This Spring ushered in an unexpected request from my eight-year-old daughter: “Mom, can I get my nails done?”
We were standing in Target’s hair care aisle. I stopped pushing our shopping cart and scanned her face, wondering what happened to the girl obsessed with Legos. I thought about grabbing her plump cheeks and squishing them—just to confirm that my daughter hadn’t been replaced by a chatbot.
“No,” I said, unwilling to add to the piles of treasure she already owned.
She walked to a wall where packages of fake nails were on display. I worried that her unwavering concentration would burn a hole in the wall.
“Mom, please?” She held up a package of fake nails, and then, her eyes began to water.
“No, I’m sorry honey. These nails are all for adults.”
It’s not that I don’t like fake nails, but I knew they wouldn’t last more than a day. And I worry about those plastic nails polluting the environment during the 20 to 500 years it takes for them to degrade. They can’t be repurposed.
“Now these will fit your nails.” I picked up another set and showed her the difference in size.
She didn’t scream or cry. She listened. I could see that she was processing the information.
All the noes that adults had directed my way when I was a child flooded me. Back then I usually stopped asking for the CD or graphic novel I wanted and figured out how to buy it for myself. At Target, I realized I had an opportunity to change that pattern of disappointment and show my daughter why adult nails wouldn’t work. My no turned into a yes. This small conversation demonstrated to me that I could create an opportunity for trust, showing my daughter she could come to me when she wanted to try something new, like a shocking hair color or a permanent tattoo.
I bought my daughter adult-sized temporary nails and kid-sized fakes.
When we got home, she laid an adult-sized nail on her finger. “These are huge!” she said. Her shoulders slumped. I handed her the box of kid-sized fake fingernails.
“Did you know that nails can be an expression of who you are?” she asked, dancing around the room, her outsized fingernails slicing through the air.
I knew then that my daughter would come to me and ask for the things she wanted, and that, unlike me, she wouldn’t be afraid to ask. I felt as though I had cut one thick string from the intergenerational trauma that had harmed me and my siblings. It was empowering.
Now, if only I can find a way to recycle those fake nails.