Billy Coffey
Billy Coffey

My daughter’s fingernails

July 13, 2010  

image courtesy of photobucket.clm

image courtesy of photobucket.clm

Buy all the books you want about how to raise a child into a fully functioning and responsible adult, and you’ll be wasting your money. I know that’s a pretty broad statement, but I stand by it. Because it doesn’t matter what Ph.D. says what or how much Biblical wisdom people can give you, in the end you learn by experience. This I know.

I know this, too—you learn to pick your battles with your children. Which means making them earn an allowance to buy the toy they desperately want rather than simply handing over the money, but treating them to a Slurpee when they pine for one as you drive by the 7-11. Simple enough. At least, it usually has been.

But then came my daughter’s fingernails.

Coffey women tend to have the reputation of being both ladylike and tomboyish, depending upon which the situation warrants. Which means my daughter will strut around all day long giving tea parties in her Sunday finest, only to hit me in the head with a pillow and want me to wrestle. I honor both. It’s good for girls to have tea parties. Good for them to know how to scrap, too.

The problem was the fingernails. Good for pouring tea and wearing dresses. Bad for rolling around on the floor with daddy. So when our impromptu grudge match the other night resulted in me looking as if I’d been attacked by a Komodo dragon, I called time out and grabbed the clippers.

“Time to cut your nails,” I said.

My daughter didn’t protest. Not yet. She simply stood there and stared, wondering how she could explain what she needed to.

“Come on. Sit. It’ll just take a minute.”

More staring.

She sat down with the sort of thump that would one day evolve into something that would seriously frighten her husband. When I took her hand, it was a fist.

“What’s the matter?” I asked her.

“I don’t want you to cut my nails.”

“Well, unless you want me to go upstairs and get the boxing gloves, I’m gonna have to.”

“I don’t want you to cut my nails.”

The thought occurred to me that this was some sort of game, the object of which was for the both of us to see if I could get her fist open. I tried. She didn’t like it.

“Okay,” I said. “Why don’t you want me to cut your nails? Girls cut their nails. It’s popular.”

“That’s not why.”

I stared, waiting.

“If you cut my nails,” she said, “I won’t know if I had a good day or not.”


She said she would explain, but I had to put the clippers down first. I did. Then my daughter raised her hands palm up and fingers wide, and told me the story of her day.

The bits of brown and green on her nails were from her work in the garden that morning. A smidge of white paint was on her thumb from the picture she made after breakfast. She pointed out a spot on her pinky that seemed indented, put there by a stubborn drawer she’d helped her brother open. An orange stain from that afternoon’s popsicle. And though the evidence was scant, she swore there was a spot on the ring finger of her right hand where a firefly had landed and made her smile.

“How am I supposed to remember all that,” she asked, “if you cut my memories off?”

How indeed.

Like I said, you have to pick your battles as a parent. You have to learn when to raise and when to fold. I folded. A little pain on my part would be a good enough trade to keep her memories safe.

I wonder a lot whether I’m living the way I should be. Life can get so complicated when you’re an adult. I try to make sure I do more good than bad, but it’s hard to keep track of it all.

Which is why I’ve been paying attention to my own fingernails lately. It’s something I don’t normally do but maybe should do more of. Because I know if there’s evidence there that I’ve worked and created, helped and smiled, then I’ve had a good day.

Then I’m living right.

This post is part of the blog carnival on Summer, hosted by Bridget Chumbley. To read more, please visit her site.

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36 Responses to “My daughter’s fingernails”

  1. Katdish says:

    She’s a thinker, that one. Bet she turns out to be quite a writer.

  2. HisFireFly says:


    Oh, by the way.. my husband seemed to resonate with “She sat down with the sort of thump that would one day evolve into something that would seriously frighten her husband”

    I guess you know us women better than we think.

  3. Oh, wow. What a bright little girl! This post hit home on so many levels–struggling to be a good parent, a good person, a child of God–and you’ve encouraged me. Thank you!

  4. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Wendy G, HisFireFly. HisFireFly said: Must read @billycoffey My daughter's fingernails – […]

  5. Sara says:

    This is wonderful. I love this way of seeing the words.

  6. Maureen says:

    Wonderfully written, as always, Billy.

    I agree wholeheartedly. Books on parenting cannot give you the two most essential things: experience and common sense. Nor can they show you the best way to show love.

  7. So much beauty in a fingernail. Who knew. Little girls have been wrapping their daddies around them fingers a long long while now, I think.

  8. Jodie says:

    Absolutely beautiful. There aren’t any other words for that…

  9. Wisdom.

    I wonder where she gets it.

  10. Glynn says:

    So who won the wrestling match (OK, I had to ask). Great story, Billy.

  11. Bridget says:

    I get the feeling someone takes after her daddy. Great story, Billy. What a lesson from some fingernails!

  12. I remember the day my daughter took our parenting books and threw them in the burn barrel–with a match. Lucky for her I rescued them.

  13. Sharkbait says:

    I cut my nails short, and I can still see evidence of last Thursday.

    It’s quite embarassing actually. :-(

  14. Tabitha Bird says:

    You have a real little woman on your hands there :) A lawyer in the making perhaps? :) She sounds like me at her age. Girls rock!

  15. Joyce says:

    The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree it seems. You’ve got a deep thinker there. I’ve got one too and they only get more interesting as they grow. And they add depth to your own life which is a hidden blessing…the parenting books don’t tell you that either. Absolutely wonderful story.

  16. Susie says:

    I think one of your gifts to this world is to be able to take the everyday and make it deep.

  17. I’ll never look at my kids end-of-the-day fingernails or toenails (we go barefoot in KY) again.

  18. Sharon says:

    Excellent! So now when I look at my kids nails at the end of the day I don’t have to berate myself for being a bad mom for not having them wash their hands enough…
    BUT instead take pleasure that they had a great day. There is a huge freedom in that.
    Something tells me this story will be on my mind next time I take out the clippers.
    I love the trace of the firefly that made her smile. I like how she thinks.

  19. *~Michelle~* says:

    wow…..what an amazing lesson. I love how our children teach us……

    Looks like your beautiful gift of insight is being passed on already. Great post! :)

    ps. I think our daughters would be BFFs if they met. They seem to have the same spirit about them

  20. ~Brenda says:

    I think this is my favorite post of yours!!! You’re a good dad to let her keep her fingernails. Hey, at least she’s not trying to be Barbie. She just wants to look back on the day and know that it was good. :)

  21. Helen says:

    You’re a good dad.

  22. sharon says:

    Would you believe, Mr. Billy, that I used this post while talking to about 130 men at a men’s prison today?!!! Wow, I’ll bet you never even considered something like that. I told them to check their fingernails every once in a while to see where they’ve been and what they’ve done… and to change some things if they need to and do it differently next time. Who would have figured, huh, that your child’s profoundness would have been used in a prison to speak to and encourage them? Thanks for posting and to your little girl! I love the insight!

  23. Rebecca says:

    I love it…your daughter is as thoughtful as her father. I think we’ll be checking our fingernails more thoroughly at bedtime around here from now on…

  24. Joanne Sher says:

    She’s gonna be a writer – and a wonderful one at that. LOVE that girl – and love that you shared it with us. Great stuff.

  25. jasonS says:

    Excellent way to look at things. What a smart little girl you have! Does this mean I have to stop biting my nails?

  26. Mich says:

    Loved this post, for i too have one of those tomboy, girly girls who THINK. Mine keeps me on my toes, but what a blessing she is, for she reminds me often to think outside the box and view the normal in a different way.

  27. Cheryl Smith says:

    How old is your daughter? She has the wisdom of ages.

    And you, the writing is exceptional.

  28. What amazing insight from your little girl. Absolutely love it.

  29. There you Coffeys go again: Finding the spectacular truth of life in the simplest places. (This time, fingernails.)

    Like father, like daughter.

  30. laura says:

    I’ve heard of palm-reading, but nails? Sounds even better to me. You might be on to something here…

  31. Christie says:

    Wow – what an amazing post!! Thank you so much for sharing – it made my heart smile ♥

  32. bmeandering says:

    Children have a wonderful way of making us speechless for good reason. You’re a wise father for having folded on that one. Wise little girl also. This mother of two and grandmother of five was really touched by that story.

  33. Lynn Rush says:

    Wow. Your posts are so interesting, Billy. I was like, “How is he gonna write about fingernails.” LOL. But then, you did it once again. Got me thinking with a great story. :-)

  34. Mine are bitten to the quick. I’m guessing that’s not a good sign as to how my days are going.

    Pretty cool story you got going here. Never disappointed when I come around your place!

  35. Ann says:

    Ahh me too-1/2 girlie; 1/2 tomboy-and why don’t I cut my nails? Well, to relax, I love to give myself a manicure. And next time, I will look more closely to see if I can see any memories!

  36. Deb says:

    Can’t tell you how much I loved this. Your daughter is quite the creative thinker….so good you have taught her to enjoy and remember each moment!

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