Badge of Same

It was a dark and stormy night. Green Thumb was out-of-town on a boys’ camping trip. The girls had run me ragged all week. And oh yeah, it was Valentine’s Day.

So while Grandma babysat, I did what any exhausted 30-something mama with no date would: I slipped out to the local tattoo parlor.

Fiery dragon? Koi fish? Overused Om? Nope. I just pierced my nose.

Or, technically – and this is a Very Important Technicality – I re-pierced my nose. Years ago, back when all-nighters consisted of bar-hopping or finals cramming instead of breastmilk letdowns and potty training, I had my nose pierced for the first time. It was a diamond stud, which was speared into my nostril’s soft outer tissue at a piercing place in San Francisco by a guy named Dungeon. My best friend Suzanne, usually way cooler than me, had come along for support, and I reveled in the awe with which she regarded me after Dungeon did his (painful) deed and we sauntered excitedly down the streets of downtown San Fran. I was 18 and I felt like some hot shit.

I loved my new piercing. But for some reason my employer, The Great Coffee Company That Shall Not Be Named, did not. (Let’s not even discuss how, nowadays, you can’t even order a skinny two-sugar caramel low-foam extra-hot latte without staring at some wannabe anarchist’s quarter-sized earlobe holes, hot-iron brandings and indigo ink work snaking up the neck ). So eventually I caved, pulled my diamond stud out and joined the rat race. I’ve longed for that piercing ever since.

But Grown-Up Life happened. Interviews, then jobs at newspapers where I tried to get middle-aged city councilmen to take me seriously. None seemed the proper place for the nose piercing. By the time I felt secure enough in my career to be more expressive with my appearance, I was pregnant, nursing – not in the mood to poke an unnecessary hole in myself.

Then, last year, on that dark and rainy night, I decided the time had come. I had recently quit my day job to spend more time with my hooligans. I was writing and slinging cloth diapers on the side — neither seemed an occupation where the people I interacted with gave the least shit about what I looked like. In fact, I figured, the twinge of anti-establishment a facial piercing communicated confirmed that I fit right into place in the new world I found myself in. And oh yeah — I really didn’t care anymore what people thought. I had proven myself already, so if I wanted a little hole in my nose I deserved it. Happy Valentine’s Day to me.

Green Thumb was suitably unimpressed. My mom, recalling my first piercing (which she had forbidden me to get but had then learned to love) congratulated me. My little girls begged to touch the new diamond stud. I would not be the lame mother who dressed in old-lady outfits and shook my head at the crazy youth of today — I would set an example for them of personal self-expression!

And then, just as my ego was beginning to ascend to pre-adulthood heights, I discovered what a shopworn stereotype I had actually become.

Apparently I hadn’t noticed them before, but now that I had proudly re-pierced my nose, I saw them everywhere: Other thirtysomething mothers just like me, refugees from the 9-5 corporate world who happily switched out their Banana Republic suits for yoga pants and hemp outfits with lots of slouchy, earthy layers, wearing the same tiny diamond stud. As I began to spot them — at library storytime, in line at the natural grocery, in my own shop buying sustainable cloth diapers for their avant-garde babies — I began to wonder: Was there a single mother of young children in all of Seattle without a stupid stud in her nose??? The truth hit with the force of a two-year-old in full tantrum mode: I had become a freakin’ cliché.

And damn it, it wasn’t fair! I had first pierced my nose a decade-and-a-half ago, back when it was a unique form of expression, at least in my circles. I was cheated out of my piercing by the cruel and conventional work world — I lost my chance to enjoy it when it was unorthodox — and now here I was, ready to reclaim it and in doing so, I had instead given myself something that was absolutely banal. (No offense meant to the hundreds of women I know now and am friends with who have the same diamond stud. Really, ladies, it looks killer on all of us. I am not mad at you personally — you should be free to break out of your own stereotypical mommy chains and pierce whatever you darn well want to. And hey — maybe some of you had a first go-round in your teen years, too, and rightly deserve this comeback as I do).

And of course this experience leads me to ponder identity — my identity as a woman and as a mother, how those are intertwined yet sometimes pulling against each other. Intellectually, I know how I look doesn’t dictate who I am. Emotionally and egotistically, I am fighting against centuries of women’s conflict over their identities, self-proscribed and otherwise, and their roles within their family and society.

So. I am torn. I still love my piercing. I like how it looks, bringing a bit of sparkle to my regular, usually unadorned face. I like how it feels in there, a little metal touchstone that glistens in the corner of my eye as I type on my computer or scrub my hair in the shower. I know, a tiny stud is not, like, way out there on the rebel spectrum. The 13-year-olds are probably laughing at me all the way to the body-mutilation parlors. But it is my little connection to some of the things I have lost from my youth.

So it stays. Count me the same as all the other pierced mothers dragging their screaming toddlers in and out of the playdates and the cupcake shoppes. Judge us as ubiquitous as pet owners with doggy purses and bank executives with fatty bonus checks. I don’t really care.

My ego pierced, this diamond stays.

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