Monday, April 11, 2011


“But who will cut his toenails?” she asked despairingly. She was an older mom sitting beside Dan and me at a meeting we went to when Jessie was still quite young. I think it was about futures planning. Dan and I looked at each other and thought, “Bhah! What kind of concern is that? We don’t care about stinking toenails! We’re more hip, more progressive than that!” We were much more concerned about inclusion and education and friends. We were, well, a bit smug.

Neither of us remembered this incident until last week, when, after Jessie had gotten out of the shower and I had to remind her for the umpteenth time that she needed to actually DRY her skin, I began to fret over the little details that were hindering her full ascent into independence. It isn’t the larger issues—such as expressing herself or taking the bus—that are the problem, but the so-called smaller issues—such as closing the front door and turning the tap off completely. And my mind began to drift down the list and I became more and more agitated as they added up. I finally turned to Dan—who has invested a whole bunch of energy with me into this planning for Jessie to move away from home at some point—and wailed, “But WHO will cut her toenails?” in deep despair. Yup, the only thing standing between my daughter and full independence were her toenails! I had turned into that Mom who had wailed the same fear so openly at that meeting long ago, and now I understood.

The next morning I called my friend Claire, who always has sage advice and an uncanny sense of perspective. Without even saying hello first (thank goodness for call display) I blurted: “Can Julie cut her toenails?” Claire paused. I think she is used to these random calls from me and actually takes the time to think about my panicked questions. “No,” she said, adding, “And she doesn’t know how to trim or file her fingernails properly either.” “What about her hair?” I asked. “Is she good with her hair? Like, does she rinse it properly?” “No,” replied Claire, “What about Jessie, and her face?” she continued, “Can she wash and tone and moisturize it? Every day?” “Ha!” I replied. Now we were on a roll and kept adding to our list: toenails, fingernails, hair, skin … These were all the things our children did not master while we were busy including them in schools. But then those in segregated settings didn’t seem to have learned these skills either. So possibly, it had nothing to do with the schools and everything to do with us. Oh, here we go again! Blame the mothers!

Well, if we were going to be blamed, we might as well try to find a solution. However, one of the things that Julie and Jessie have in common is an uncommon ability to totally ignore any small (or large) skill their mothers might be trying to teach them. Mothers are unfortunate appendages best left ignored, unless needed for transportation.

Claire came up with a brilliant solution. Figuring that we probably weren’t alone in having failed to teach our daughters the rudiments of self-care (or having failed to teach them to care about self-care), we would find others who wanted to join us and hire someone to do it for us! We would approach estheticians that we knew (Claire and Julie have pedicures regularly and Jessie knows a delightful young woman, Athena, who does her eyebrows) to see if they might be open to developing a series of workshops specifically for our daughters. Each session would focus on one aspect—like nails, hair, or skin—and teach the girls the very basics in a very hands-on manner.

Okay. So here is where those of you with younger children shake your heads and turn away saying to yourselves … Wow! Get a grip! You older parents really have your priorities screwed up! But the crone here, who has earned every wild gray hair on her head—and in her eyebrows, which is why she needs an esthetician—says: start early on the toenails! Or they’ll trip you up every time.


Adelaide Dupont said...

Wow! Grey hairs on eyebrows!

(Fortunately lashes never seem to age or fade).

Shine seemed to be a good programme where "the answer was nailcare".

Whenever I think of toenails, I think of things like my elderly uncle having them fall out and be yellow, or my classmate having an ingrown toenail (there is another nail scene in Just another kid which really grips me, with its tones of self-harm and the Norn Irish Troubles).

And no wonder Jesus had believers wash His feet. (Who did Yeshua's toenails?)

Nan said...

I too have lots of weird memories about toenails! And yes, grey hairs on eyebrows are very wild!

Anonymous said...

I think you've hit a big nail on the head. Not a toe nail, of course. :P

Being one of those moms who is really focused on inclusion and education and friends (and hopefully not too smug! :P), the idea of having a child with Down syndrome for the rest of HIS and MY life, is still sitting precariously on the edge of complete acceptance, I think. So the toenails are secondary problems at this point...but I SO get what you're saying. And I think it comes with experience!

Loved this post! And your workshop idea is right on!

Cindy said...

I LOVE the esthetician idea!! I too am an unfortunate appendage to be ignored! I REALLY loved that! :)

Nan said...

Thanks .. so I guess I better really look into this esthetician thing. And just so you know, in addition to driving I think Jessie volunteered me to start a little social enterprise (a bakery apparently) for the DSAsociation. Hmmm. She better move out soon!