Follow The Apparent Parent by Email

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Toenail clippings in your eye and other life lessons learned from having a 3-year-old boy cut your nails

Though allowing a 3-year-old boy to clip your nails may
sound like a really bad idea because it is, it also isn't.
Allowing a child that age to help you when they want to
will aid in producing a lifetime work ethic in the kid.
Odd things happen when you involve kids in routine tasks like...I dunno...fingernail clipping.

My wife made this mistake recently and let our 3-year-old son clip her fingernails and toenails for her. Let's just say it was no professional manicure/pedicure. Her ragged nail edges now catch on anything remotely fuzzy (including our daughter's hair), some of her nails will probably become ingrown because of this, and I'm pretty sure one clipping has set up camp somewhere in her brain – possibly in her medulla oblongata. With a name like that, it can't be all that important anyway. That's why I just call my brain “the thinker.” You know what a “thinker” does. It's straightforward, easy to remember, and I didn't even have to consult Wikipedia for the spelling – I'm looking at you medulla...

Anway, this happened when our son, in his excitement, clipped a piece of toenail with such enthusiasm that it sailed through the sky with a smile on its invisible face into my wife's awaiting eyeball, where no smile was present. Wanting to make itself at home, the stray clipping tucked itself under my wife's eyelid and marched upward out of sight. Trust me: this is hard to do when you're hiding on an eyeball.

After playing “Go Fish” in her eye for several minutes without so much as a nibble, she came to me hoping I could find the toenail shard with her eyelid cocked halfway back like that creepy kid in high school that walked around with his eyelids reversed. No bones. Or toenails, as the case may be.

So I'm certain the little bugger is snugly wrapped up in some nice folds of gray matter, probably gleaning plenty of information from my wife's brilliant brain through osmosis.

But all that's beside the point. The whole point I want to impress is that my wife threw away all care for herself in letting a 3-year-old boy cut her finger and toenails. This is the gender that has found many ways to set itself on fire while drunk, fall off of cliffs and survive (mostly), and successfully forget they even had fingernails until a woman pointed out how dry and cracked they were to him. And he's three. Did I mention that?

This may be slightly crazy to some people, but what it demonstrates is of utmost importance. We must allow our children to participate when they are willing, otherwise there will come a time when they no longer want to help.

I got in a friendly argument with a woman I know through work recently about how to instill a love of work in children. I posited that you need to let kids do chores while they are tiny and want to “help” you or they will never want to help you as a teenager or whatever. Her idea was basically that children are pathetic weaklings and should go nowhere near chores until they are capable of doing them right. She then told me how much her 14-year old boy hates working in the garden.

Hmmm...maybe because she never let him near the garden when he wanted to be “mommy's big helper.” Attitudes established early on will carry through childhood and most likely throughout life. And if we constantly tell kids they aren't wanted in the kitchen, the garden, or anywhere else that doesn't involve SpongeBob SquarePants doing idiotic things, than they will learn to stay away from those places for most of their lives.

So next time your kid asks to help cut your nails right after a professional manicure, just roll your eyes and let the kid go to town. You'll have a much better household helper for it, even if a wandering band of fingernail clippings does start to terrorize your medulla oblongata.


  1. Mark you have such good insight. I think everyone should read your posts to remind them of the little things we could be doing to be better parents. I have caught myself chasing my kids away while working. I try to let them help as often as I can but sometimes I get a little frustrated. This just reminds me that it is okay if it takes a few minutes longer or even if it is done wrong. They are learning to love work as long as they are helping mommy and daddy. Thanks again for another good read.

  2. Thank you for the compliments. It is frustrating to let kids "help" sometimes, but it is necessary for their development in the right direction, I think. My current big annoyance with "helpers" is that my son always wants to hit the arrow keys when I'm doing something on the Internet. It is his vital job to make sure I can't read anything I'm trying to read. The computer usually shuts down shortly after my "helper" arrives. I need to work on that myself.