What Happened When I Let My Toddler Paint My Nails

My left ring finger nail is painted a glittery blue. A dollar store nail polish I would have never bought myself, but has been sitting in my collection for over a year. It came in a door prize basket at a mom paint night. It’s half the size of my other polishes. A tiny, glittery unicorn in a sea of nudes and clear top coats.

I never paint my nails, unless I’m motivated to try to stop biting them. Again. I buy another neutral polish, and tell myself the shiny liquid will motivate me to not pick at my cracked finger tips. Or remind me not to. Or at least give me something else to pick at. So even though it’s a strategy that has failed 100 times already, I put a clear, shiny coat of polish on my nails a few days ago. Because I’m 29 now, and 29 year old moms shouldn't have embarrassing, ugly, harmful habits. Obviously the clear coat will work now that I’m 29.

I never buy fun polishes, only nudes and clears, some soft pinks. A bright colour or splash of glitter would be wasted on my short, self-damaged fingers. Or worse, it might draw attention to my stubby nails and cracked cuticles. My bad habit. I tell myself I don’t deserve the fun ones. Maybe I will get myself one if I can let my hands heal. Right now I’m not good enough for fun polish. I must’ve forgotten to put my old bottle of clear coat away, and it was sitting on my desk when my 3 year old came for a cuddle on my chair while I drank my morning coffee. Always the observationist, she asked me what the tiny bottle was.

“It’s nail polish. It makes your finger nails shiny. See?” I say, pointing out the difference between our nails.

“Can I try some?” she asks.

It’s not kid polish, but I never want to discourage her. So I agree, she can have one painted finger nail.

I wipe off the little brush on the edge of the bottle, until there is almost nothing there. Then I gently spread a little across her pointer finger. I blow on it to help it try. It’s probably doomed on a busy toddler finger.

But my little girl beams. “Wow! It’s so shiny!” she exclaims, inspecting the tiny nail.

That smile nudges me further, and I reach across my desk and show her my little collection of bottles.

“I have lots of nail polish see? It’s fun to decorate your fingers sometimes, isn’t it?”

She picks up each little bottle, and inspects it. Beige, nude, soft pink, another clear. Until she finds the little blue exception.

“Mama can I have this one? Can we open it?”

I cringe a little but I shouldn’t be surprised. I show her on my own finger, carefully spreading the blue glitter out just this once. She persists, “Can I have some too?”

So I once again scrape off the excess on the edge, and apply the thinnest coat I can manage in one little touch.

“Mama we look so beautiful!”

I smiled and thought about how my Mom used to keep her nail polish in an old peach basket. She’d often have her long, perfect nails painted pink or sometimes a bold red. She’d sit at the kitchen table, and sometimes let me help paint her right hand.

I didn’t think much more of it and we played, had our usual routine of naps and snacks and snuggles. We had dinner, and I put the kids to bed. The only extra thought I gave our mini manicure moment was a laugh and a shrug to my husband when my daughter announced our accomplishment at the dinner table. Oh, you know, anything to make her smile and feel a little special these days.

And then I looked at my hand as I leaned on the counter while I was brushing my teeth before bed. I admired my pretty blue nail. And I wondered why even though I always want to, I never give myself permission to do this “just for the fun of it” thing. Why do I give myself conditions to be allowed to do such a simple, inexpensive, joyful thing? Because, like with so many things, my mind tells me I am somehow not good enough. Not deserving of the blue nail polish.

Yet my 3 year old sees something fun and beautiful and immediately lets it in to her life. Demands it into her life. And my desire to see her feel joy overrides my own shame reflex, and I let a little of that goodness in. Why am I not as willing to create joy for myself? I need to start caring for myself the way I care for my daughters. The way my mom would want to care for me.

What other joys am I blocking because I feel undeserving? Knowing the feeling of wanting the world for my daughter, how can I start to demand the same for myself?

Joy isn’t something I have to cross a finish line to earn. And having bad days doesn’t mean I don’t deserve good. Biting my nails and picking at my finger tips yesterday doesn’t mean I don’t deserve glitter polish today.

It’s time to stop punishing myself and start choosing joy. Each day. Whatever that looks like. Taking care of myself. Wanting the world for myself.

It’s time to pick the blue glitter polish.

How will you start choosing joy and self-love today?

About the Author

Caitlin lives in Alberta with her husband, 2 little girls, and too many animals cause she is a sucker for a rescue. When she's not chasing kids and changing fluff bums she spends her time crocheting, gardening, and binging true crime docs.

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