Panic, dread and sheer terror. Trying to cut your baby’s finger nails for the first time is like a scene from Saw.
I felt like a TV doctor. Sweaty brow, bright lights, tense music and a tray of glinting sharp tools next to me…
Standing in the blinding daylight of our bedroom, I held my baby boy in one arm, as he slept gently and snuggled. In the other, I wielded a glinting, sharp, savage death-machine. How had I never noticed just how massive our nail clippers were? They looked like bolt cutters next to to him!
I gazed at his tiny, tiny hands. So soft. So delicate.
But those fragile little fingers had claws on them like baby X-man Origins version of Wolverine. I had a bunch of red scratch marks on my arms (they hurt) and he’d drawn blood more than a few times. I had to cut them, I had to protect him from himself, from clawing his own precious little face.
My hand trembled as I edged the clippers closer.
Maybe I could leave them a while longer? I wasn’t sure. Clipping nails wasn’t in the baby books that I’d read. There wasn’t a chapter on how to do it right, or how to cope with the dread that comes with taking your child’s impossibly small hands in yours and cutting something that’s physically attached to them. It felt like I was trying to trim cellophane with a chainsaw.
I breathed deeply and focussed as I pushed his tiny nail in between the blades. I just needed to shave off a few millimetres of nail, just enough to keep it past the line of his finger-tip. But a few millimetres too far and I’d cut his finger. My innocent son’s finger. I’d hurt my own son.
The first shaving of nail fell to the ground, and I sighed with relief.
I moved on to the next finger. My hand steadied as my confidence gained. Before I knew it I’d snipped my way seamlessly through nine nails in a perfect moment of dad zen.
Then came the final thumb. Thumbs are broad and easy, so I clipped it without issue. I noticed it was not quite as short as the other nails and if I left it I’d just have to redo it in a few days (they grow fast, baby nails), so I went in to trim it again. This time it felt wrong – like I’d cut through something thicker.
I’d clipped through his skin.
His face winced with pain. I jiggled him and tried to soothe him. He sobbed quietly but he didn’t wake up. Clutching onto his thumb I ran down stairs to get a second opinion. I was sure it was bleeding. I was sure it was going to get an infection. I was sure he was going to lose his thumb! His hand!! His arm!!!
“Can you have a look at this?” I asked my wife with a trembling voice.
“I think I cut down too far.“
“Ooooo ouch,” she said looking at the red line under his thumb nail.
She looked deep into my panicked eyes, “It’s okay, he’ll be fine”.
I walked back upstairs and resumed gently rocking him – This time I held him a little tighter. I swore to myself that I’d never hurt him again. He hadn’t noticed. He had not even woken up. But I promised that I’d never stuff up again.
I’ve already failed to keep that promise. But he keeps on surviving, and I keep on being his dad.
It was the first cut, I’m sure it won’t be his deepest, but it sure was for me.