Even before having kids I was never one to spend money on getting my nails done but my husband gave me a pamper voucher; the gift of some rare me-time. Stepping out of the salon on a Saturday afternoon, as the stark daylight hit, my fingertips glowed with a brash neon polish. In the dim mood lighting, I picked what I thought was a cheerful coral colour but this shade of pink would have been a bold choice for Bikini Beach Barbie.
I walked home, taking my time, not quite sure what to do with my hands. There is a strange but liberating feeling of limbo when you are out of the house without a child, a change bag or a buggy. It was a warm day so with no need to relish the chance to put both hands in my coat pockets, I indulged in an ice cream instead.
Manicures and Marigolds
My outrageous new look didn’t last long anyway before a thumbnail was dented on the ring-pull of a tin of baked beans and a fingernail was scratched on the rim of the loo-seat while reaching round to wipe my toddler’s bottom. How was I supposed to know you had to allow a good hour to let all the layers dry? Who has that kind of spare time?
Hand-care for me usually boils down to soap and water and using a nail file, less for shaping and more for scraping. It is best not to wonder what is in that crud that creeps under your nails; it probably contains traces of playdough and paint and poo. Maybe if I was more squeamish or hygienic I might have worn rubber gloves for all those hands-on jobs like changing dirty nappies, blowing snotty noses, wiping sticky faces and picking food off the kitchen floor.
These days I don’t spend as much time at work tapping out words on a keyboard but my hands are rarely idle or empty. I buckle shoes and brush teeth. I pick up scattered toys and plastic cups of pretend tea. I wind the bobbin up and zoom to the moon. I walk home from school carrying discarded bags, coats, scooters and the latest work of art created from the contents of the recycling bin; it is just as well we don’t have to cross a road as there often isn’t a spare hand left to hold.
Some days I am calm and cool and in control with everything effortlessly in hand, that mum who others envy. Other days I am in the supermarket looking frazzled and frantic having forgotten what I went in to buy while trying to chase after two children running off in opposite directions. Well-meaning strangers seem so keen to say with a roll of the eyes: “You’ve got your hands full” when all you really want to hear is the simple question: “Can I give you a hand?”
I have super-powers now though it seems. As if by magic when my girls fall over and hurt themselves, they believe that I can rub it better. If they can’t get to sleep, the weight of my hand on their chest or their cheek is often all they need to drop off and I daren’t take it away too soon. It is demanding to be so in demand but I have to remember they won’t always be so needy and I won’t always feel so needed.
Walking home from the bus stop the other night after a trip to the theatre with my 5-year old daughter, we were almost at the unlit alleyway that leads to our house. My sight isn’t the best so when it is dark I often run my fingers along the fence or take my phone out to shed some light on the path ahead. I felt her small hand slip into mine, then she said: “Mummy, you hold on tight and I’ll show you the way home, ok? Just take my hand, I’ve got you.” My eyes pricked and a lump swelled in my throat; she was looking after me.
There are days when I want to run or hide just to get a break from the mess and the meltdowns but then moments like that happen and I realise that there’s nowhere else I’d really rather be.
Hold my hand, I’m not ready to let go yet.