a Women Writers' Showcase

by Donna Surgenor Reames

The shiny packs of fake nails, glittering under the harsh flourescent light of the local dollar store, beckoned irresistibly to my three girls. I heard them from one aisle over, their voices blending together in one familiar sound, its pitch rising higher with their growing excitement.

"Oooh, wow, Chloe, look at these." 

"Oh, oh, those are beautiful but look at these, y'all."

"Hey Chloe and Caroline, do you want me to see if Mama will let us buy some and I'll put them on for you tonight?"

I stifled a sigh as I surrendered to the inevitable. I hate, literally hate, buying fake nails. I don't like the smell of the glue. I don't like the mess the girls make when they are sorting and clipping and filing and trimming and painting their beloved nail falsies. I mostly do not like wasting money on something that I know...after three daughters and eleven years worth of fake nail purchases...will be tossed, one or two little girl nail's at a time, into the trashcan. They like putting the nails on, you see. It's the wearing of them that seems to be the problem.

I round the corner and face my irrepressible trio head-on. I'm a veteran mom. I know when I'm beaten and I've learned how to negotiate a graceful surrender.

"Yes." I say the one word they have been building up to coax from me and I see their faces light up. I can almost see the thoughts marching through their minds.

"She said YES! And we didn't even have to beg her!"

As my girls rush to my cart, small hands already overflowing with blue sparkle diamond nails, pink heart glitter nails, lavender mist nails and all the things that have to come with - the glue, tiny clippers, polish remover - I force myself to smile. Tonight I will regret this impulsive decision, I am thinking. I will know that I was overcome with tiredness from my busy work week coupled with the honest desire to give in every now and then, just because moms need to do that...sometimes.

Four hours later, I am not having to force myself to smile. I am having to force myself not to cry. And it is not because of regret: it is because of how close I came to missing something truly beautiful tonight.

I stand in the doorway of the dining room. They don't see me yet and I am glad. I do not want them to. I want to steal this moment to do what I so rarely get the chance to do: to watch my little daughters while they are unaware.

Zoe, 11, presides. She flips her long straight brown hair back professionally and rests one already benailed hand casually on her hip. She's getting ready to do Caroline's nails. I see she has already done Chloe's. Caroline is getting hers done for the first time today. She sits on the edge of her chair, little body tense with barely-contained excitement. Zoe grins. She is ready.

"Caroline, these are JUST RIGHT for you!" Zoe says, beaming as she holds up the packet of blue diamond nails. Caroline squeals. Her small hands come together in an uninhibited clap.

"YES!" she shouts happily. Chloe, 8, joins in the fun. Waving her new long pink beauties dramatically, she gives her approval of Zoe's choice.

"Oh, Caroline, yes. You are going to look SIX...DEFINITELY!"  Zoe takes one of Caroline's hands and gets to work.

Zoe chatters as she works. Her voice is strangely different. She sounds about 20 and she is telling Caroline all about her other customers.

"Oh, one time, Caroline, I did Mary Kate and Ashley's nails," she brags. "They got matching orange jeweled ones." Caroline looks sufficiently impressed. Chloe joins in again.

"Yep, Caroline, Zoe and I have been doing this for a long time, haven't we, Zoe? Since way before you were born,  Caroline," she says, staring down at her gorgeous new nails. "We went all the way to New Mexico once to do this famous  woman's hair and nails...all for a party that only lasted  ten minutes. But she was famous and that's what famous  people do."

I felt something flicker in my heart. I thought of how long they'd been at this - at least an hour, maybe more - and how much it had cost for all the nails and everything that came with them. Put together, the grand total was somewhere around five bucks.

I felt ashamed, suddenly. All these years, with all my fussing and griping about wasting money...with all the bribing my girls usually had to do to get me to agree to this little ritual of theirs...it all seemed so ridiculous to me now. I've had my priorities wrong, I realized. I've been majoring on the negatives, forgetting about the positives.

Instead of focusing on the joyful bond that is built between my daughters...every time they thrust their hands out for each other to do...I'd been stumbling around with some sort of narrow tunnel vision. I'd seen lost nails tossed in the trashcan...spilt polish on my hardwood floors...dollars wasted.

WASTED?? How could I have ever thought that any amount of money could be wasted on what those nails bought for my three wonderful girls?  For five bucks, they got over an hour of focused play, memories being made of time together, and a closeness that no amount of videos or compact discs could ever match.

I cleared my throat. My girls looked around. Automatically, their eyes dropped to the mess around them: paper packages lying on the table and floor, glue sticking to my table, and, yes, some Shiny Red Apple polish in a dime-shaped puddle on my hardwood floor.  I could see, once again, the thoughts marching through their heads. 

"Uh oh. She's gonna be upset. Look at the mess. Oh now, who dropped the polish? We're in trouble."

And I uttered one word.


They looked up, surprised and uncertain.

"No," I repeated, walking into the room and bending down to scoop up the little red puddle on the floor.

"No, you do not have to clean up. No, you do not have to stop playing. No, you are not in trouble," I said, busying myself with bits of trash so they couldn't see the tears threatening to give me away.

"Just keep on doing what you're doing, girls," I told them as I walked on past their treasures. "Every girl needs her nails done now and then."