My toenails sparkled again.
The technician’s nail file helped spruce up the shards that for the past year I had passed as manicured. With flat edges and a silvery sparkle, my toenails reminded me that I can shine. That with the daily grind–the school schedule, the work schedule, the travel, the retirement party planning, the many summer birthday parties, the dinners that needed to be cooked, the dishes that needed to be cleaned, the dog that needed to be walked, the laundry that piled up, the shelves that begged for food, the school events to which we run breathless, the playground, the community pool opening, and the overworked bedtime routine–my newly painted toenails reminded me that I deserve to shine.
As I left the day spa, I felt rejuvenated. Even though it was only my feet and legs that were subject to the the massage, the scrubs, and the glamorous finish, I felt vindicated in a life taken over by anxiety, stress, and not enough minutes.
As the mother of a toddler, life is crazy. As the parent of a child who has a gross motor delay, life is chaos. We are slaves to a tiny human. With our daughter Evelyn, we lose even the modest free time for which we could have hoped. While Evelyn should be able to run free at the playground, we have to go with her holding her hand. Evelyn’s not being able to walk independently means we are climbing, sliding, swinging, and holding up a 27 pound earthling across the monkey bars.
It is a good workout. My muscles are stronger. After 37 years on this planet, my endurance has probably peaked. I have a better appreciation for the difficulty level of children’s play equipment even more than when I was young and feared the rusty metal in the 1980s schoolyard.
But as we guide Evelyn around the poles and under spaces through which no adult should ever try to fit, my shoulders wedge. My bruises multiply. My breath deepens as I hope Evelyn cannot detect just how tired mommy is getting. She wants to run. I can barely keep up, even though “running” for a gross-motor-delayed kid constitutes kicking her feet wildly while moving nowhere.
When I park at her school for drop-off, we watch her friends gallop by, surpassing their parents’ gaits. Then I get out of the car, hook her walker on my right arm, hold Evelyn on my left hip, and somewhere in there find a free hand for her backpack, extra diapers, and the jacket she wanted on but then took off. She wants to walk herself, but when the sidewalk to school feels like a mile-long trek, it is easier to load myself up with an extra 30 pounds and make a break for it.
The effort to make Evelyn’s life as normal as possible is enormous. At three years old, she knows no different. She has made friends with the children in her classroom. She knows all the teachers and they all love her. She is bubbly, silly, adventurous, independent, and infectious. The other children bring her walker when she ends up feet away from it. When strange children try to play on it, her friends say, “that’s Evelyn’s!” They have taken her in as if she were no different. If only adults could behave the same.
She can do an entire alphabet puzzle, spell the word “good”, count to 12, identify colors and shapes, and build tall towers. During a preschool evaluation to determine the best plan to help her move forward with education and ambulation, the staff was amazed. “She’s not even three?” they asked each other. Watch out world.
While her intelligence serves her–and us–well, it does not detract from the challenges we face. Weekly physical therapy sessions result in daily therapy assignments for us. We keep her busy with swim lessons and play dates, but we are never sedentary. We are the parents that constant walk circles, as a toddler would, since we have to follow her every move. We are diligent about identifying wobbly furniture knowing that Evelyn will depend on deceptive things to keep her balance. We constantly watch for table corners, metal bars, and scratchy pavement as we know she will fall soon–with an average of falling every 2-4 minutes, how she does not have more bruises and scrapes is beyond me.
We devote our day’s worth of energy to her. And by 9:30pm, we are out. Day after day. And while we are fortunate that her disabilities are ones that improve over time, the road to getting to the happy ending is long. Sometimes she makes great improvements, like the day she stood longer than four seconds. Sometimes we go in reverse. Always, it feels as if we are climbing a hill so large, there is no peak and no other side.
During a moment when Evelyn was happily at school, and I had a Mother’s Day gift certificate laying around a month after the actual holiday, I snuck off for an hour of pampering. I chatted with the technician, the customer seated two feet from me, and even her technician. The four of us talked of children, pregnancy, writing, and community events. We laughed. We whispered. And at times, we let moments of quiet comfortably settle. We talked about Evelyn. We discussed her delays and my technician’s child’s speech delays. She understood our difficulties as she struggled with her son’s.
When I left the day spa, I knew that hour was indulgent. Having painted nails is superficial. The lotions and scrubs they use were overpriced. But having found my sparkle meant I could bring it home. I could bring it to Evelyn and her therapy. I could bring it to my marriage. I could smile more and frown less. I could feel like a human again, even if it is just until the next pedicure.