Clipping away at family traditions for the good of my kids

By Karrie McAllister

I never know where I should be cutting my fingernails.
I know that sounds like a completely ridiculous statement, but it’s absolutely true.
Trimming my nails was not really something I thought about much growing up, because I learned from my mother that nails were clipped over the toilet.
And when I was old enough to do it myself, I did as I was taught, hunched over the toilet, trying desperately to get the little clippings to land in the bowl even though 90% of the time they flung off to far away corners of the bathroom.
But that’s how I thought it was done.
When my husband and I got married, we did not live with each other first, so those little everyday mundane things were rather shocking in the beginning. Just as I had been raised in one household, he was raised in another. And apparently his mother had different ideas.
I will never forget walking into our bathroom to find him hunched over the sink, clipping his nails.
“Uh, cutting my nails. Why? What’s wrong?”
“You’re not doing it over the toilet? You’re supposed to do it over the toilet. We always do it over the toilet. You’ve got to do it over the toilet.”
“Why? The little pieces just fling all over the place. This way I can just clean them up.”
And while he has a point about the cleaning up part, there was a greater issue at hand.
Where IS one supposed to clip their nails?
(Actually that’s not the greater issue. But if someone has good reasoning for a clipping location, please share.)
The real issue is this: Even if we’ve learned something from our parents, does it make it right? And if it’s not, what do you teach your own children?
A former co-worker once told me that the mother’s traditions are the ones that will be passed on because it’s usually the mother that spends the most time with the children. And for whatever reason, this thought stuck with me. Perhaps at the time I was thinking that I might have to concoct some traditions so that I’d have some to pass on, and hoping I’d not pass on any bad habits and poor clipping practices.
But now I know better. He was very right in his statement. I know this for many reasons. I know this because we celebrate my family’s horrendous Polish Christmas Even dinner and wash our hands with silver dollars on New Year’s Day. I know this because we leave the butter dish on the counter. I know this because we put the toilet paper going over the top instead of behind the back.
But I also know that I’m willing to accept new traditions as well. While I spent my entire youth eating chicken paprikash cooked with chicken on the bone, I now prepare it in the style of his family using cut-up chicken breasts. (Believe me, this is a BIG DEAL, and I’d appreciate it if no one told my Grandmother. She’ll have a fit.) And I know this cut-up method is the way I will teach my children to make it, shaking up the theory that only the mother’s traditions get passed on.
Meanwhile, I know half of the people reading this are wondering what chicken paprikash even is, let alone why it really matters how the chicken is prepared.
These people do not have relatives from Eastern Europe.
These people have not been trained by their parents and their parents before them on just the right way to prepare such an ethnic dish, and how that is the only way it should be prepared by someone who shares the same bloodline.
These people should stop focusing on chicken paprikash and start thinking about their fingernails and whether or not they need clipping, and if so, just where they are going to do it.


Jenny said…
I was always taught to cut my nails over the trash can. You can imagine my surprise when I found out that your brother-in-law clips his nails onto his shirt so that he can then throw them away!

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