It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Caught red-handed. Nearly.

The older children gather, three small heads bowed in fascination over my hands. Surprisingly, there is no food involved, to so draw their attention. No bread being kneaded, nor batter mixed, nor even apples being sliced. (RED apples, of course!)

No, today Mary is putting on nail polish!

In fact, it’s something I rather enjoy doing, but rarely do when the children are about. It is, after all, a bit of a handicap. Rather hard to step in and prevent death or dismemberment, or even garden-variety mayhem, if you’re fluttering about trying not to smudge your polish.

Oh, I know. If I REALLY had to put perfection of polish in jeopardy to keep my sweet charges safe, I would. But as anyone who wears the stuff knows, the precision required to get the nails, just the nails, no cuticle-splooshing or smudges anywhere… well, it’s just not something you get without great effort, and, once achieved, it is NOT something you put at risk lightly.

So, let me tell you, whatever you’re doing to to make me risk smudging my polish? It had BETTER be life or death…

But today I have little choice. In celebration of Anniversary Number Three, the husband and I are going to have our pictures taken this afternoon. Real, professional pictures! Pictures where you pay $95 just to walk into the studio, so you can be damned sure I am going to look FINE. Or as fine as I can manage.

I have not one, but two dresses picked out, all ready to go in garment bags. (He’s wearing a suit. Men have it so lucky.) The hair is done. The rest of me is buffed and plucked and smoothed and whatever. Make-up will wait till after the tots are collected. But, because I have several things lined up for this afternoon, and because my time-line will be tight, the only time to do my nails and leave adequate time for drying — ESSENTIAL, if you don’t want nail polish smeared on expensive dresses — is … NOW.

So, now it is.

And the kids? They are enthralled. Because it’s not boring clear (like normal), or pale pink or white… this is SCARLET. (Like one of the dresses I have chosen. The other is turquoise. Dress, not polish. The scarlet polish will work with both dresses. Because I say so.)

“OH! That is BEAUTIFUL!!!” Noah is in full approval.
“That is RED!!!” Tyler is factual.
“That is beeeeeeeautifullllll!” Emily is in heaven.

“Would you like to wear some?”

“Yes, but I want DAT colour.” Noah reaches into the basket and taps the bottle of blue polish. I bought the stuff on a whim and wore it only once because I find it distracting in an entirely unappealing way. I keep it because it might come in handy for a craft some day. You never know. But of course Noah would choose it. Blue is Noah’s favourite colour.

Tyler backs away, shaking his head and putting his hands firmly behind his back, lest I be taken by some uncontrollable urge to FORCE nail polish onto his reluctant fingertips.

“Oh, could I have the red, please?” Emily’s voice is filled with a girly yearning she doesn’t often evidence. Unlike Anna, Emily is not the ultimate girly-girl. But she does like the pretty once in a while, and the nail polish, the scarlet polish, seems to have captured her imagination.

“Sure you can, sweetie,” I say, reaching for her hand with my right hand and dipping the brush into the bottle with my left. “It’s a pretty colour, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is!” She nods her head in vigorous approval as her first finger is garnished in scarlet. “I really like it, and mummy says that little girls only get to wear pink or clear polish.”

The wand freezes.

“Mummy says that?”

“Yes.” Her face tenses and she realizes her faux pas. “Mummy says that, but…” She searches in her head for the resolution to his dilemma as I reach for the polish remover. “She does… but…” Her eyes widen anxiously… “But at YOUR house, YOU’RE the boss!”

Oooo. Smart cookie. This is my answer to those occasions when a child is hoping for something from me that’s only allowed at home, some concession that a parent with one child might be able to allow but an adult with five probably can’t. “I know you can walk around with your snack at home, sweetie, and that’s fine. At home, mummy and daddy are the boss, and they make the rules. But here, I am the boss, and my rule is we sit at the table to eat.”

And I am the boss, but that’s over things where the jurisdiction is clear, and limited to my home/time. But to knowingly flout a parent’s rule, then enable the child to do the same, and, moreover, send the child home with the evidence painted on her fingers? Emily, Emily, Emily… What do you take me for?

She went home wearing pearl white. And mummy greatly enjoyed the story of Attempted Scarlet.


May 14, 2010 - Posted by | Emily, Mischief, parents | , , , , ,


  1. In second grade a girl brought a bottle of red polish out to the playground at recess. Oh! So! Exciting! We all put it on and loved our nails all afternoon. Until at dinner time. I must have known it wouldn’t go over well at home because I was trying to eat without letting the red nails be seen. My father flipped out. I suppose red was equal to sexy and his seven year old daughter was not going to go there. I was dragged (my memory, probably not his) to the basement and my hands doused with paint remover. My father seldom got angry, but when he did the times became permanent in my memory. Not a good day at my home! Better that Emily’s mom had the memory of her failed attempt than Emily have a memory of getting in trouble.

    I’m sorry you have such a bad memory. In this case, Emily’s parents would only have reminded her of the rule and removed it. Calmly and kindly. No one would have been angry with her. I’m not even sure Emily’s mother would have said anything to me, because she respects my authority over my sphere of Emily’s life. (I think she would be within her rights to say something on this, mind you — I’m just not sure she would feel the same way.)

    Comment by My Kids Mom | May 14, 2010 | Reply

  2. Great story! Hilarious!

    My Mom wouldn’t let me wear red, either. Guess what color I went for as soon as I could get my own?

    Yes, and didn’t you just feel so grown up??? You’d never have had that delicious edge of defiance combined with ARRIVAL without the initial prohibition. 🙂

    Comment by Rosie_Kate | May 14, 2010 | Reply

  3. Ha – good try, kid! SO CLOSE! I do love how they are not devious enough not to sabotage themselves yet.

    And also appreciate, as a parent, your not going along with her logic once you knew. My one beef with our current daycare for The Bun is the nicknames, which have led him to not say his own name as given, but as they have “renamed” him because they are big on nicknames and our request for his real name once it became evident seems to have come too late to break the habit they’re in. I realize, of course, that this is not the end of the world and still think it’s a great daycare in lots of ways, but I really would love it if that request were being put into action!

    “not devious enough not to sabotage themselves”. Yes, that’s exactly it, and I love it, too!

    I would NOT love having my child’s name messed with. Probably because I have an unusual name, which often gets mispronounced or forgotten, I’m rather protective of names. And to change a child’s name despite the parents’ preferences? The child can choose to alter their name — both my girls played with their names a bit when they were 12 or so — but for a non-family member to rechristen your baby/toddler? That’s just rude.

    Comment by kittenpie | May 14, 2010 | Reply

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