Martyrdom and motherhood are basically the same thing, sometimes. When I had surgery just four months after my daughter was born, I refused painkillers because I didn’t want Maddie’s breastfeeding to be disrupted. (Okay, this would be more impressive if it hadn’t been a laparoscopic surgery. I was sore, sure, but it wasn’t torture or anything.) When I need to finish writing a piece for my critique group, and Maddie is being particularly screamy, I let out this long, exaggerated sigh, and I say, “Well, I guess I’ll just put this aside until you’re in bed, and I’ll stay up until midnight finishing it.” Then there’s the very true cliché about making myself a warm lunch and getting to eat it around dinnertime when it’s stone cold. I’m a martyr sometimes, and I get a really annoying motherly pleasure from it. Then I ran over my toenail with the metal bottom of Maddie’s highchair, and I stopped being a martyr for a while.

At first, my toe hurt. It hurt a lot. (My toe will henceforth be known as Rob Towe.) I didn’t look at it closely right after the initial injury, because I had a ten-month-old who was on the verge of screaming for her lunch. I noticed some bruising later that afternoon while Maddie napped on top of me, but I couldn’t do any kind of close examination, because it’s very hard to bend when a ten-month-old is napping on top of you. It wasn’t until late the same night that I realized something might be very wrong. I rolled over in a state of near-sleep, and scratched my foot on something. I sat up. I’d scratched my foot on Rob Towe, but not at the edge of my nail where something like that usually happens. I scratched it on the back of my toenail, because (bear with me—I know how revolting this really is) I had cracked my toenail by the base, and it was sort of curling up out of the toe.

The thing is, a toenail injury, to me, is the second most disturbing injury a person could have. An eyeball injury is the first, but the idea of that makes me so nauseous that I cannot possibly linger on it for more than a sentence. I’ve heard of people losing their toenails, but I never dreamed I would be one of them. I’m a stay-at-home-mom, for God’s sake. I’m a writer. I don’t play sports, and I certainly don’t lose my toenails.

When my husband woke up the next morning, I thrust my foot in his face. “Please tell me that my toe looks okay, and that my nail isn’t going to fall off.”

He rubbed the sleep out of his eye and inspected Rob Towe, who had become suspiciously purple along the cracked edge of the nail. “Sorry babe. It doesn’t look good. But everyone loses a toenail at some point. It’s no big deal.”

“It’s no big deal?” I asked. “No big deal? Was it a big deal when you lost the end of your finger in that gruesome tractor hitch incident when you were a kid? Was that a big deal?”

“Well, yes.” He rubbed the top of his head. “Because my finger didn’t grow back. Your toenail will grow back. So it’s not a big deal.”

Whatever. So I have begun to face the increasingly real possibility that my toenail might fall off. I try not to look at it. When Maddie scrambles around on the living room floor, narrowly missing my crossed legs, I remind her: “Careful of Mommy’s foot, monkey. Careful, careful.” I wear shoes all the time, but not socks. (God forbid a sock gets caught on the raised back of my toenail and the whole thing tears right off!) I’ve made peace with the idea of not being able to wear proper sandals all summer. And when I’m in the shower, I let myself cry a little bit, because I never wanted to be a person who sustained an eyeball injury or lost a toenail.

Today, over a week after the highchair incident, Rob Towe is still intact, and I’m just constantly careful not to catch my toenail on a blanket or bump my foot against anything. Maybe my nail will fall off, and maybe it won’t. But I really feel less like a martyr these days, and more like a mom who happens to be in the middle of an emotionally exhausting toe crisis.

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RENEE BEAUREGARD LUTE has authored a number of poems, short stories, literary reviews, essays, and interviews that have appeared in a variety of literary journals and magazines, including Bellevue Literary Review, ROAR Magazine, and Literary Mama . She is the author of the chapbook Five Stories (Red Bird), and holds an MFA in creative writing from Hamline University. She lives with her husband and two beautiful children in Issaquah, Washington. If Renee could have coffee with any writer, living or deceased, she would probably pick Erma Bombeck.

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