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2005-05-08 - 3:09 p.m.

my niece and my brother's toes...

My 5-year-old niece has been taken to the beauty parlor every Friday afternoon since she was 18 months old. Not by any member of my family - her nanny takes her along. As a result my niece has been getting her nails painted - fingers AND toes - since she was 2 years old. One of her favorite games is "beauty parlor." Through birthdays and Christmases, my sister-in-law's family have rapidly converted her house into an alter to Barbie products. The child has more clothing than I do.

She is not my child...but somehow the whole Barbie thing - especially when taken to this absurd extreme - makes me uncomfortable. As her godmother, I give her games and puzzles and crayons and books and paints, and a yearlong subscription to the kid's magazine Highlights. Each child is going to develop her own personality, but I cannot bring myself to feed the Barbie monster. Anyway, this issue comes up every year around her birthday...which is in one month. Because I have to find another gift for the child who has everything, and once again inadvertently establish myself as the aunt who gave her those different kinds of toys.

She's not a lost cause. My niece loves dressup and nail polish and hates getting dirty. At the same time her favorite places are the Reptile House at the Zoo, and the animated dinosaurs at the Science Museum. She loves to play soccer and can kick straight. Her favorite movie is the extended edition of the Lord of the Rings trilogy ("they're just pretend monsters, grandma")...She loves composing interesting pictures on grandma's digital camera: pictures of kites, landing butterflies, and rocking chairs. So, even though the Barbie thing feels weird to me, I don't say anything (I repeat, she's not my child...). I am not certain what her present will be this year - I will look for something to feed her love of photography, or maybe a book-on-tape of the Hobbit (she's probably still too young for the book); or maybe some new kinds of paints or colors so that she can draw more pictures. I will probably deliberate up to the point of no return, and then I will buy something quickly because if I wait one more day she will not get it in time...I'm not a very good godmother.

Anyway, back to her nail-painting fetish. My niece's favorite game is "beauty parlor" and so every evening when she comes home with my brother she wants to play. My brother amuses her by letting her paint his finger and toenails while he watches the news in the kitchen. Her favorite color is hot pink. He always remembers to remove the fingernail polish before he goes to work the next morning. Sometimes he forgets the toes.

Last month he went to play softball with his normal Wednesday-night softball team. He tripped, and snapped several ligaments in his knee. He fell on the ground in extreme pain and was rushed to the hospital. My brother is a big guy. I mean, BIG: about 6'3" and more than 250 pounds. Imagine the surprise of the interns when they removed his socks and baseball cleats to find bright pink toenails...

My brother encountered the same emergency room doctor a week later, when he returned for further tests. He was greeted with one dry remark, "I liked them better when they were pink."

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