My brother worries that paint on his son's nails may turn his son gay. He swears he'll love his son anyway; the worry is that he'll hate himself for turning his son into something he wasn't already. I say that everything you do turns him into something he wasn't already.
My grown nephew tells my 5-year-old-son that his painted nails are for girls. You don't want to be a girl, he says. To my nephew, saying this is as easy as breathing; as believable as a blue sky. I point to his own mother who earns six-figures, bakes the best cookies around, ran her own small business for a few years, and can rock any baby in the family to sleep in fifteen minutes or less. I ask him to tell my son what it is about her that my son shouldn't emulate. Should he want to be less ambitious? Less intelligent? Less loving, spirited, organized? What?
I'm met with stares all around. My nephew, sister-in-law, husband, son.
I see it, too, how I'm often the ocean and rarely the shore.
I don't have paint on my nails today. There's no reason for this; it's just one of those things. I don't feel less feminine because of it. Without it, I still go to work, come home, wipe my son's runny nose, cook dinner, fix my daughter's bike chain, use the post digger to dig a hole for an obstacle course I'm building in my backyard.
If I'm not less feminine without it, why are boys less masculine with it? How fragile masculinity must be, like a tea cup.
Native Americans painted their faces to prepare for war, to frighten their enemies. I think there's something to this; I've seen the way a little paint can strike fear into men.
But they also painted their faces during times of celebration. This seems my 5-year-old-son's speed. His nail polish reflects the world around him. Look mom, it's the color of the flowers. Look mom, it's like the grass. Look, a rainbow!
When I'm ten, I'm not allowed to paint our garage. My brothers are made to, melting in the summer sun like crayons. I ask to help: I'll paint the back where nobody sees. I'll paint the side reserved for the garbage cans.
It's not for you, my dad tells me. I play in the sandbox with my sister. We pretend the sand is paint and we pour it on the wooden seats, then brush it around with our fingers.
I build a coat rack out of old deck wood. I yank out the old nails, rusted the color of cinnamon. I hacksaw it to length, sand it, stain it.
Today, I paint my nails blue as the ocean. White polish speckles the tips like sea foam. This is how I think of femininity: wild and fierce. An un-held tongue. A spray of salt water.
Often the ocean, rarely the shore.
Kristin Kozlowski works as a Reiki Practitioner and Massage Therapist near Chicago, but she uses her BA in English/Writing as often as possible. Some of her work is available online at Chicago Literati, The Chaos Journal of Personal Narratives, and Channillo. She is currently and always working on a novel.