“Stop,” Hugh said, quietly, into my ear. I must have been gaping.
“But I can see – ” He shushed me, accepted the popcorn and we headed toward our movie theatre.
“I could see the popcorn machine through his ears!” I said, once we were out of earshot.
He shrugged. Said, “Yeah, well.”
This was late 90s/early aughts. My late husband and I had left the seclusion of our country home for a date night in the big city. Rainbow Cinemas. While I’m certain there’s no LGBTQ+ connection to the name? I was oblivious to rainbow symbolism then, even though I now know it originated in 1978.
What I was not oblivious to? The colourful and radical sights of the young humans in the city. It started with the ticket crew downstairs. Spiked and wildly dyed hair, in shades of purple, pink and green. Tattoos on necks, arms. Piercings everywhere! Nose, lips, tongues. And then those crazy plugs on the guy running the snack counter. They open up the earlobes, like I’d seen in pictures of African Masai warriors in National Geographic as a kid. This is how young people are expressing themselves now?!
I thought back to when Hugh came to pick me up for our first date. I pulled my mom aside, said sternly, “Not one word about his hair.” That was the mid-70s. He just so happened to have extremely frizzy hair and Afros just so happened to be in style. He’d managed to grow his into an envious – for many of his male friends – foot in diameter. His super power at the time? Diving into a swimming pool, resurfacing, shaking his head and having that ‘fro bounce right back, completely dry, into its pre-dive round shape.
As teenagers, we were insistent on our Levis (although mine were Lees, could never seem to pull the budget together for Levis). And also platform shoes. Hugh’s had daisies on the toes. These personal statements – of hair, clothing – were not permanent though. Hair can (usually) grow back. Clothing is not even attached. You stretch out those earlobes? You can’t return them to that pre-stretched shape!
Shortly after the movie date, my two teenage girls started asking, “When can I get my belly button pierced?” At the time, they had conventional piercings – a wee one in each ear – which I’d happily taken them to get years prior.
As a parent, sometimes you need to take strong stances on things. “You can get anything pierced,” I told them, doling out some hope. I continued, “Go ahead. Get a bunch of tattoos too. As soon as you move out.”
Did they think I didn’t know? Hadn’t seen the staff at Rainbow Cinemas? Hadn’t heard the tale of my younger daughter’s friend, a beautiful and intelligent girl, who’d surprised (and seriously upset her parents) when she came home with a tongue piercing? A tongue piercing?!
The stalemate on this with my daughters lasted a year or so. A sister-in-law told me one day how she and her friends had gotten belly piercings, for their 40th birthdays. She showed me. It looked really pretty, really cool. Hmmm.
I thought, well, maybe I could change my stance on this? I know! I’ll surprise the girls one day, make appointments and we’ll have a girls’ day out.
A short while later, my oldest daughter came into the kitchen one weekend morning as I made breakfast. She reached up, to hang her jacket on the hook by the door. And there, gleaming in the rising sun? Above her jeans and below her T-shirt? A belly piercing!
“You bum!” I said.
“What?” she said, all wide-eyed innocence.
I had a better look at it. We have a history of bad skin in the family. Eczema, etc. It was a tad red at the upper site. Studying it, I realized it had to go through so much skin, I could never go for it. Besides, I still had some (still do!) baby-carrying fat to shed.
She didn’t get the chewing out I’m sure she expected, but I did let her feel bad that we didn’t have a girls’ day out.
In the years before they flew from the nest, the girls tried some other piercings – lip, nose – and my son pierced his ears. I overheard them talk about friends and acquaintances with ear plugs, how “cool” they looked. But they never tried it.
Tattoos? I don’t know if they were ever on the wish list, but after their father died we discussed creating a memorial tattoo. We decided this was the most permanent way we could honour him and be united in our grief. What would it look like?
Since he’d loved horses, had owned, worked with and driven Standardbreds for years, we settled on a Pegasus. We put his initials on the wings. A design was drawn up that we all agreed on and my older daughter had the first appointment.
It did cross my mind, well, if it turns out bad I could bail. But, it was beautiful. I had mine etched onto the inside of my leg, just above my left ankle, below my heart.
Piercings and tattoos have only grown in popularity over the last couple of decades. My husband B and I chatted with a work colleague of his the other night and I did not even gape at his ear plugs. My son-in-law has numerous tattoos on his chest and arms. They tell a story; have much meaning for him. The body as canvas.
Like our homes, our bodies carry the dents and scratches of a life well-lived, don’t they? Heading into old age – B prefers to call it “eldership” – I have scars from stitches, pierced ears with holes slightly sagging, a tattoo, eczema fingers, abundant skin wrinkles, neck wattles and a belly that proves I once carried three babies to term.
Every generation finds a way to shock their elders, prove they’re unique, make a statement, leave an imprint. And while it may seem permanent? In the end? Well, I planned to say nothing is permanent, but guess what? I just discovered that, according to the Laws of Conservation of Mass and Energy, science proves neither matter nor energy are created or destroyed. They’re merely transformed.