What My Chipped Manicure Taught Me About Motherhood

by Sarah Cottrell
iStock | russaquarius

I never thought that motherhood would be easy. When it is especially difficult, like staying up for nights on end with a sick child or helping my kids grieve the loss of a beloved pet, I try my best to rise to the occasion by taking the emotional blow of the situation so that I can cushion my kids from as much pain as possible. So, I was as surprised as anyone when a few days ago I inexplicably lost it and started crying.

The last few weeks had been an absolute mess at my house. Every morning I get up before 5 a.m. and throw in laundry, do dishes from the night before, pack lunches, cook breakfast for the kids, get them both dressed, put one on a bus for school and get the other one ready for a day with Grammy, clean up the kitchen, switch out the laundry, then do the mad dash to get myself dressed for work and out the door. I am generally late to work, and I always forget something like my lunch or a sweater or my phone charger — and that is just my morning.

That’s just the daily hustle of motherhood, though, right?

Except that on this particular day, I caught sight of my nails (and the kicker here is that I’m not a woman who anyone would describe as “girly”), and my nails looked rough with chipped purple polish, ragged cuticles, and dry skin, and something about the sad state of my at-home manicure reduced me to ugly crying.

After a few good, deep, heavy breaths and wiping away snot and tears, I realized that I was crying because I have been so busy bending over backward trying to make my kids happy and keep my husband sane and my house from falling apart and my bosses pleased that I have been letting myself go right before my eyes without even noticing.

How on earth did I get to this place in life that something as silly as chipped nail polish would untether me?

Motherhood is hard. Everyone says it. It is damn hard. No mom has the official rule book on how to do this job well, but like every other mother out there, I try my hardest every day to get as close to good as I can. Most days, I settle for good enough and hope my kids don’t notice all the mistakes I made.

As a working mother, I am expected to be switched on 100% of the time. After all, all of my jobs blur into one giant safety net that is held together in a knotted effort to keep the bills paid, food on the table, the house clean, the laundry done, the school projects completed on time, smiles on my kids’ faces, and me being a supportive partner of my husband who works just as crazy hard as I do.

This ugly chipped nail polish is a reminder from the universe that I need to stop and breathe and do something just for me, and I don’t mean basic shit like sleep or pee alone or drink coffee while it’s hot. I mean, do something pleasurable for the sole purpose of making me happy. The heaving tears of my meltdown were certainly unexpected and out of character for me, but when I stop to really think about it, they were overdue. It’s like that airplane rule, you gotta give yourself oxygen first so that you can give it to those around you. I haven’t been giving myself any oxygen.

In the end, I left the chipped polish on for a few more days because I liked the little memo to myself on the tips of my fingers. A reminder to give myself some oxygen ASAP. I wasn’t sure what me time would look like, but I knew I needed something. And then one evening after the kids fell asleep, I cleaned the polish off, poured a hot bubbly bath, and sat in silence for an hour in the dark. The hot water soothed my tired muscles, and the quiet soothed my soul. It was the best relaxation that I have had in months, and I won’t wait that long again before I remember to give myself some grace.