Working Hands


On those rare occasions when conditions are just right-- the stars align, a supermoon appears, or I have both time and money at my disposal-- I sneak off to Kool Nails Spa & Hair. The little shop is tucked away in a corner of the mall next to JC Penney. I go there even though it's a bit out of the way and a bit of a misnomer (nobody there does hair) because, inevitably, I'll also want to do a loop through Target which anchors the other end of the mall. Three birds with one stone-- a bit of pampering, 1,000 steps added to my pedometer, and the happy surprise of finding a red tag on the vintage-looking coffee mug with my initial on it that I'd been admiring.

I've been going to that shop for years, but only for a pedicure. I can't tell you the last time I got a manicure.

Oh, wait. Yes I can. It was over fifteen years ago when I used a gift certificate my then husband gave to me for my birthday. I was seven or eight months pregnant and I decided to indulge in my first ever facial, then a manicure and pedicure before the baby arrived. I scheduled my visit about a week before my due date so that I might be both camera and stirrup ready when the big day came. Ahh, youth!

Anyway, Thirteen turned fifteen in July, so it's been over fifteen years. I had since convinced myself that a manicure was a waste of resources because my hands stayed too busy. They are working hands, after all, not well suited to concerns about chipping or breaking, or cuticle management. How many times in a given day are they plunged into hot water? Or pressed into service to treat mystery stains, to eliminate blackheads, or to style a head full of hair into a million twists? Back in the day, how many diapers and wipes and yucky and sticky things which called for the almost excessive washing of hands? Not to mention fastening and unfastening the buckles in car seats, strollers, high chairs, and the like. All of the cooking and cleaning at home plus the typing, filing, red ink, more excessive hand washing (because middle schoolers are walking petri dishes) and manipulating copy machine innards at work. Oh, and pumping my own gas which becomes a source of mild resentment every time I return from a visit with my family in New Jersey.

Yes, these are working hands. 

Lately, though, I have found myself admiring the manicured nails of women I see around town as well as on television and in magazines. I like best those manicures where the nails are cut short and round and painted with rich, dark, and deep colors. I started wondering whether or not I can afford the luxury of polished nails.

Then, I got to thinking about my own mom. She was a secretary when we still referred to administrative assistants as secretaries and, after a full day at the office, she came home and put in another full day's work before sending us off to bed. There were a bunch of us, including a baby plus a dog and our home was always clean. The sink was never full of dishes, the laundry was promptly folded and put away, the meals home cooked, and the mama always well groomed. She smelled like coffee and fragranced powder. At least, that's how I remember it.

I also remember that she was always in motion. Except for when she gave herself a manicure. Somehow, she found time when nothing needed doing and it was relatively quiet in the house. She would sit at the kitchen table with an emery board, an orange stick, cotton balls, nail polish, and a cup of coffee. She filed her nails and pushed back her cuticles, and with so much care, brushed on a ladylike color that I was told I couldn't wear until I was grown. Then, she would sit until the polish dried. She'd just sit. Do you hear me? Just. Sit. (Now as I look back on it, I am hoping that I didn't pester her while she was doing that. Just sitting.) 

I can do that. I can sit.

But, I've departed from my mother's model. I tend towards colors very far away from the shades of pink, translucent to sheer, that my mom allowed me to wear until I was, indeed, grown. My favorites are Seal Brown, Chocoholic and, my latest acquisition, Dark Hue-mor. It's blue! Isn't that tre edgy of me? On Sunday evenings, whether the dishes are done, or not, but after I've ironed The PhD's pants and oxford shirt (Thirteen does her own ironing), and with more things left undone than done around our little apartment, I trim my nails down low, settle in with Poldark (if you don't know, you better ask somebody), Sally Hansen's Double Duty and my choice of color-- Dark Hue-mor for the foreseeable future-- and, I sit and polish my nails. Do you hear me? I. just. sit.

Every day, I find myself looking down at my nails and smiling. Sometimes, I hold my hands up to the sunlight to admire the true color under the sheen of the top coat. I am unapologetic about how it makes me feel-- brand new, sophisticated, and bold. I still type, wash my hands maybe too much, and fool with the toner at work. I still do all of those rough and tough things at home. My hands are still working hands, but I've come to think of my painted nails as a private rebellion. A little pushback against feeling old and workaday, manic Mondays and the irritation of hearing, "What's for dinner?" as soon as I walk in the door. Instead of grunting a response, I look down at my nails and see ne'er a chip or scratch. Then, you know what? It's all good.