“First time?” A woman with platinum blond hair and a wide smile looked up at us as we walked in. My daughters, ages six and four, were practically bursting out of their skin with excitement. But they knew they had to be on “indoor behavior” so they were making an exaggerated show of acting ladylike. The result was two grinning girls who wriggled rather than walked towards the manicure chairs.
“Can you tell?” I smiled back at her.
The woman looked at me approvingly. “My mother would never have taken me into a place like this,” she said a little wistfully. A college-aged client with her toes soaking in a basin of soapy water looked up from her magazine and nodded.
“Neither would mine,” I said. “To tell you the truth, I’m not very girly. This isn’t really my thing either but my girls love this kind of stuff so I thought maybe I should embrace it.”
My daughters were seated at two tables and the Vietnamese nail specialists went to work buffing, filing and beautifying their nails. They both sat very still with serious expressions on their faces. But when the stylist pounded on her hand as part of the hand massage, four-year-old Athena couldn’t help giggling. She knew exactly the color she wanted for her fingernails: sparkly red.
The stylist deftly applied two coats of polish and sent Athena to sit with her hands under blue lights for quick drying. Then it was my turn. I spend a lot of time making bread, cleaning up spills and changing diapers. The skin on my hands is cracked and chapped and my fingernails are a mess. When I didn’t know what airbrushing was, the stylist raised her eyebrows at me. “You have to get with the times,” she scolded.
But in 36 years this was only the second time in my life that I’d had a manicure. It was true what I said to the woman at the door: I am anything but a girly girl.
I grew up climbing trees and fending off my three older brothers. The knees of my dungarees (once I was old enough to decide, I never wore dresses) always had huge holes in them. I hated plastic dolls and pink. There were no Barbies in our house.
In contrast, my daughters delight in wearing sparkly plastic high heels and pink frilly dresses (presents from in-laws). They parade proudly around the house like Oscar-winning movie stars, adore putting on make-up, find dolls of all kinds irresistible and wear fancy skirts and dresses to go play outside.
It’s hard for me not to cringe. It’s not that I really mind all the girly girly stuff, it’s just that I want my daughters to be strong, capable, intelligent and well-spoken … not just cute. I don’t want them to feel like they need to rely on their looks to get what they want in their lives.
My six-year-old chooses sparkly gold polish. I choose clear. “Your daughters are adorable,” the platinum blonde calls after us when we are finally ready to go.
We walk back to the car together holding up our hands and blowing exaggeratedly on our nails.
“That was way more fun than I expected!” Hesperus says, buckling herself into the car. “I thought they would just ching-ching paint our nails and we’d be finished.”
“Yeah!” agrees Athena. “Mommy, let me tell you something about the earth, okay?” She struggles with the buckle on her car seat, which makes a satisfying click when she gets it into place. “The earth is only a little bit of earth on the top and then underneath it’s molten lava. And sometimes the lava comes spurting out in a volcano. I know about these things because I’m a nature girl.”
I am learning to love pink. How could I not?