Lydia oh Lydia, Say Have You Met Lydia
It was for health reasons.
If I had to break down my conversations with Daughter for the last ten months, thirty percent would be “Just five more minutes of reading and then I swear I’ll turn off the light and go to bed without a peep, I promise” and thirty percent would be “Math? Again? But I did math last week!” and thirty percent would be “When can I get my ears pierced?” The other ten percent is sneering at squash. I wasn’t all that excited about her getting her ears pierced, at least partially because newly-pierced ears, what with the cleaning and the turning and the monitoring, are kind of like a pet; a pet which, if ignored, gets crusty and gross. I wasn’t in the mood for a new pet. But she finished wearing her palate-expander and had taken excellent care of it, not losing it even once, and she was a trooper when it came to book publicity, melting into her room when I needed to do phone interviews and finding non-Mom-pestering hobbies when I swam through the Quinn Cummings Seemingly Endless Blog Book Tour. Grudgingly, I admitted she had earned those ear-holes.
So, last month, she had an appointment with our dermatologist anyway, I thought “Piercing, done in a hygienic environment!” and I exclaimed grandly to the kid, “Today, the doctor shall pierce your ears!” and she squealed “And we can show Daddy when he gets home from New York tonight!” and I smiled and she smiled and I basked in what a good mother I was.
“Oh, no. We don’t pierce ears,” the dermatologist said briskly, “that’s aesthetic.” Foolish Quinn, thinking a place with big ads in the waiting room extolling the virtues of freezing my face with botulism had an interest in aesthetics for profit. Daughter looked at me as we walked to the car, worried. “We’ll find somebody to pierce your ears,” I said in a soothing tone, “very soon.”
She knows that “Very soon.” It means “This just got put on a list only slightly shorter than the Mahabharata and it won’t get done before you’re worried about the calcium level in your bones.” She keened “But I want to show my pierced ears to Daddy tonight!”
Guilt poked me in the ribs. Along with everything else which was going on, Consort had been spending every other week traveling for work and she missed her father dreadfully. But, again, she’d been a real brick about it. If anyone deserved voluntary puncture wounds, it was my kid. I squared my shoulders and swore, “You will have pierced ears before nightfall!” I may have even pointed towards the sky with my index finger, such was my determination.
We left the doctor’s office and I stopped in the first jewelry store we saw, thinking someone in there would know about piercing options. Daughter admired the shiny things, happily holding the earrings up against her earlobes as the owner and I talked. Yes, she said, I could take the kid to the mall and get her ears pierced at one of the stands, but this woman couldn’t recommend it. She told me several Grand Guignol stories about poorly-cleaned plastic piercing guns which can’t be autoclaved, epic infections and asymmetrical, ragged holes which required stitching closed and repiercing. “I tell everyone to go to a tattoo parlor for piercings. It’s cleaner.” I prefer my rites of passage without blood-borne pathogens, so I thanked her sincerely and we headed off.
I don’t know what your family does on a Friday in August, but my family likes to drive through Hollywood, dashing in and out of tattoo parlors. Had I felt a need to get the Virgin of Guadalupe inked on my forearm, we could have been done before tea-time, but I came to discover that in every tattoo parlor, there was exactly one piercing guy and he was a night-owl. Not one of them was expected in before seven that evening. Consort was due home at six. We were both hot and exhausted; Daughter was near tears. “Sweetheart,” I said as we got back into the car for the thirtieth time, “we just might not be able to do this today.”
I steeled myself for the inevitable whine, preparing my unbearably tedious lecture of the importance of learning to wait for the things you want in life. Instead, she said softly, “It’s okay. I know you tried your best. I’ll get them...very soon.”
Which, of course, sent me into spasms of sorrow and resolve. I can’t give Daughter a back yard large enough for a pony, I can’t give her summer vacations in our second home in Maine but by God I can give her newly painful earlobes! We drove over the hill, into the San Fernando Valley, because they either had piercers who were early birds or we were going to Big Sugar and eating our sorrow.
As hot as Hollywood had been, the Valley was ten degrees hotter. Getting in and out of the car at various parlors became an exercise in watching my toenail polish melt. Finally, we drove up to one place which had the requisite flames and skulls painted on the window and a few shirtless and scrolled young men hanging around the door. There was no place to park. I said to Daughter, “Okay, we both know they aren’t going to have a piercing guy working right now, but you go in, ask them. I’ll wait here in the driveway.”
She got out of the car, dashed in, and dashed out again a second later, beaming and giving me a thumbs-up. I waved to her to get back in the car, but she had already darted back into the tattoo parlor. Fine, I thought, I’ll just park on Ventura which will take no more than a second, because there’s always parking on Ventura. And it should have taken no more than a second, were this storefront on any other block in the seventeen miles of Ventura. But this block, and the block next to it, was completely full; I had to park two blocks away from the tattoo parlor where my nine year-old daughter and her new friends waited for me. I sprinted in hundred-degree heat, my flip-flops sticking with each step. Finally, I got to the parlor; Daughter was sitting in the piercing chair, paging through a motorcycle magazine. She pointed to the girl straddling a hog and said, “Can I get those shorts?” Without looking, I said “No” and said to the owner, “I’m with her.” The owner said mildly, “Yeah, we wondered about you.”
So many people have.
Once I stopped gasping for air and determined no one had touched my daughter inappropriately, I couldn’t have been happier with the process. The piercer, who I believe was called Lemur, had a sparklingly-clean station; his tools were all metal and came in their own bags, fresh from the autoclaver. Lemur and Daughter discussed where exactly she wanted the holes; if she planned on getting multiple piercings later on, or those larger plugs, he’d account for that. She and I looked at each other with wide eyes. I didn’t exactly see this child of mine -- the one in walking shorts and a polo shirt with a crab embroidered on it—going for the earlobe plug anytime soon, but I appreciated Lemur’s thoroughness.
The actual piercings were quick and, according to Daughter, more weird than painful. He put in tiny hoops; I won’t tell you what part of the body Lemur usually pierces with them. Daughter stared in the mirror at herself in fascination while I paid. I smoothed her hair, noticing her head now clears my shoulders. “Sorry about leaving you here by yourself,” I whispered in her ear. She shrugged. “You always come back.” I looked at the clock. “Speaking of coming back, I think we need to get to the airport, don’t you?”
She grinned and we headed into the convection oven that is the San Fernando Valley, pierced and pleased.