my lap on the bathroom floor and explained I needed to cut her toenails before I painted them. She watched patiently as I clipped. I let her pick her color.
“Orange,” as she pointed to a sparkly peach. I swiped it on each little toenail, ending their innocence. Afterwards I asked her if she liked them. She looked down at her toes,
“I… just like them,” she said, pigtails bouncing as she cocks her head to the side, putting a hand out, turned upwards, and the other on her hip.
The next day we were at a playground, I was paused at our stroller, making sure that her younger sister was still sleeping, I looked up and saw little orange toenails running back and forth, the play structure covered the rest of her body and all I could see were her feet. I just watched, wondered a bit where she had left her shoes, and admired those little feet. After a few back and forths the child attached to those little feet started crying. She burned her feet. Imagine, whipping off your shoes and running around on a metal structure on a 80 degree day hurts. Hmmm. Why do I fuss at you to keep those on? She ran to my friend who was closer, while I found her shoes and walked over.
In those few moments I wondered if she would only remember that my friend was there to comfort her, and she would forget that I showed up with her shoes. I thought about how many times in her little life I would watch her and she wouldn’t know. How many times I would pray for her and she wouldn’t know. How many times I would be thinking about her or doing something for her and she wouldn’t know. I remember my mom telling me as an adult that she was worried about something that was going on in my little life and she had gone and talked to my teacher about it and asked my teacher to watch out for me. I felt like there were real guardian angels looking out for me. All Emma knew in that moment was that her feet were burning and I was not there. Even though I was staring at her.
How much do we do for our children that they don’t know about? How much was done for us that we don’t know about?