Exploiting My Baby* *Because It's Exploiting Me

Stop and Smell the Acetone

General StuffTeresa Strasser12 Comments

It doesn’t matter if the brick red polish on my fingernails is so chipped I look like Courtney Love coming off a bender. No, I mean, it deeply, truly does not matter.

And I really believed it mattered. The sight of my jacked up hands on the steering wheel made me slightly tempted to veer into a tree.

About a week ago, I began to panic about the nails. When would I have a chance to get a manicure or just take off this god-forsaken polish myself? Were people staring at my hands and extrapolating that my life, like the polish, must be crumbling and chaotic and maybe a bit busted?

Despite having a job and a toddler, I somehow always manage to keep up appearances, right down to the tips of my fingers, even if I’m up half the night administering Tylenol and suctioning mucus out of my child’s nose. This time, though, it got away from me. I’m typing this right now with hands like a woman who might offer you oral sex for three cigarettes and a Twix, and you know what? I’m okay with it.

Turns out, I needed ugly fingernails to scratch the surface of my own distorted thinking.

Now that it’s been three weeks of these half vamp/half meth head nails, it’s become obvious that my lack of manicure did not bring about either a global or personal apocalypse. In fact, it’s highly probable no one has noticed.

This is a very small personal grooming detail, and stupid, I know, but it was real to me that things would disintegrate if I walked around looking like this. A sick baby and a crammed schedule elbowed this out as a priority, and now I know a lot of things I couldn’t see when my nails were lacquered and things were looking prettier all around.

As the world continues to rotate and the sun to rise and set, I have to admit that life goes on not only if I look imperfect, but also if the laundry sits in the washing machine for three days before I get a chance to throw in the soap and start the cycle. If the baby eats a bowl of rice and beans tonight from the fast-food chicken joint, life goes on. If I can’t return a few phone calls or order a new package of special nighttime diapers online or get a picture framed or send someone a thank-you card or get to the gym or pretend to meditate for eight minutes, it doesn’t matter.

After three pediatrician appointments in one week and the dreaded call from day care that sends you rushing over there like your child is having a heart attack when he’s just running a fever, I’ve had a minor come-to-Jesus. (I’m Jewish, but I love that expression, and “come-to-Moses” just doesn’t have that ring.) In the world of a parent, especially of a little one, life feels easier when you choose your battles and distill the checklist to something incredibly simple and manageable: Is my baby healthy and safe? Is my relationship healthy and safe? That’s it. That’s all.

If the task in front of me isn’t essential to either my child or my husband today, it goes on the back burner where it may get a bit crusty before it gets cooked or tossed. So what?

At least for me, it was all getting to be too much. I hope you can relate. If not, I don’t care for your equanimity and time-management skills, and we probably could not be friends.

Once life forced me into accepting all I can’t get done, I was liberated. OK, that’s a bit dramatic. It’s not like I’m Andy Dufresne escaping Shawshank. Still, “So What” is a philosophy that gets me through the day right now. If it seems like I’m patting myself on the back for being deep, that’s just so I won’t have to see my nails.