Picky (or, The Real Reason We Had Children)

Continuing along with our theme of bodily functions...

Cold season is upon us, a season that brings great joy to Rachel, because it allows her to indulge in one of her favourite pastimes: picking the crap out of Rowan’s nose. She’s relentless to the point of obsession (and denial), ignoring the wailing and the flailing and shrieking and running away and screaming of “No!” as she pursues her crusty quarry. With the arrival of Isaac, her joy has doubled.

Although I occasionally remind her to give the children a break, mostly I look on bemusedly — partly because no child ever died from having his nose picked, or picked at, and partly because if I called her on it, then she would call me on my own obsessions. If Rachel’s on snot detail (and ear wax, can’t forget the ear wax — and, yes, it’s true, you could probably grow potatoes in Rowan’s ears), then I am all over the fingernails and haircuts.

Like any other self-respecting mother, I carry nail clippers in my pocket at all times. You would too, if a tiny baby scratched your nipples — and his own head — with his little razor-sharp claws. You would, if your three-year-old had jaggedy toenails and half-moons of black at the end of each finger. And nobody likes a mullet. Least of all me, apparently.

And then there was Isaac’s spectacular case of cradle cap, wherein his entire scalp was covered in a stinky layer of dead skin that looked like the Gobi Desert. I spent much of his early months oiling up his tiny head in order to soften the crust. Then, I picked off the flakes as he nursed serenely.

This urge to groom, to pick, it seems hardwired. Is it some parental instinct, as natural as chimps picking fleas off each other? Or maybe it’s the enforced intimacy of having and caring for children, biological or adopted, that hardwires us, makes us into parents instead of just innocent bystanders. Whatever the case, little satisfies me more than tucking short-nailed, clean-nosed, downy-scalped children into bed each night. Until a life is conferred upon me, I guess this is as good as it gets.