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6-Year-Olds and Pedicures? So Wrong.

I know it's cute. But it's just not right.

Last week, Sierra and Carolyn were discussing the places where kids just don’t belong. Bars. Comedy clubs. Nightclubs (I sense a theme here). I’ve got one more spot to add to the list, and it’s not even somewhere we go to drink: Spas. No one who isn’t old enough to pay for her pampering with her own hard-earned cash belongs in a spa, and no 6-year-old needs a pedicure. As for spas actually meant for tots, I’m appalled. Show me a kid having her sixth birthday party at the Simply Sassy Kids Spa, and I’ll show you tomorrow’s You’re Cut Off starlet.

It’s not that I object to toenail coloration for toddlers. My two four-year-olds are currently sporting attractive turquoise toes, courtesy of their 6-year-old sister and a carefully applied marker, and I’m looking the other way (at least until the day before we leave for vacation). It’s not the polish and paint. It’s not even that if I were to go to a spa myself, I’d prefer not to sit next to Veruca Salt.* My problem is something else entirely.

No 6-year-old needs a pedicure because no 6-year-old, including mine, needs to have an adult sit at her feet and call her pretty. She doesn’t need to see a strange grown-up (and more likely than not, a grown-up of a different race) kneeling before her and working over her toes. In fact, I can’t think of anything she needs less. I did take my daughter for a pedicure once, before she served as the flower girl in her aunt’s wedding. She loved it, but I cringed the whole time.

I wanted to tell everyone else in the salon that Lily was no pampered princess tot, that we’d never done this before, that we would probably never do it again, and that they wouldn’t be seeing us on Toddlers and Tiaras any time soon. Part of me was uncomfortable with the idea of nail polish itself: Lily doesn’t need any adornments to be beautiful, and I’d hate for her to feel like she did.

But mostly, I didn’t want to be that mom: the one whose entitled kids sashay into some imaginary country club like they own the place. I worry a lot (maybe too much) about raising children who understand how privileged they are. In a country where 1 in five kids lives in poverty, they want for nothing; in a global context, I could spend more on that pedicure than the average worker in Zimbabwe makes in a week. I’m not opposed to pedicures and I enjoy plenty of luxuries. But there’s something about a small child getting her toes done that pushes my decadence buttons.  Sorry, Lily, but you don’t get treated like a princess until you’ve earned the princess treatment yourself.

I’ve worked hard on this kid, and on all my kids, to convince them that even the adults who occasionally wait on them, who stand behind counters and write their names on the brown paper covering of the restaurant table, aren’t there for their personal convenience. They should be thanked, helped out (no kid of mine will ever step away from a fast food table and leave her trash behind) and treated with respect. A pedicure, for a small child, goes too far over that border for my comfort. I have, I admit, some issues with paying someone to clean and paint my feet myself, but with a beach vacation in the offing, I’ll probably get over it, as I do every once in a while. But I work for my occasional indulgence, and I notice that most of the girls who work giving pedicures are sporting pretty nice pedicures themselves. We share the pleasure of being pampered.

But Lily, like most 6-year-olds I know, is pampered enough. Her food is prepared for her; her clothes washed, her bath run. But she’s pampered by her parents, and the trade-off for being taken care of is that she’s supposed to follow the rules, contribute to the family and treat us with respect and whatnot. She doesn’t necessarily do those things, but they are part of the deal, along with the fact that we’re supposed to be teaching her (and she’s supposed to be learning) how to do those things for herself, and for others. We “pamper” her to take care of her (and hey, we also cut her toenails). A spa will pamper her…if I pay for it.  I can’t see any way that a pedicure is going to make the process of turning Lily into a decent and contributing member of society any easier, and I think it sends the wrong message to little girls when we invite them into that kind of adult space and put them on, ahem, equal footing with paying customers. Isn’t there anything left that they have to grow up and earn for themselves?

I see a difference here between a pedicure and, say, a haircut. It’s not unreasonable to take your child’s hair to a professional, and it’s fairly easy to feel that you and your child are treating the professional with respect. But it’s hard to establish that kind of mutuality with someone if you’re sticking your feet in their face, and even harder if you don’t speak the same language to begin with. When I’m in a nail salon, I see complex issues of race and class and immigration being played out before my very eyes. I don’t think a six-year-old knows what to make of those questions (I barely know what to make of them myself), and I don’t want my daughter (or her younger, as-yet-unpedicured sister) to become accustomed to them before they’ve had time to notice and consider them. I think pedicures are luxuries, and I also think they’re the kind of luxuries that ought to make us all feel a little conflicted about the privileges we enjoy. An awareness of that conflict is a small piece of the price we pay for the experience.

So, although I could afford the treat, and I know Lily would enjoy it, she won’t be coming along with me for my pre-beach pedicure today. And if I’m lucky, the nail salon will be today’s child-free zone.

But do you think I could paint those little flowers on her toes myself?

*She’s the spoiled girl from Willy Wonka. Also, a fabulous nineties Chicago-area slacker band.

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