Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The manicure- a mom's weeklong experiment

I think I can probably count the number of manicures I've had in my life on the unpolished fingers of both hands.

I have a vague memory of getting one right after I met the man who would one day become my husband, and I know I had one before our wedding, but other than that I can't "nail" down specifics.

The few times I have gone, rather than find it relaxing, having all the attention focused on me feels stifling and uncomfortable. I actually feel guilty sitting still while someone else is working. I find it hard to resist the urge to jump out of the seat and fix the manicurist a sandwich or straighten up the magazine rack or something. I guess I'm just not a manicure kind of girl.

But lately I've been feeling that more that my whole life could use a little buff and shine, that my cuticles aren't the only ragged things around here. Perhaps it's motherhood taking its toll, perhaps it's the isolation of largely working from home, or perhaps I'm just getting freaking lazy. While I've never been a Glamourpuss, I used to manage a fairly decent impression of a semi-stylish, sufficiently groomed modern woman that at least didn't break anyone's TV when I showed up to report the news. But lately I seem to have taken up residence in a fleece-friendly comfort zone somewhere dangerously close to Frumpsville, and it's been driving me crazy.

Maybe if I started with a manicure, the rest would fall into place. Maybe Manicured Mona would be the kind of stylish, pulled together, mom I find myself ogling at the playground. The kind who wears yoga pants to actually practice yoga. Maybe I would remember how to converse with adults. Maybe I could manage to wear socks that match my outfit. Or each other. Maybe I could nail it.

So one Saturday afternoon after work, I walked into the nail shop and boldly requested a manicure. It was the launch of what will henceforth be known as Operation Polished Image (OPI*), a 7-day hands-on experiment.

* No sponsorship or promotional ties to the nail polish brand by the same name.

Day 1

First dilemma: picking a color. In my limited manicure experience I've always stuck with clear polish, not wanting to draw too much attention to my hands. But this was Operation OPI! New territory! I was turning over a new leaf! Manicured Mona needed a bold start. A color to convey my newfound togetherness. So I went with a very pale pink.

I survived the scrapity scrapity scrapity of the cuticle picker, sat still long enough for the polish to dry, and carefully loaded my lovely, soft, polished, elegant hands into my car. A small plastic Tigger fell off the dashboard and was heading right toward my polish, but miraculously seemed to change course in midair and move away from the heavily guarded Green Zone around my nails. All hail the power of OPI.

At home, my sweet, caring husband scored big points by spotting the change right away.

"It's a whole new me!" I explained.

"Hmmmm? OK?" (He is, after all, a man.)

Day 2

I've turned into Vanna White. I find myself wanting to show off my manicure to anyone who cares to look, which of course, is no one. At brunch after church, I dramatically gesture to my husband and children over the menu at our local diner.

"Would you like these lovely pancakes that come with your choice of either sausage OR bacon?" (Attempting to use my elegant hands to make air pictures of pork products.)

"Hmmm? OK?" says my 3-year-old, every bit his father's son.

"Want dip dip!" says my baby girl, which happens to be her word for ketchup, which happens to be what she squirted all over my dress. The cute one I wore to go with my new manicure. As I bend down to wipe it off, she sticks her ketchup hands into my hair. The hair I actually took the time to blow dry this morning to go with my new manicure.

I feel cracks forming in my new Polished Image. And is that a crack in my polish???? Deep breaths.

Day 3

It's a new day and Manicured Mona is ready to tackle the world. Another day of ditching the sweats for what the What Not To Wear crew often refer to as a "Cute Mommy On the Go" outfit. Except that we had nowhere to go.

Meanwhile the dishes had been piling up in the sink, as I had feared the damage they might inflict on my nails. I know I own some rubber kitchen gloves... but where are they?

45 minutes of searching in vain under the sink and in the closet (while mediating minor skirmishes on the toddler front) turned up nothing. Nothing except dust bunnies all over my Cute Mommy outfit and is that another freaking crack in my polish????

Day 4

And on the fourth day, the stomach bug hit. And there was much vomiting throughout the land. And much laundering and scrubbing and Lysol and Pedialyte and Motrin drops and popsicles. And much comforting of feverish little ones who just needed to be held by the hands that love them and didn't care at all about polish or image or anything else. And there was much anxious placing of big hands against hot little foreheads, followed by anxious hands pressed together with silent prayers of "Please, please, please just let them feel better."

Day 5

See Day 4.

Day 6

The 48-hour plague has lifted but we are all a little worse for the wear. The house is a mess, the cupboards are bare, the work is stacked up. I have frazzled nerves, frizzy hair, and yes, that is in fact a fleece sweatshirt. As I pulled my arms and my nails (which now have so many cracks they look like a relief map of the Grand Canyon) into those familiar sleeves I felt simultaneously at home and lost.

Day 7

The polish is gone, literally. I scrubbed it off this morning, with a bit of a heavy heart and some acetone that probably dates back to the Reagan administration. Sure, I could, and I probably should, invest in more regular manicures. It's not an expensive indulgence, I like the way it looked (for the first 2 days) and I know I need more "me time" than my semi-annual dental cleaning currently provides. But I also feel like OPI was a bit of a failure. Or more specifically, that I was a bit of a failure.

Couldn't I keep my act together for one stinking week? How naive was I to think that a little bit of color on my nails would somehow transform me into Super Mom. OPI didn't come with backup troops in the form of a cleaning lady, a nanny, a stylist, or even the promise of a nap. I was still the same Mona, still the same mom, still a little bit of a mess, now with smeared nail polish remnants to remind me of my shortcomings.

Later that night during a family get together I sat quietly away from the crowd, unable to shake the frustration, wringing my unpolished hands. I watched my sweet little boy put his arms around his sister to comfort her when she fell. I marveled at his thoughtfulness as he played with his cousins, aunts and uncles. I listened to a goofy giggle and felt it warm my heart. Then I held my baby girl's hand and walked her over to her grandfather's waiting, open arms.

For a brief moment, all three of our hands connected. One was small, unlined, smooth, and so much stronger than its tiny size implied. One was marked with deep grooves, the slight shaking of age and disease, and was far stronger than its condition implied. And one was caught somewhere in the middle. Not as smooth as it once had been, and certainly not as polished.

But, I realized with a smile, far stronger than I ever knew.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Building and Rebuilding

I am not crafty, let's just be honest about that. I think after 37 years on this planet it's the least I can do in the name of self-awareness. Pots of glue, boxes of crayons, new sets of markers... I buy them, and then have no idea what to do with them. When I hear "craft" used as a verb I want to throw up a little bit. A mere trip to Michael's is enough to bring back painful memories of 6th grade art class and as a result, break out in hives. I've tried scrapbooking, stamping, painting classes and here's the unsweetened truth: I stink at them.

I'm trying very hard not to pass on my craftophobia to my children and to instead encourage their budding creative spirits. They both love to color, draw, paint, and squish Play Doh into whatever crevices they can find, and I think that's wonderful. I will happily set them up with their (gulp!) craft of choice and let the mess... er... magic happen. It's just not something I participate in. Which is all fine and good, but sometimes we need to do something together.

The last few weeks it's felt like one of the few things we've done together is bicker. My 3.5 year old son has been bent on asserting his independence. Loudly. My 1.5 year old daughter has been asserting her throwing arm. Now 25 weeks pregnant, my hormones have been asserting their domination over my life. Throw in a few snowstorms, stuffy noses and long nights at work and you've got the recipe for Frustrated Family.

So that's why I got out the blocks. They've been sitting on the shelf for the past few weeks, ignored in favor of other toys, as often happens with kids' varying preferences. But whether they are Mega Bloks, Legos or no name generic blocks, Noah loves to build towers, forts, houses, towns, you name it, and his sister loves to knock them down. And I've always found something therapeutic in the snapping and unsnapping of colorful plastic pieces. I didn't do much of it as a child, as I was afraid to compete (and fail yet again) against my Lego-obsessed champion builder of a big brother. Now, though I may curse the errant piece that impales the sole of my foot at 5:30am, I do find some strange comfort in those big bins of blocks.

We'd been getting on each other's nerves all morning and the mood was still tense as we plunked down on the playroom floor. Ceci was content to repeatedly make and unmake her stack of blocks, while Noah and I worked together on a garage for his fire truck. The tension was still evident as he dumped out the bin and I began snapping pieces a little too forcefully.

But then we both reached for the same piece at the same time. I smiled as our hands connected, his tiny smooth palm intertwined with mine. The smile became a giggle, the giggle turned into a laugh, which then turned into a 5-minute ticklefest that left us both out of breath. And then, with the fog lifted and our hearts happy, we got back to the business of blocks.

As I cleaned up the playroom that night I turned those pieces over in my hand and mentally ran through the day. And I said a silent prayer we would always work together to rebuild what might seem broken.