After twenty years of living in separate countries, my mother and I now live only twelve miles apart. We moved to be near her because, while she’s still active, she is getting older, and can’t drive at night, lift heavy things, or handle certain kinds of home maintenance. A side benefit of being geographically close, though, is that we get to spend time together without it having to be an Occasion. We kayak, we go to the beach, we have dinner at each other’s houses, and once a month we meet for pedicures and mimosas.
Yesterday was one of our pedicure and mimosa dates, and while Chan (my favorite nail-tech) was giving me the best foot-and-leg massage I’ve ever had, I remembered all the times my grandmother would ask us to rub her feet or help her put polish on her nails. Even after she had transitioned to a care home, she still asked us to bring nail polish, so every few weeks, we did.
If this sounds frivolous, it really isn’t. Humans are tactile beings, and we don’t lose the desire to receive kind and loving physical contact as we age. Giving our grandparents or parents (or whomever else we might care for) manicures and pedicures lets us feel whether or not their hands and feet are cold – a sign that there might be circulation. Brittle nails or nails with strong ridges can also help us realize whether certain vitamins and minerals are lacking in their diets. (We absorb things differently as we age, so some supplements have to be increased, while others should be eliminated. I could tell you stories about the hours my stepfather and his mother spent poring over the Sundown Vitamin catalogue every time she came to visit – but that’s another blog post entirely.)
Giving someone a pedicure ensures that they don’t have ingrown toenails, which can lead to infections, and that their skin is healthy. Beyond being a clinical tool, however, is the benefit to our loved one’s mood and spirit when they receive loving touch in the form of a massage, and lasting beauty from a set of polished nails.
It’s also a time of connection. When I gave foot or hand massages to my grandmother, it would relax her in more ways than merely physical. Yes, her body would release tension, but her mind would also relax, and instead of hearing worries and concerns I was privy to some fascinating family stories.
“Hold my hand,” was a frequent request from my grandmother, whenever we were out in public. “Oh, your hands are so strong,” she’d say. “And your diamond is so shiny!” (My engagement ring was hers, once – she gifted it to my husband and me). “Oh, your hands are so warm! Mine are cold.”
“But you have elegant fingers,” I would remind her, “pianist’s fingers. And you know the saying that cold hands mean a warm heart.”
I held her hands when I gave her manicures as well, massaging her arthritic fingers to give them warmth and suppleness, and just appreciating the scent of her favorite lotion and the enjoyment we both got from simple human contact.
My mother and I meet for pedicures and mimosas once a month, but every so often, echoing her mother, she’ll ask me to rub her feet, and I’m happy to comply. Because pedicures and foot massages aren’t just about pretty toenails. They’re about trust, kindness, and loving touch.