Tough as nails.

If you know Lara on a casual level, you know her to be a sweet, thoughtful woman who would rather gouge out her eyeballs than be rude or a burden to someone else. To a fault in some cases, such as when she tells me how she hates when people pay her too much money. Once you know her a little better, some of her passions rise to the surface: Politics, education, yard sale etiquette. With a good friend, she doesn’t mind getting into vigorous debates on these and other topics, knowing that there’s a shared bond of trust.

Most people don’t ever get on her bad side. And that’s why the thing that most people don’t know about her is that she can take you out. Definitively. In a heartbeat.

Lara can be one rough customer when riled, and that’s because she has a core of iron. You might think that I know this because she and I go back over two decades or because I witnessed how she endured one of the world’s worst pregnancies. Yeah, I guess. But it wasn’t until after the babies were born that I saw the true extent of her bravery and determination. In any marriage, there are moments when you turn to that person next to you and see them in a whole new light. Even after years of being together, your husband or wife can still surprise you. I’ve had several of those moments during the last year, times when life once again revealed to me exactly who I was married to.

One of them was when we had to cut the babies’ fingernails.

I’m not kidding.

You may not be prepared for diapers and feedings as a new parent, but you have at least thought about them, tumbled them over in your mind and tried to take their measure based on whatever limited experience you might have. If you’ve thought of grooming at all, it’s probably just about keeping faces clean or planning first haircuts. Rarely do you consider all the little bits and pieces in our adult ablutions that we take for granted, including the trimming of nails. It’s a matter that suddenly takes center stage, however, once your baby has ripped your face open with his or her diamond-tipped claws during an innocent game of Peekaboo.

But then you’re handed this monumental pair of nail clippers with a giant bulb on one end that supposedly helps you better control pressing the blades together. In truth, the clippers are slightly smaller than a standard pair, but in relation to the wee little hand you’re meant to use them on, they seem like something you’d see on the factory floor of a steelworks. Clipping off the entire finger doesn’t seem like it would be any trouble at all.

The first time I trimmed the babies’ nails went fine. I had found a system that seemed to worked quickly and safely. I still winced a bit when doing the actual clipping, but there were no problems, fuss, or muss. This is probably why I was a little cocky when, a week or so later, I decided to clip Jack’s nails. I remember with sickening clarity the sensation of pushing down the lever and getting a tiny bit more resistance than I expected. I let up immediately, but it was too late; a deep red arc swelled into sight just beneath the nail. It quickly engorged to an unsettling fullness, and a deep red rivulet ran down from the tip of Jack’s tiny finger onto his pajamas.

At first, I think Jack was more disturbed by the look on my face, but then the pain kicked in and he howled. I grabbed a paper towel and tried to comfort him as I applied pressure to the wound. I wanted to kick myself in the face repeatedly for being so incredibly careless. We had a doctor’s appointment a few hours later, and our pediatrician smiled as I told her what had happened. She told me it was a fairly common accident, but she couldn’t keep her smile from slipping a bit when she looked at the cut. “What kind of monster would do that to a child?” I imagined her thinking later as she flipped through her contacts for the number to social services.

It was months before I would try again. Emme was in desperate need of a trim, and I felt that I had to get over my fear sooner or later. Within seconds of picking up the bulb of the clippers, I was sweating, and my mouth had gone dry. I felt like someone had turned up the radiators to 150 degrees. My hands were shaking so much that it took me ten minutes to cut three nails. It was on the fourth when I cut into the flesh of Emmeline’s pinky. Not as deep this time, but that was of little comfort to either of us. “I did it AGAIN. I DID IT AGAIN!” I called to Lara as Emmeline began to wail.

That was the last time that I’ve tried to cut their nails. I don’t care if they end up looking like Fu Manchu or those folks from the Guinness Book of World Records as long as I don’t ever have to take the risk of hurting them again. Which means that the responsibility falls on Lara’s shoulders.

I know that Lara hates doing it just as much as I do, especially now that she’s had two opportunities to see the rewards of failure. She also has to contend with two older babies who aren’t the calm, motionless infants of old. But she does it anyway. Because it has to be done.

Does that make me a bit of a jerk to make her pick up the slack? Yes. But I’ve never claimed to be as strong, disciplined, and tough as my wife. For this, as well as a million other reasons, we’re all very lucky to have her.

Janie Hightower - January 31, 2012 - 8:50 pm

This is a beautiful piece, and the picture is incredible.

Sandy - February 1, 2012 - 1:20 am

We always used our teeth (bite their nails).

Marsha - February 1, 2012 - 7:06 am

I had a pair of little baby nail scissors made in Germany. When they were babies I would cut their nails while they were asleep. They just broke recently, after almost 30 years!

Katie - February 1, 2012 - 2:46 pm

Like Sandy, I started just biting Danielle’s off – but then got busted by her ped… germs in my mouth… if I bite too much off… infection…blah blah blah. So my secret – AFTER A BATH… when the nails are soft… use the soft side of a high-quality nail file… those thin baby nails just shave right off – and even if you do file the tips of their fingers… they feel nothing. Seriously, it’s awesome (and fast!)

Try it… it one of my few parenting wisdoms 🙂

Justin - February 1, 2012 - 4:45 pm

I am TOTALLY giving that a try. Thanks, Katie!

Robert M. Hightower - February 3, 2012 - 2:41 pm

Great story J. How well I know that Lara is always up to a vigorous debate and can take you out in a heartbeat, she’s done it many a time to me over the years. Lara should be able to do a good job on the nails, she’s great at cutting the claws on the cats. About the same thing isn’t it? Anyway, hope the idea from Katie works out. Again, great story and wonderful picture.

Lara Jo - February 3, 2012 - 8:05 pm

AS IF I’ve ever gotten the best of you in an argument, Dad!