My screaming child was definitely attracting the attention of many individuals. His kicking legs and flailing arm were drawing stares from concerned shoppers in the parking lot of a Walgreens somewhere between here and Denver.
We had spent a week in the Rockies with my sister and her family. While there, the skin around my son’s fingernail grew red. Then it got bigger and shinier. It had reached the point where it didn’t just hurt to be touched, now he was crying in pain constantly. Ibuprofen wasn’t helping. We had to do SOMEthing to relieve the pressure. So there we were, outside of Walgreens, using alcohol swabs and a lancet to poke a hole through the skin of his infected finger to allow it to drain.
We tried to keep it extra clean and remind him not to touch it. But kids and fingers….well, you know…they go everywhere. He ended up needing a more extreme draining technique performed by a doctor with a scalpel (which was definitely not a trip for a squeamish soul) and a round of antibiotics before the infection cleared and his finger began to look normal again.
When his finger first showed signs of infection (on the first night of vacation, of course), I realized something terrible. My child was a nail-biter. And the terrible part of it was that it was all my fault! I couldn’t remember the last time I had trimmed his nails.
I remembered trimming my other two children’s nails, but his nails never said, “I’m too long! Cut me.” He had been taking matters into his own hands (or rather, taking hands into his own mouth) for a while now. When a nail bothered him, he would just bite it off. So his nails stayed extra short.
With my other two kids, I would notice their nails were looking a little long and just take a few minutes to trim them. There was no rhyme or rhythm to my nail trimming.
Nail-biting might not be so bad for some folks. But for a kid who doesn’t keep their hands (or their mouth) super clean all the time, biting nails can be dangerous. If they get a wound on their skin, such as a paper cut or dry cuticle, then bacteria is more likely to be introduced into the cut. For my son, this created the perfect setting for a bacterial infection.
Unfortunately, stopping unhealthy habits like nail-biting can be difficult.
For our family, it took a few steps. First, we put “Trim Night” on the family calendar.
We set aside Sunday evenings to get ready for the coming week by trimming our nails and hair (for the boys). For my nail biter, I added an extra level of effort. I paid him a nickel for every toenail and a dime for every fingernail that was long enough for me to trim.
It is THE MOST DISGUSTING THING I HAVE EVER PAID FOR! But it was entirely worth it. We were able to keep his nails short enough that he wasn’t tempted to bite them. We did this long enough for him to break the habit and then a few extra weeks just to be sure it worked.
Trim Night has now become kind of special.
I’m the kind of person who tends to only see what’s in front of me in the moment, so making a plan to take care of the mundane chore of nail trimming was the perfect idea for us. It allows us to think about the week ahead and prepare to meet it head-on. It allows me to show my children that I care about their bodies, what they look like, and how they present themselves, even if no one else sees.
Throughout Covid uncertainties and lockdowns, nail trimming has sometimes been the only consistent marker of the passage of time. Nails grow. The mundane has been an anchor in an unsteady world. Nails grow. The world doesn’t completely stop and take a break. Time marches on. Nails grow.
So today I celebrate the Mundane. Thank you to the trimmed nails for keeping me grounded and sane.