Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Clipping it fine

Last night, I cleaned and trimmed Captain Adventure's fingernails. One of those everyday sort of parenting things that hardly seems to merit any discussion or thought, you know? I mean really…Dear Diary, you'll never believe what happened today!! followed by the blow-by-blow excitement of cleaning and trimming a five year old boy's fingernails?

Not exactly reality TV material.

Unless, of course, the boy in question is autistic and not terribly fond of the fingernail cleaning and trimming process (or any personal hygiene routines, come right down to it…which I suppose is more "yeah, he's a boy all right" than "autistic symptoms" except for the way he reacts to it, which is more like "demonic monkey on crack" than "typical little boy who just really would rather not take a bath right now thanks all the same").

Because in that case, it's like, Next, on World's Scariest Parenting Moments…!!!!!!

It's one of those areas where I choose my moments carefully – but the "right" moments tend to be few and far between and I often wonder if his teachers and therapists wonder if I am one of those mothers who is too busy taking more stray cats into my trailer and finding creative ways to recycle my empty Southern Comfort bottles to notice that her child is filthy…and has holes the size of bread plates in the knees of his jeans (all of his jeans acquire these holes by the third wearing, whether I've sewn patches into them or not), and that his obviously ancient shoes (purchased less than a week ago) have holes in the toes through which his dirty socks (well of course they're dirty, he's got holes in his shoes!) peek like frightened (and unwashed) potatoes.

Monday night, after three whole days of frivolities, I looked at his fingernails and I thought (concisely), Ugh.

"Filthy" doesn't begin to cover it. I could have planted potatoes under those fingernails. And they were too long – which is a bit dangerous with him, because when he gets into A Certain Mood, he'll dig those suckers into me, or a school aide, or his teacher, or anybody else who happens to irritate him.

But he wasn't in the best mood. He had seen Toy Story 3 with daddy over the weekend, and then the two of them went out to run some manly errands together, and everything was cool, and there was a manly trip to the hardware store and a manly haircut and a manly stop at Starbucks…and then there had been manly discussion about watching Toy Story 2 at home on the way home, which of course daddy meant as a "sometime we ought to" but which was translated by our Captain to mean "the instant we get home we will totally do this immediately, even though it is already dark and I haven't had dinner yet."


It was far too late to start a movie when they got home. And sisters were already piled up on the sofa watching stuff. And they yelled at him when he tried to climb up and get the DVD binder. And took it away from him because they assumed he was up to No Good. And then when the parents waded in an intervened (before he killed one of them), we couldn't find the DVD anyway.

And really, is life even worth living?!

Furthermore dinner was yucky and he didn't like it and there was no!ice!cream!, and while a cookie is OK and all let's go back to the part where I was essentially promised a movie and now am being cruelly sent to bed instead.

And then here I am, looking at his fingernails and thinking personal hygiene is in order.

Let the games begin.

First, I got him to wash his hands by pretending I wasn't going to let him use the strawberry soap. Reverse psychology, getting little boys to use soap since 1802…BC…

Then I pointed out the dirt under his nails and asked if we should grow some potatoes under them. And because autism and subtle don't go well together, I'm exaggerating my expression and tone of voice wildly to make sure he recognizes that I am being playful right now.

He looked at me sidelong, judging whether I was kidding or not. Sigh. I swear, I could put on a clown wig and start juggling goldfish and he'd still not be sure I was kidding around.

"Nooooooooooo, no ap-tah-toes," he told me solemnly. "Dat silly."

"Oooooh. Well then. We'd better get the dirt out so I don't make any mistakes. Because that looks like potato-growing dirt right there." Duuuuh-duh-duh-duh-duh…{juggle-juggle-juggle}…c'mon, these are the jokes, folks!

There was a long moment of silence. I've got my what? I'm not up to anything… face on, and he's looking at me all sidelong with an expression that clearly says, Oh, you are TOO up to SOMETHING… and I'm thinking that the gig is definitely up and he's going to school tomorrow with enough dirt under his nails to grow a fine crop of prátaí and oh well, whaddya gonna do…except that he's still sort of sitting there, like he's waiting for me to make the next move here…

…well…in for a pence, in for a pound…

"Allllllllrighty, mister. C'mon, let's go to my bathroom and we'll clean up those nails!" I sang out cheerfully, as if it were all settled, then.

And. He. Went. With. Me. WOOT!

There are large victories, and there are small victories, and then there are victories that aren't really victories but they surely do feel like one at the time. I'm not sure what category this actually was, really, but was too happy to care whether it was large, small, fake or fleeting.

He sat still while I took the orange stick to the first little pinkie, being careful not to give the impression that I was, you know, holding his hand. Because that would have put an end to the whole thing, dudes. Hand holding is right out. He loathes it under any and all circumstances. He's like a cat – don't hold the paws, man.

Whisk! Out came the dirt, like magic.

"OooooOOOOOoooooh!" he exclaimed, like this was some brand new trick he'd never seen before. "Dat is sooooooo cah-wean! Good job, mommy! NOW, uuuUUUUUUUU do-it da numbah…da numbah…da numbah TWO one," he commanded, holding out the next finger.

YES! Thank you oh $DEITY and I promise I will never swear in public again… (I had my fingers crossed behind my back on that one. Just so you know.)

He numbered each of his fingers and held each one out in random order.

"NOW you do-it numbah SEB-BEN! OK! Good job, mommy! NOWWWWW, you do-it numbah FOR-YAH!"

Eventually, ten squeaky clean little nails were ready for the big test: The Clippers.


The clippers are a challenge for both of us. The chances that I'm going to accidentally hurt him with the orange stick are very low; the chances that I could accidentally nip a little skin with the nail clippers is significantly higher.

And he insists that they tickle. So he jerks around a lot. He twitches. He falls over in hysterical laughter.

I'm always afraid I'm going to take half his pinkie off trying to nick a quarter-millimeter worth of fingernail. (Which would be some trick considering that I still use the Gerber nail clippers on him, but still…)

But this time…he held still. First I had to do-it dah numbah one-one. Then dah numbah two-one. And so on and so on, each decision carefully made, each finger proffered with great seriousness and the quality of work minutely inspected, the project suspended until each phase got the Captain Seal of Approval: OK, good job, mommy.

Eventually, I got to sit back and look at my handsome little guy. Freshly shorn hair, brushed teeth, clean and neatly trimmed fingernails…wow. What a looker.

And I felt like mother of the year.

For a moment.

And then…I eyed his feet as they beat a rapid tattoo against the side of the bathtub where he was perched, admiring his potato-less fingernails and humming to himself.

Let's see, the last time I went after his toenails was…uh…um….er…


And also, oh well. The feet were a mile too far. The feet were soooooo ticklish that even taking off his socks sent him into paroxysms of giggles. He kicked. He flailed. He shrieked and thrashed.

I immediately gave up.

I'd won one battle, and found myself content therewith.

The tootsies and their potato loam will be mine another day…oh yes, they will be mine…BWA-HAHAHAHAHAHA…


Hester from Atlanta said...

Holey Moley - all your hard work on Captain A sure has paid off. I'm sure you were grinning from ear to ear. Its hard enough to get a normal 5 year old boy to sit still long enough to attend to basic hygiene stuff, but a haircut and finger nail treatment all in one day! Hooray for you. Plus you posted the next day at 5:02. I don't know how you do it all. Best - Hester

Louiz said...

Hey, well done! I (still) bribe my 5 yr old with chocolate for her toe nails - if she can hold still while I clip them then she gets a bar of choc of her choice (and yes, that does mean she can pick a mucking great big one if she likes). Doesn't stop her biting her finger nails, but at least I don't have to try and cut them.

Unknown said...

Applause for both of you!! And here's how I've done my kids' nails, esp the extraordinarily ticklish one, that has NEVER failed to work as they can't see you, are soothed, and you can reach them easily. Have the little darling sit BEHIND you (either on a bed or a stair step above you) and wrap their arms and legs around your body so that their warm little body is resting against your back comfortable and you can very easily reach their toes and fingers. SING A VERY SIMPLE nail-trimming song (i do the tune of 10 Little Indians but change the Indians to Snowmen b/c we live in Alaska)and the singing seems to distract and/or soothe them. trim trim trim. Done in minutes. FWIW you may never need to use my technique (have no idea how i dreamed this up years ago) as you had such a grand success on your own. Congrats again on Captain Adventures ever-progressing behaviors. And wow, you are one cool mama. ~~jo

Unknown said...

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