Nail Biter

As a mother, I find few things as terrifying as cutting a newborn’s fingernails. I hate cutting nails in the first place—my children’s or my own. But trimming a baby’s nails takes a special kind of crazy intensity. I’m fairly certain that if you have successfully clipped the tiny, wafer-thin, nearly invisible nails of a wiggly infant, then you can accomplish just about anything in the world. I’m not talking about snatching up a laser scalpel and performing neurosurgery, but I am talking about picking up a gun and shooting it at a bullseye. Things like target practice pale in comparison to the daunting, muscle-tense procedure of baby-fingernail clipping!

I’m sure by now there are many people (mostly people who have never trimmed an infant’s nails) who believe that I have completely lost my marbles. But a helpless, squirming newborn, with absolutely no control over his or her limbs, can pose quite a challenge. The tiny trunk may be relatively still, but the miniature arms and legs are sporadically kicking, punching, and flailing about at random intervals. Believe me, you can’t study a baby like you’d study a level on Super Mario, hoping to get the exact timing down so you can race through the course without getting pummeled by a crusher or side-winded by a manic, color-changing caterpillar. There is no good time—or right time—with a baby. You just have to dive in there with those tiny clippers, pry open a little fist and somehow, gingerly and dexterously, clip away the tiny, soft, scary-sharp nails. You might as well be cross-eyed… and blindfolded! A time or two, I have gotten a fat lip from a swift, unanticipated kick. I have also nicked my baby’s delicate skin. In fact, each of my children has had a bloody finger within the first few weeks of life, thanks to me.

Now, I realize that some people are a bit uneasy around firearms. My own mother is terrified of guns—even just thinking about having one in the same room makes her uncomfortable. But I know better. My mother has years of baby-fingernail-clipping practice. And you can’t convince me that safely holding, aiming, and shooting a gun is a more harrowing experience than trimming a newborn’s nails. The handgun is not going to suddenly turn around and smack you in the face. A pistol won’t scream, bleed, or cry when you touch it. And in all of my experiences, a revolver has never wiggled out of my grasp when I held it, even if I held it the wrong way.

I’ll admit, shooting a gun can be both thrilling and intimidating, to hear the ear-splitting crack and to feel the explosive release of power as the bullet flies toward the target. But I truly believe that even the most timid of moms may be surprised by her own shooting success, thanks, in part, to the expert eye and the steady hand she’s gained through newborn-nail maintenance. And as for me, I’d choose that nail-biting experience over the nail-clipping one, any day.

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