Fingernail Fairy

The transformation of normal human being to a doting mom is rapid. I am no longer repulsed my poops or vomit and rather expect to find said stains on any given outfit. As a proud mother, I enjoy almost all things related to My daughter, even folding her miniature clothing. Some activities such as trimming her nails pose a challenge, but I nonetheless motherly duties call.

One night, my daughter was so content naked on her changing table. I gathered my nail clippers and began snipping away. Never had I been so successful and confident in trimming her delicate nails. She would not be able to scratch herself for weeks. Then, as I was about to remove the sharp corner of her index finger’s nail, she jerked. I snipped. There was blood. Perhaps I put her finger in my mouth, I don’t recall. Once the pain traveled through my daughter’s nervous system to her brain, her mouth fell agape. Her eyes squinted and her face turned a shade of red found only in lipsticks. She stayed frozen in this position as the pain registered.

I had only seen my daughter “freeze cry” once before, after her vaccinations. I held her close and assured myself that every mother endures this. I guiltily admit that this cry was somewhat darling. She is my daughter, everything is a little cute at this age.

When her face “unfroze” she wailed. Like a banshee. Loud enough for the doorman to be concerned. The cry after I removed part of her finger was different than the one at the pediatrician’s in that there was no medical necessity for it. I had inflicted this misery. (Never mind the excruciating pain I endured two months prior delivering a nine and a half pound baby with forceps and no epidural). I thought the guilt my parents doled to me was humbling, but this far surpassed any of their trips. And she was fine.

As soon as she went in the tub, my daughter calmed. My emotions were not so responsive. As I bathed her and saw the little blood stain on my collar, the knot in my stomach tightened. I saw that tiny flap that was once part of her finger and felt as if I was staring at a fourth degree burn. I debated between snipping off that extra skin and letting the infallible Mother Nature work her magic. I opted for the latter.

I went online hoping to fine other equally negligent parents and hear their experiences. Perhaps their damage would surpass mine. There was one posting that made me feel I was not alone. “I once clipped king of the world’s finger.” It took three days before I realized that king of the world was used sarcastically. I yearned for more details. How much did you cut? What did you do? How long did it take to heal? It wasn’t quite schadenfreude, rather it’s less demeaning Swiss relative.

I continued my online search and found safety clippers that allegedly prevented such accidents. I read several how-to and when-to links which were as effective as my mother saying “careful” right after I banged my shin on her fireplace corner. There were opinions about biting nails and what-not-to-do but no solution for my heinous accident. The band-aid, bacitracian and mitten would have to work overnight.

Embarrassed, I called my sister, a mother of two. “Did you ever trim more than you were supposed to?” I asked. “Sure, it happens,” she said. But did she just cut one too short or did she actually break flesh and tissue? Distracted by the demands of a toddler, she rushed off the phone. My cousin, mother of one, laughed. “Don’t worry. She’ll make it up to you when her teeth come in and she bites off your nipple.”

When I went to buy a file, yes I know I should have used that instead, the pharmacist told me he did the same thing. His daughter’s finger bled for twenty minutes. What a relief to hear that my local authority was imperfect too. I was not quite taking pleasure in someone else’s pain, but as I looked at my daughter’s blackened skin flap still gripping onto her tiny finger I no longer felt I had to wear a scarlet letter. Later that night, I searched another message board and found that countless parents have made the same mistake. My initial revulsion at the harm I caused subsided. I am certain that there will me more memorable trauma that will keep my daughter in therapy for years.

My sister-in-law reminded me that my daughter will hurt herself. (For someone so ashamed, I certainly had little problem discussing my mishap.) I’ll have my back turned for a minute and she will fall or trip and I’ll offer my mother’s sound advice a moment too late, Careful.

*This previously ran on


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