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Sparkle and Glitter

“Nana, can we do manicures?” asked my six-year-old granddaughter.

“Sure,” I replied, “but I’m not sure I have the color you like.”

I’ve used the same color (which many would argue is a non-color) for the last 30 years, even as various shades of blue, black, grey, purple, pink, red, and coral have become so popular-and not just at Halloween. When and if I remember to have a manicure, I look at all of the colors on display and invariably return to my old reliables: the nearly “non colors,” known as Limousine or Mademoiselle.

So we ventured out to Walgreens, and once she saw the silver, gold, purple, and fuchsia glitter nail polish, there was no turning back. We left with one bottle each of silver glitter and fuchsia, and a polishing plan: one finger silver glitter the next fuchsia glitter and so on. At least three coats!

As we set up our salon at the table under the watchful eye of our dog, Samson (I convinced her not to polish his nails), we finished the task. Delighted does not begin to describe her emotional state. At the end she looked at me with great anticipation and said, “Now it’s your turn, Nana!”

“OK,” I said, “be right back. My color’s in the other room.”

“Oh no, Nana,” she said strongly. “We have to match!”

Alrighty then. Matchy Matchy, with forty glittery, sparkly fingers and toes between us.

While going to work the next day I noticed that my nails were still sparkling. I tried, unsuccessfully, to “peel off.”

My first couple of patients either didn’t notice or decided not to comment, but later, a woman I’ve been seeing for a while stared at my hand, then looked at me with a huge smile and broke into uproarious laughter. “Did I ever tell you about the fancy manicures my mother gave me?” she asked.

“No,” I answered, “I don’t think so.”

My patient had often told me about her mother, whom she described as distant, cold, aloof, critical, perfectionistic, easy to anger and without humor. Manicures? She had never mentioned them.

“I am reminded of them because they always included glitter,” she explained. “She would polish my nails, and while the polish was still wet, she would tap glitter onto each nail. The polish dried with the glitter.”

“Did you like it?” I asked.

“It was the only time she touched me gently,” she told me. “She rubbed my hands, leaned in really close, carefully tapped the glitter and then, after a while, she gently blew on my fingers to make sure the glitter was set. I can still imagine her warm breath on my hands. I felt close to her.”

One of the reasons this woman came to see me was because it was difficult for her to be kind to her mother, who was now living in an assisted-living facility. Her mom remained critical and angry, and their visits were tense and unpleasant. The woman felt awful that she still felt like the unloved not-good-enough child.

She decided that she would try something different for her next visit. In addition to bringing her mother her favorite soup, sandwich, and cookie, she arrived with a brand new travel manicure set and, of course, a new bottle of glitter polish.

I had been apprehensive and perhaps a bit embarrassed by my glittery nails, and I had been concerned that my patients might think me unprofessional, and I had diligently tried to remove the evidence of a lovely day with my granddaughter. Instead, it had served to allow a patient to remember a happy time with her mother, and it served as a gateway to an act of kindness, which we discovered would benefit both her and her mother.

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