Glossy coral polish covered her toes. It was a newish pedicure, I think. No chips, at least. It was my third week of ICU & I hadn’t even thrown a glance toward my feet since starting. My toenails probably resembled a troll’s. The other intern even commented on how pretty her toes were. Of course, they stood out against the drab walls & maze of medically-acceptable colored tubing—helping her breathe and pee and live.
She died within two hours.
Her daughters, two of them, held her hands when we detached the tubes and lines and bags. They held on tight, almost as if they wished life could somehow be transferred from one warmed being to a cold one. Kind of like a Fairytale collision of Tangled & the laws of thermodynamics.
I stared at her toes.
There was life there, once. A mother—one who held her babies tight and folded their laundry and kissed their chubby, drooling cheeks. A wife—one who made dinners (only sometimes burnt) & tirelessly folded and scrubbed and comforted and loved. A daughter who made her parents proud, a sister who was present in all those childhood memories. A lover. A reader. A cookie-eater.
A woman with coral-colored toenail polish who fretted about her post-partum figure and the finances and friendships.
I haven’t had a pedicure in over two years. It isn’t that I don’t like them—I can usually justify spending the money elsewhere. But just yesterday when I was trudging through the sixth load of laundry, losing my patience with Thatcher, and wiping the spit-up off my already-wet shoulder, I remembered her coral polish. And for the first time since my rotation three years ago, I thought of her. And I thought of her daughters.
I thought of how they loved her and honored her, even until the last breath. And I thought of how, at some point in her life, she loved and honored them, too. And all that mothering; the love that was so expansive it was barely contained in those frail bones and lentigo-skin and the hours of the clock that those eyes saw when her daughters were little and the loads of laundry folded by those hands and the places visited by those feet and the secrets whispered between the sheets…
Most days, I don’t carry that honor well. I mess up. I get mad at my kids. I get madder at Jon. I lose my patience over pretzels dumped all over the floor, spot-cleaning the seventh outfit at noon because of poop explosions, giving baths and smearing creams and administering medications. I tend to get lost in idealism, robbing reality of its Fantasia. And some days I don’t even carry love well.
This post-partum stage is a melting pot of emotions and hormones and sleepless fury and broken expectations. I get lost in the have-nots and could-have-been’s and should-have-done’s. And I go sniffing for unicorns and hunting for rainbows because I’ve somehow convinced myself that this life, loving these littles, is not enough.
These years, the ones in the trenches of selfless demand, are the ones that women across the globe look back on with fondness. The sleepless nights etch crows feet, the tired feet form bunyons, and playing at the water table for a few hours too long cause solar lentigo spots.
Someday I’ll learn to cherish each of those little sun kisses and callouses and crows feet.
And one day, hopefully not soon, there will be contrast in my life as well. I’ll miss the scrubbing and cleaning and whispering and snuggling. I’ll miss the “mommy pay twains” and the incessant demands for graham crackers and nursing. I’ll miss the warmth of Jon’s embrace after a day of cold-shoulders from the kids. And I will miss mommy-ing these two miniature souls.
I’m working on carrying that honor a little bit higher, a little bit brighter, and a lot more proudly. I’m working on grabbing ahold of each day--& welcoming whatever comes with it. And I’m working on finding that Neverland of balance.
I have a pedicure scheduled for next week.
Coral, in honor of her.