What a manicure taught me about love, happiness, and my mom.
Growing up, my mom was always somewhat of a mystery to me and that was especially true on Mother’s Day. My mom loved to celebrate with spa trips, salons, and shopping. She always invited me along but I didn’t enjoy those things at all and couldn’t understand why she would want to spend her one special day doing boring stuff like getting her toes painted. (Or try one of the best gifts to give every type of mom.)
As the seventh of nine children, I didn’t really get the chance to have much of a relationship with my mom when I was young but even I knew how important it was to my mom to take care of herself. Despite having nine children in 14 years, she never missed a day of skincare and she had the most beautiful skin. She loved shopping, makeup, and having her hair done regularly. She also loved dolling me up too. In my teens, my mom would give me makeup and invite me to shop with her. But by then, I had decided I was smart, not pretty, and I had no interest in those things. I see now that it was her way of wanting to connect, but in my teenage angst, I shut her down hard. Find out the surprising history of Mother’s Day.
I always knew she loved me
Even still, I never doubted that she loved me. I remember her teaching me a “secret code” when I was about five years old—she squeezed my hand three times and said it meant “I Love You.” We continued our “secret” handshake all through those tough teen years. (Check out these other superhuman things only moms can do.)
By my 20s, however, most of my siblings had married and were busy with their own children, while I was single and my mom was newly retired. This gave us the chance to finally connect on a deeper level and build our relationship. We discovered a shared passion for travel when we took a cruise together when I was 24. After that, we took many other trips and had wonderful adventures together until she was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2009.
It was aggressive cancer and we knew she didn’t have much time left, so we decided to plan one last trip together, her dream vacation. My siblings and I bought her a trip to Las Vegas with all of us. The highlight was when we gave her front-row VIP tickets and backstage passes to The Donny and Marie Show. (She has always had a serious crush on Donny Osmond!). At one point he came off stage and sang right to her with his arm around her. It was amazing! She passed away about six months after that trip, at 62 years young and shortly after my 30th birthday.
My first Mother’s Day without my mom
The following Mother’s Day was one of the hardest days of my life. In addition to losing my mom, I was newly single again, the market had crashed leaving me upside down in my first home, and I was struggling in my job. It was a dark time in my life. So I decided to go to the salon for a manicure, in her honor. I chose red (her favorite) and sat in the chair bawling my eyes out. All I could think was this is fun, it is relaxing, and it does feel wonderful. Why didn’t I do this with her when I had the chance? I was flooded with that regret of missed opportunity and cried and cried. The poor technician doing my nails—I still wonder what she thought of the crazy girl in her chair that day.
The experience reminded me of an aspect of my mother I hadn’t thought about in a long time. Makeup and hair hadn’t been a big part of our trips but at her funeral, I’d worn the bright red peep-toe heels that she had insisted that I buy because I knew she loved them. But since the funeral, I’d done little in the way of self-care. I knew she’d want better for me.
Courtesy Janette Kudin
During our “exit interview” before her death she’d told me how important I was to her and how I needed to take special care of myself now that she was leaving. That care applied to all aspects of my life. For starters, she told me that boys were dumb not to want someone like me and that being single is far better than marrying a jerk. (I asked her to pull some strings from heaven and send me a good man.) Then she told me she was proud that I had continued to grow and try new things and develop myself. She encouraged me to continue to do that throughout life. These are 12 questions to ask your parents before it’s too late.
It’s OK to take care of me
My “manicure of tears” made me really think about if I was following her advice. I committed to giving myself a year of “emotional rest,” giving myself permission to not date or be social if I didn’t want to, and counseling, both of which helped immensely. I also decided to make a new tradition of doing a spa day every year to celebrate her on Mother’s Day and her birthday. I haven’t missed a spa day since! It’s my way of showing her that I want to accept her love and connect with her in that way, even if she’s not physically here. Also, I believe her, and all those times she told me I was valuable, loved, and worth caring for—I believe she was right. I learned what my mom was trying to tell me all those years: It’s OK to take care of me.
Today, I am married (thanks, mom!) and a mother of four kids all under seven years old. Motherhood has helped me to love and appreciate my mom in a whole new way. I have taught all my kids “grandma’s secret handshake” and, just like her, no matter how busy I am I make sure to keep my spa days.
My Mother’s Day celebration in quarantine
On Mother’s Day, I usually have had a manicure, pedicure, massage, and facials. This year I was planning to get my hair cut and colored but with the quarantine that is no longer possible. So I am planning a home spa day instead. My husband will make sure that I have peace and quiet for a whole afternoon, bless him. I ordered products online to do my own facial, body scrub, and pedicure. I might even throw in a nap! Glorious! You can also try these 27 things you should be doing to take care of yourself during quarantine.
This is a tradition that I am so excited to share with my three daughters when they get old enough. We already regularly do nail days together at home—not because I really love the manicure itself but because I’ve learned it’s a fun way to get some one-on-one time and good conversation with my kids. If I’ve learned one thing from my mom, it’s how important it is to always accept love, even if it’s not given in the way we might want it shown.
Dear mom: I hope you know how much I love you! Also, I’m wearing the red shoes!