Immediate head spin. I cut those toenails weekly from infancy until age four, when she became old enough to grow into her father's habit of picking and biting both finger and toenails to the quick. She was not born with that toe. I explained to her that most toes that look like hers have been traumatized. Can you remember hurting your toe really bad, Cecelia? Well, mom, there was that time with the trash can.
I flashed back to a month previous. A typical Sunday morning when my husband was working. The kids were cranky (I also have a three year old, Jack) from staying up too late the night before, yet unable to fight the chronologic clock that vaulted them out of bed at 6:30 a.m. The television was blaring annoying, high-pitched toddler TV, which was failing miserably in distracting my children from seeking my attention while I was trying to clean up from a breakfast of biscuits, eggs, and sausage. Jack was whining in tune with the TV, and Cecelia wanted me to start an art project. I told her she could help me clean up, if she wanted a project. So she dutifully, if somewhat reluctantly, grabbed a plate of leftovers to scrape into the trash.
Within a few seconds, I heard a high-pitched scream and turned to see her writhing on the floor holding her toe. Apparently, when she had stepped onto the lever to open the top of the trash can, she accidently let it go abruptly and painfully onto her big toe. Bad for her, but one more crisis for me to attend to in what seemed like an endless morning of crying wolf. I dutifully went over to examine the toe, and when I saw that it wasn't bleeding, I muttered half-hearted empathic statements, gave it a kiss, and turned back to my cleaning. Now I sat and stared at one of the ugliest toe injuries I have ever seen, and my heart twisted in agony and guilt.
Maternal guilt. A black hole. A large block of real estate, occupying free rent in all of our heads. Luckily, a few days later, Cecelia sneezed. I repeated the sneezing mantra I learned from my mother. One's a wish, two's a kiss, three's a letter, four's something better. Cecelia, you get a wish. Mom, what do I need with a wish? I've got a lucky toe.
I wish I had a lucky toe.