Tuesday, February 24, 2009

My hands

I've been  thinking about my hands lately.   They're small.  They are plain.  I don't do well with polish or long nails because they chip and peel, and sometimes I bite my hangnails.  Gross, I know.

I wear three rings--my wedding ring, my engagement ring, and a cocktail ring that belonged to my mother, and before that, my great grandmother.

I've been thinking about hands lately because I take such terrible care of mine.  The skin on the backs is often rough and cracked from too much cleaning without gloves, and they are cut up from working with paper crafts.   They are a mess.

For years, I've been telling myself that my hands are like this because "they're useful."  It's the height of Midwestern haughty to tell yourself that you're hands are busier than someone else's, to act as though your rough paws are that way "on purpose."

When I was 12, there was a girl in my class named Lisa, who had long, perfectly shaped and polished nails. She made a show of it, tapping them on cans of soda, complaining in typing class about the risk of breaking them. She would sit in class and scrutinize her nails, turning her hands this way and that--palm out, fingers outstretched, then palm facing in, her fingers curled down and nestled together. Bringing her hand toward her face, she'd make little tsk sounds, examining the moon-shaped nails for chips or other imperfections. Sometimes I'd watch her and wonder what it felt like to have those colorful additions to my fingers, lively and bright as small birds.

I was plain, my hands matched my clothes--sort of tossed together carelessly. I had a small wardrobe, and I basically wore the same things over and over, rotating each weekday. I had one small ring that I wore: a treasure that had been my mother's when she was little girl. The band was gold, and had some detailing. But special part for me was the emerald-green glass set into it. I wanted desperately to believe it was really an emerald, and I must have said it was. The glass, though, was obviously old and scratched, and clearly not an emerald, and I was teased for wearing a ring from a gumball machine. Having messy hands didn't do much to enhance it, I imagine.

The funny thing is that I have always loved the look of my hands. I like the bend of my fingers, even my bizarre, hitchhiker's thumb. I really like the color of my nails without polish; their pinkish-lavender moons remind me of the inner layers of tiny seashells. I love how they fly over the keyboard, and I like the short nails on them. They feel so, well--me. Perhaps I romanticize them because I'm defensive of that little girl whose hands told so much about her life.

Thinking about all of this makes me ask why I continue to neglect caring for my hands? The smallest things would make a difference--wearing rubber gloves to clean, putting on moisturizer at night, trimming the hangnails (or just using cuticle cream). I resist. I do believe it is part of a story that I tell myself about the "busy hands." It's a story that carries into other areas of my life--the same reason it is easier to do something for someone else than it is to do something good for myself. It's also springs from the fear of becoming too outwardly focused; I harbor an irrational anxiety about turning into an adolescently mean girl, my perfect nails turned talons to sharpen on the weaker spirits of women plainer than myself.

Like I said, it's an irrational fear. I don't think mean and beautiful necessarily go together. I'm not the meanest of sorts, and I love feeling beautiful. I love makeup, and good skin. I love clothing, even if I don't always dress much beyond my LLBeany -uniform. I am somewhat vain about my hair, and I have shoe lust as much as the next woman. And for all that, I have never felt myself becoming that bitchy-type teenager, though there are some days I wish I could call her into service to give my confidence a boost.
The bottom line is that I neglect myself because I labor under the most common of burdens: When it comes to meeting the needs of those around me, I feel as though I should come second--or fourth, or last. It's pervasive. I serve my plate last at the dinner table. I wash my clothing last. I "sneak" into the study to do my writing only after I've done (yet another) load of laundry. I get to my artwork only after I've done a project with Esme. If there is a good side of the apple, I give it to one of the girls and eat the bruised side myself. I bathe when everyone else is clean, and if my clothes get ironed, it's only after I have finished all the other ironing (not often!). You get the idea.
It is good to be able to set aside one's own needs. It is often necessary as a mother to do so, I realize. But I have taken it way too far, I think. Must I feel a guilty twinge at such a small thing as when I put moisturizer on my hands? Because I do feel guilty, even for doing the simplest of things for myself. Probably the saddest thing is that the guilt isn't coming from anywhere else but me. There is a part of me that is self-defeating. This part of me is convinced that I am not worthy--of time or respect or care, I don't know. But it's there. I see it in the way I treat myself, in the way I treat my hands.

I'm not alone in this. There are lots and lots of other women who must feel this way, obliged to be last on the list, whether from fear or self-loathing or a firmly-instilled (and misguided) sense of "what makes a good woman." I wonder if they think about this, and if thinking about it makes them as lonely as it just has made me...

I started this long post talking about hands, and it is to my hands that I look now: the way that I treat myself is, in fact, in my own hands. As this year progresses, I am seeing more and more that through simple changes, I can shape the way I see my own life. Perfect or imperfect, I create all sorts of things with my hands. It's time to create something for me.

DiggIt!Add to del.icio.usAdd to Technorati Faves


La Belette Rouge said...

I hate my hands, I always have. I feel like they are ugly. I actually like my feet better than my hands. I don't go for manicures as often as I should and I don't put hand lotion on very often. I have friends who are always putting on hand cream and I alwaya wish I could be one of those gals. I am pretty lousy at self care and I think that has more to do with self-esteem than my taking care of others first or even laziness. I do take care of my hair, and I do put on makeup most days. But, there are 100s of little ways that I don't take care of myself. Gasp. It is shocking to realize. I think you have inspired a post. Thanks.
Lovely post, Kirie, and as always, thought provoking.xo

The Seeker said...

OhI agree with LBR what a great post and thought provoking.
I think we, at least I don't think the way I should about my hands. They do so many things. When I had my car accident and couldn't use my right hand I did everything I could to make it work again (with limitations, sometimes but I did it!!!!)
I also don't care much of my nails. I think I'm afraid....
Tomorrow I'll have to paint my nails... yes, I do.
Thanks for this, my dear.

Also thanks for your words of support.


Missy said...

How strange that you would write this now ... I have been having these same thoughts -- regarding my hands, regarding my life and putting myself last, as well as feeling guilty about doing anything for myself. (I of course would never have put it in so many eloquent words, but as usual you got the feeling EXACTLY.) Everything you do is me -- serving myself dinner last, taking the bruised part of the apple. I often times feel so connected to you despite being far away. I have recently begun filing my nails and for over a week have been trying to get polish on them. I even brought polish to Three Lakes thinking I would certainly find time to do it there -- no. It is so strange that we have been having these same silly thoughts about hands recently! I have been thinking that I should start yoga again but can't for the life of me figure out how or when. I feel that part of this is just the time in our life that we are in now. It isn't supposed to be about us. On the other hand we can't just let ourselves wash away -- it just takes a hell of a lot more concentration because you actually have to really plan to do something for yourself. I do see women when their kids get older starting to do more things for themselves again which is wonderful to see.
YOU are a wonderful human being. I actually have always loved your hands and your feet. Perhaps because they are so small to my huge ugly hands and my size 9 ugly feet. And, how lucky that you find this time to write -- that is something for yourself and thankfully for all of us as well.
Lets try to do a few small things for ourselves as I do find that as soon as I do it makes me feel a whole lot better about everything else I do.
Love You -- thanks for another great post.

Judy said...

Oh, how I can relate to your last post. Hands are so interesting and can reveal so much about a person when you think about it. I don't see it as a sign of not caring for self but, of the hard work we are willing and able to do. I often wish I had nicer hands but can say without a doubt how hard working they are. My job now is withou question the most stessfull; physically and mentally but also rewarding as I hear the patients say; Oh, I'm so glad you are here today." " You always make me relax." So, I guess even as I neglect my hands I'm also proud of them as you should be Kirie. Thanks for the post so I could reflex on the importance of us and maybe why our hands look like they do.

Kirie said...

LBR: I want to be one of those gals who can put on hand cream all day and coddle my manicure. I think I must start accepting that it is not to be...still, I am going to make a point of doing something for myself more often. Last night I took a nice long bath after everyone else was asleep. That's a start.
I love that this inspired a post. Eager to see what else you say about it. And so good to know I'm not alone in this...

Kirie said...

Seeker: You have a great perspective on your hands. I'll be looking to see what polish you choose for your nails. I know it will be fabulous with whatever ensemble you put together--you are always so chic!
Thinking of you and your mom...

Kirie said...

Missy, I read your comment last night before I shut the computer down, and I stood here with tears in my eyes. The miles are between us, but our lives are mirrors in so many ways.
Some days I do feel as though I am washing away, but knowing that you and I are always connected keeps me grounded. It's thrilling to me that you read the blog and see the things in my head, and even better that you wrote about what was in your thoughts. It's amazing to me how writing to each other strengthens an already strong bond. How I love you, and your lovely feet and hands, and all the other things that make you you.

Kirie said...

Judy, I know your patients must love you and feel comforted to have you nearby. And I think that strength does show in the steadiness of your hands--you always seem to be gently sure of what you are doing, and that is clear to anyone who meets you.

Lisa said...

This wonderful piece of writing truly resonates with me. Especially when you use the word pervasive. These feelings of not being worthy of care, self or otherwise, are so pervasive among the women I know, including me.

Like you, I have small, plain hands. Every once in a while, I will paint my nails and just love the way the look and feel. But I see the work of caring for my nails as futile because it doesn't last.

How odd, since I put on make up each morning, knowing that I will remove it again at night before bed.

I also chuckled when I read your words about Midwestern haughty and the notion of being useful and busy. I so get that, says the woman who used to feel superior when she was the first on her block to have her sidewalks shoveled........

This will be a post that I come back to often.

angela said...

Hi Kirie,

Another great post! Very thought provoking and you really hit the nail on the head!

Thank you for the manicure you gave me for YOUR birthday - that was such a treat! And thank for the gloves to sleep in and the great Bag Balm to heal my hands. You are so amazing, Kirie!
Love, Mom

Irene Latham said...

I have my mother's hands. Exactly. And my oldest son has them as well. When I look at them I know just where I came from. Long-fingered, strong, capable hands.
Now my thighs? Whole other story. :)

Paula said...

What a wonderful post- thank you for sharing this inner most feelings within your soul. This post gave me a lot to think about as well- although I don't have children I often think of myself last and then my mind goes into a deep lapse of self confidence because I have put it in the back of the line for so long.

Take some time out for yourself, for your hands. I think in this life it helps heal us and makes us better women in the long run :)

susan said...

Like Irene, when I look at my hands I see my mother's hands. I have a photograph of the two of us sitting side by side on the stone steps of her garden and our hands are the only physical similarity. She kept a beautiful garden that I was never physically strong enough to manage myself. Instead, I've always used my strong and somewhat large hands to paint, draw, sculpt and make beautiful things. I'm fond of them but, like you, I don't do manicures since I don't like the feel of anything on my nails and will scrape or bite the stuff off. I keep them at a moderate length and use hand cream before I sleep. It's a way of expressing my continued love and gratitude to my mother who's no longer in the world but lives on in my heart.

Very nice post.

The Storialist said...

This is a fascinating one. I can really hear your voice here!!

Hands are revealing and sometimes surprising. I love the connections between hands/work/accountability/history.

Anonymous said...

OMG you've described my plain, work worn and weary hands so well! You've taken my thoughts and put them to paper (well, blogosphere).

It's too early to get my sleep-deprived thoughts out coherently, but know that this resonated with me.

Hilary said...

Kirie, one thing I must disagree with, here. You were never plain. Believe me, I was there. Maybe not when you were 12, but shortly thereafter. Plain never described you.

On to hands. As I push 40 (sob), I have noticed it so much more lately. I went from biting my nails to the quick my whole life until one day in my freshman year in college I said, I'm not doing this anymore. And I stopped and had gorgeous nails. Until the day I gave birth, at which point the party was OVER. I'm not a fan of how my hands look now, but I'm too lazy to use gloves and too addicted to the crack that is purell to stop that, either. Whatcha gonna do?

The last thing I want to comment on, here, is this concept of doing the best for others while giving to yourself last. Giving yourself the bruised part of the apple so that those you love can have the best quality. Because you want them to. Because you love them. It's in your nature because you are a mother, but also because that's just who you are. Not all folks are unselfish. To (badly) quote from "The Joy Luck Club," it's about having the best quality heart. This cannot be taught. One is born this way.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.