The younger was peeved because the elder had a play date and she didn’t. But it wasn’t just that. The kids had just returned from a camping trip with HWMBP, who, you will recall, Must Be Preserved precisely because of his ability to survive in the wilderness when the Zombie Apocalypse comes.
The younger was dirty, tired, and cranky, and she wanted company, just not my company. She didn’t want to play; she didn’t want to read. I tried in vain to set up a play date. I looked at the clock. HWMBP was taking them to a Memorial Day barbecue at 5. What could we do to kill an hour?
“Why don’t we walk to get frozen yogurt?” I suggested, brightly.
“Mo-ommmmmm,” the younger fumed, at this obviously odious proposition.
“I don’t want to do anything that involves eating,” she declared.
I opened my mouth to make another suggestion.
“Or walking,” she added. I closed my mouth.
Spoken like a true Angeleno, I thought.
“OK,” I said. “What do you want to do then?” I did not expect her to be ready with a suggestion but she was.
“Why can’t we just, just, just go get our nails polished together?” she pleaded. “We’ve never even done that before,” she protested, as if it was something she’d been nagging me to do for years although, in fact, this was only the second time she’d ever mentioned the idea.
Although I paint the younger’s nails all the time (and she paints mine, generally against my will), it is true that we had never been to a nail salon together. I was about to say, “we don’t have time,” but then I reconsidered. It really doesn’t take all that long to get your nails painted. I called the nearest nail place. They could take us immediately. It was decided.
The younger was ecstatic.
When we got there (she conceded to walking), we chose our colors: light pink for her and navy blue for me.
“Light pink and dark blue go well together, don’t they, Mom?” she observed in her husky voice, extremely pleased by our choices.
As we both sank into our comfy chairs, I let out a big sigh and thought, oooh, this really was a good idea.
A couple, a man and woman in their late fifties or sixties, were sitting opposite us getting their nails done. The woman couldn’t take her eyes off the younger.
“What a great-looking kid,” she murmured, beaming.
I laughed: I thought I knew what she meant: there was something arresting about the sight of the tangle-haired little girl in the mud-stained sweater reclining on the plump cushions with her hands held out regally.
The woman continued to gaze at the younger, transfixed, until her own treatment was finished. Before getting up she turned to me.
“Our [gesturing to her husband] daughter is 29 now. But I remember when she was just about this one’s age, bringing her in for her first manicure.”
I smiled, thinking of how my own first professional manicure had most definitely been when I was an adult. If there had been any mother-daughter nail polishing ritual, it was much much later, when I took my mother for her first manicure—probably in LA, come to think of it.
As the woman got up from her seat, she gave the younger one last tender look.
“It’s such a sacred moment,” she declared, before walking off.
I had to stifle, I admit, a huge guffaw, at this solemn pronouncement. A five-year old girl getting her first manicure is a sacred moment?
Maybe my repressed guffaw was out of place. If I were a foreigner anywhere else, would I so sneeringly mock the cherished rites of passage of the local culture? Of course not! No, I would probably extol them as fascinating traditions.
Still. I don’t think it was a sacred moment. But it was … a lovely experience. The younger looked so blissed out after her manicure I thought she was going to fall asleep. To be attended to with care and ceremony can be extremely soothing; it can also be unexpectedly moving. I thought about this as the woman who was performing my manicure massaged my arms and hands. There’s something so intimate about another human caressing your hand and clasping it tightly. I felt tears prick slightly in my eyes when she intertwined her fingers with mine.
Last week in therapy, Dr F. pressed me to articulate my feelings more precisely without using a generic term like “lonely” or “sad” or “longing.”
I thought for a long time in silence. All I could think of was a gesture.
“It’s like I’m reaching out,” I said. “It’s like I’m reaching out my hand,” I continued, and I think I may even have physically extended my hand as I spoke, as if trying to catch the feeling.
“I’m reaching out my hand and I’m expecting someone to take it, and then I feel this, this sense of absence when they don’t.”
“Reaching out,” she asked, “like you’re on the flying trapeze?”
It wasn’t what I’d had in mind, but I loved the image.
“Yes,” I said. “Yes, exactly. But my timing is always off. I reach too far or too early, so I always miss the catch.”