Friday Takeaway: Me Time/We Time

  • Naomi Shulman is shown May 31, 2017 in her Northampton home.

Friday, May 11, 2018

OK, I’m at the salon. New Age music plinks along with the soft sound of trickling water. I lean back in my motorized massage chair and splash my toes in the foot bath. Just as I close my eyes, my older daughter reaches over from my right and squeezes my hand. And then my younger daughter reaches over my left side and squeezes my other hand. “Mama?” says Stella, 7, her voice far too loud for the room. “Can I tell you something funny from Word Girl?”

When I first became a mom, I began receiving gift certificates to salons for Mother’s Day, which happens to arrive just as the weather gets warm enough to reveal my toes, so I usually use them for pedicures. In years past, I’ve done this alone and savored child-free pampering. But a few years into my mothering career, the girls began noticing how pretty my toes were in May — and one year they began clamoring to come with me to the salon. 

I will admit that, at first, I didn’t want to disturb my hour of quiet. But then one of my daughters’ friends — a  10-year-old! — showed up for a playdate with ornate flowers painted on her big toes. Utterly charmed, I asked her mother, “How did you do that?” “Oh, I didn’t,” she said. “We go to this place on Route 9. It’s only $10 for the kid pedicure.” A kid pedicure? This was a thing? So much so that they even had a price point for it?

That upcoming Mother’s Day, I brought the kids with me to the salon, and we all got the works. A big part of the pleasure, for the girls at least, was choosing colors — not just polish for their toes, but salts for their foot baths. I chose a deep burgundy for my toes. The girls went for pink and purple, with large blooms on both big toes; Lila’s was an orchid, Stella’s a magnolia. (Those manicurists are artists, I tell you.) The experience was markedly different from when I go alone because it wasn’t me-time. I was taken up with the girls’ chatter — and as their captive audience of one, I had no choice but to pay them my full attention.

And guess what? It turns out this was not a bad thing! The kids’ prattling isn’t annoying on its own (most of the time); the problem is that I don’t usually have the patience and time to deal with it — I am scattered and doing too many things at once. My children, meanwhile, could be single-minded in their pursuits — irritatingly so at times — and were always vying for my attention. But now they didn’t have to compete for anything. With my butt in the chair and my feet in the basin, I wasn’t going anywhere. 

It was a beautiful, serene parenting moment — one that was brought to a rude close at the cash register. These pedis were not $10. “It’s $10 for the flowers,” the woman explained slowly and loudly. I felt slightly half-witted, standing before her with my open wallet, repeating, “But I thought ... ?” She shook her head again. “You all got the full soak and massage. It’s $25 apiece. Plus $20 for two flowers.”

Granted, $25 for me alone would have been a relatively cheap pedi — an indulgence, sure, but not outrageous, but $25 times three, plus another $20, before tips … well … Happy Mother’s Day.

On our way home (the girls sat with their legs straight in front of them, the better to admire their tootsies), I stopped at the drugstore. The three of us marched in, cotton still woven between all 30 of our toes. We stopped in front of the wall of nail products. “Each of you can pick out one color from this shelf,” I said, gesturing toward the quick-drying polishes. Why hadn’t I realized this before? Picking out the colors was, for the girls, about 85 percent of the fun. 

As they happily debated which colors were the best (“I think pink is really more you, Stella,” Lila said authoritatively. “I’m more a purple type”), I reached up high for the nail-art pen. I wanted to recreate the pedi magic at home for a fraction of the cost. Those manicurists may have been artists, but I know how to draw a daisy, darn it. And anyway, the main takeaway from the entire pedicure experience was to focus on the journey, as they say, rather than the destination. While the destination may be a wilted daisy atop a poorly painted pink toenail, the journey will include my undivided attention — and I know that’s a trip my kids want to take.

Naomi Shulman’s work has appeared in many publications including The New York Times,  The Washington Post and Yankee Magazine, as well as on NEPR and WBUR. Follow her on Twitter: @naomishulman.