Could there be anything more mundane or boring than the cutting of nails? Diapers and feeding are topics that put us parents in our element, but nails? This is a subject that never comes up. This is also happens to be an area that I still don’t feel like I’ve mastered 7+ years into this mommy gig.
When my daughters, M and J, were newborns, their nails grew so fast that I could almost see them lengthening during our long breastfeeding sessions. I clipped those 40 tiny nails every day. Only once did I hurt a baby cutting nails, and I cried longer than she did. I caught M’s big toenail a little too close to the quick. I still cringe to think of it.
My father-in-law suggested to me that I just bite the girls nails off when they were infants. Thanks, but … eww! Instead, I used the gift my always wonderful boss gave me at our baby shower at work. I think it was Parents brand, but the Safety 1st one the picture is a decent stand-in.
I’d just grab those teeny tiny fragile hands and feet in my big clumsy hand, slide the bottom blade between skin and nail, wince, and squeeze. Times 40. Every day.
Now that they’re 7, we can get away with tending to J and M’s nails every week or so. I no longer use the baby clippers, only because they got lost in the move to El Paso two years ago. The fingernail cutting is pretty unremarkable. I ask the child in question to please sit still, I grab her hand and try to steady the finger, I remind her to sit still, I remind her that the clippers are sharp and I really need her to sit still, I give up on her sitting still, and I aim and squeeze. I trim whatever’s left and move onto the next finger.
Once we’re done with the fingers, things get difficult. My toenails grow straight out, so they’re easy to trim. The girls inherited their father’s curved nails. He pointed out to me when they were a couple of months old that they would, like him, be prone to ingrown nails, something I never contended with. I’m glad to report that it has yet to come to that.
J isn’t too thrilled about having her toenails trimmed, but she puts up with it. M, on the other hand, goes into a deep panic. There’s crying and begging and even once she’s agreed to the torture, her toes curl up and she shakes and jerks and entreats me not to cut her toes off. The child doesn’t like anyone near her feet. When we got to the nail salon together, J and I get mani-pedis and M gets a manicure. She likes to soak her feet with her sister, but insists on drying them herself when she’s done. She’ll occasionally ask me to paint her toenails, but it’s a (I just can’t help myself) nail-biting experience. (Ba dum ching.)
Yesterday, it was nail-clipping time. The fingers went as the fingers go. J needed to go potty, so M’s toes were up next. I asked if I could see her toes, and about 5 minutes of bargaining later, she acquiesced. We were seriously overdue for some trimming. I picked up her foot, and she got cold feet (am I on a roll or what?). “I can’t do this, Mommy. I just can’t handle this.”
I tried to reason with her and finally offered an alternative. “You’re a big girl. How about you clip your own toes?” Why hadn’t I considered that before? She agreed to try. She still cried, curled and twitched, but at least she wasn’t trying to buy her way out by offering to fold the next decade worth of laundry. One snip in, she decided she couldn’t do it. So I did what I always end up doing. I clamped down on her foot with an iron grip, did my best to not hear the screaming, and clipped as fast as I could without drawing blood.
When we were done, my tear-soaked M had an idea. “Maybe you should just do this when I’m asleep, Mommy.” The child sleeps in a lofted bed 5 feet off the ground.
We’ve tried nail files. M hates them worse than the clipper because they take longer and contact more of her skin. We’ve tried nail scissors. You’d think I’d suggested a light afternoon of waterboarding. I’ve tried surprise attacks, planned sessions, ice cream bribery, movie watching, snuggles, board games. It’s not getting any better.
Help me out, people. Surely M’s not the only one with this level of fear of having her nails clipped.
How do I make the cutting of nails, especially M’s toes, less torturous for everyone? We have dogs for miles around who being deafened by the shrieks.
Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012 and is usually better able to keep her love of puns out of her writing. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and was delighted to have the opportunity to keep a foot in the blogosphere through HDYDI. She also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.