Manicures are currently my favorite parenting tool.

On the heels of yesterday’s post, where I confessed that I don’t love playing with my kids, I thought it would be appropriate to write a little about how I enjoy connecting with my kids.  Today’s focus – my four year old, Peanut.
This kid is a lot like her dad and very different from me; she is quiet and intensely observant. She is an introvert at heart; she doesn’t process aloud (unlike her mother) or want to talk through her day (unlike her mother) or want to share every feeling and thought as it happens (unlike her mother). Instead, Peanut fills herself up during quiet moments.  She enjoys downtime and reading and imaginative play.  She still naps regularly.  She connects through touch: cuddling, holding hands, back rubs.
I, as we have established, am nothing like Peanut or her dad.  Though I enjoy and need downtime, I don’t feel like something has actually happened until I share it with someone else.  I love sharing my life with trusted others.  I need to process my thoughts to arrive at my truth.
Connecting with Peanut doesn’t always come naturally since we are so very different.  When I pick her up from school, I assume she wants to tell me all about her day so I pepper her with questions. 
How was your day?
Who did you play with?
What did you learn?
How was ballet?  Or art? Or  <fill in the activity>?
Your friend wasn’t nice to you?  How do you feel about that?  Let’s talk about it.
The poor kid is shell shocked like she found herself in a bad episode of Law and Order.  And, like a good introvert, she clams up.   But not before she says, “Mommy, I don’t want to talk.”
And every time I hear that, I’m disappointed.  Every. Time.  Some part of me believes that today will be different.  Today, she’ll get in the car and bubble over with news of her day.  And we’ll giggle and chat all the way home. 
The truth is, that’s not the 4 year old I have.  The one I have is tender-hearted and kind.  She’s shy and sensitive and curious and brave. And when I remember all of her, there isn’t one thing I wish were different.  So why can’t I figure out a better way to connect with her?
My husband (a.k.a Peanut’s introvert interpreter) had to explain to me that this isn’t about me.  It’s not that Peanut doesn’t want to tell me about her day.  She just wants to do it on her terms.  What she really wants to do after a busy day of school is stare out the window.  To have a buffer between school and home. 
She wants to decide what to share instead of being guided through the process by my interview questions.
We defined ground rules long before we had kids.  One of them is that each person in our family (kids and adults) gets to be whoever we are.  That means introverts get to be quiet and reserved.  Extroverts get to be boisterous and talkative.  And everyone has to figure out a way to coexist peacefully.
What that means for me is that I needed to find a way to connect with Peanut that doesn’t ask something unfair of her introverted spirit.  As I’ve mentioned before, Peanut loves all things girly, whether it’s princess play or dress up; fashion experiments or accessories.
Peanut Fashionista?
A few weeks ago, I asked Peanut if she’d like to paint her fingernails with me.  She jumped at the chance to decorate her nails and chose an outrageous orange.  While we were painting our nails, she would drop little stories here and there about school or a joke she learned or a fact she thought was interesting.  It was all I could do to just let her talk and not start the interviewing again.  But there it was – when I just let her be herself with no expectation or agenda, she started to open up.
Did I mention that Peanut insisted we have matching fingernails?  Oh yes, I had neon orange nails for a week.  And when people at work gave me a funny look I just told them that I had orange fingernails because I have a shy kid.  Duh. <dramatic eye roll>
And so began a tradition.  Once a week, Peanut and I would go to the dollar section of the drug store and pick out a new color.  It wasn’t long before we got creative with polka dots, glitter, and even painted nail art.  Side bonus: I’ve become quite good at painting pictures on teeny, tiny fingernails. 
St Patrick’s Day nails

This week’s creation: Easter Egg nails

It is the nature of things that this won’t last forever.  Even now, just a few months later, I already see her interest waning in our manicures.  I know that soon I’ll need to find a different way to connect with her.  I hope she’ll give me hints along the way as to what our new meeting ground will be.
Believe it or not, I revel in the change.  After all, what could be more fun than getting to know your daughter again and again?

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