My youngest niece recently had her ears pierced just as she was turning six months old, just like her two older sisters had. My sister claims she did it then because babies are less likely to play with their ears and infect the new wounds, er, piercings. But I also like to think that my sister decided to pierce her children so young because she witnessed what happened to me when I waited till about eight or nine to get the deed done. (WARNING: DO NOT READ THE REST OF THIS POST WHILE EATING FOOD.)
My mother doesn’t have pierced ears, referring to the practice of punching a small hole through her lobe flesh as “barbaric,” so she obviously never bothered to take me or my older sister to get our ears hole punched. So it fell to my aunt, my mom’s older sister, to take the pair of us to King’s Plaza, Brooklyn’s excuse for a mall, for this female rite of passage.
Actually, she had only intended to take my sister, then sixteen and a sophomore in high school. “What if she gets engaged and her chosson wants to buy her a pair of earrings?” my aunt asked our mother. My aunt was speaking from experience–my uncle wanted to buy her earrings and she had to scramble to get her lobes pierced. She didn’t want the same fate to befall my sister, who was within a couple of years of being eligible for marriage, at least in the Orthodox Jewish community.
In the manner of youngest children who hate being left out/behind, I insisted on going and getting my ears pierced, too. My mother shrugged and said, “Fine but this isn’t going to become my problem.” I nodded eagerly, not able to imagine how this could possibly become a problem.
The piercing itself wasn’t a big deal. As a veteran of thrice weekly allergy shots, I wasn’t overly afraid of the puncture itself. I chose a pair of simple, gold ball studs and had them plugged into my ear. And for a month, I dutifully cleaned them twice a day, twisting the backs as instructed by the college student at the Piercing Pagoda, a mall jewelry kiosk (this was before the arrival of Claire’s). While my mother told me I looked pretty with these new studs, she emphasized yet again that she was in no way responsible for their upkeep. (My sister also abdicated any supervisory role in this matter.) When I removed the studs and replaced them with a lovingly chosen pair of gold plated heart studs, she warned, “I am not going to buy you another pair of earrings so don’t lose this pair.”
With that in mind, I screwed the backs in tighter. And tighter. And tighter. I was so fearful that I would lose the earrings, especially while I slept, that I check behind my lobe every morning when I woke up. One morning, I woke up and couldn’t find one of the backs. I ran crying to my mother who purchased a package of backs for me to replace the missong one with. I slipped the metal-plastic hybrid and believed my earring troubles were over.
They were not. Both ears ended up become infected, the area around the piercing becoming crusted with blood and puss. I frantically tried to clean the wounds while refusing to remove the earrings, fearful that the new holes would close up immediately. After a few weeks of infection, my mother finally intervened and took me to the ear, nose and throat doctor. I had screwed the earrings in so tightly that he needed pliers and other tools from his tray to get them out. Counting out two earrings and two posts, he swabbed my lobes with antibiotic ointment and wrapped them in gauze. My mother swore that I would never be allowed to pierce my ears until I was in college.
Fast forward two years. My earlobes had completely healed and it was half a year before my bat mitzvah. I desperately wanted to try piercing my ears again, promising my mother that I was finally mature enough for it. She relented and took me to the mall, to the same kiosk where I had last had them pierced. A different college student did the honors this time. She swabbed the lobe with alcohol and started to search for the optimal place to place the black dot. “There seems to be scar tissue,” she explained, saying it’s probably from the last piercing attempt. “Still, I think you should take her to the doctor and have him look at it,” she advised my mother.
Back we went to the same doctor who had extracted my ears over two years prior. “Hmm,” he says, thumbing the scar tissue. “I think there might be something in there.” Applying a local anesthetic, he digs in and finds a post, the back I thought I had lost two years prior had been inside my lobe all along. I had pushed it in so far that he missed it when he removed the earrings. (Also, he had counted two posts and wasn’t banking on an extra one being jammed up in there.)
This incident my first major accessory fail and also my first lesson in the whole “beauty is pain” philosophy.
Anyway, this story ends well. A few months after the wound healed yet again, I got my ears pierced again though during the first year, I wasn’t allowed to wear anything other than hooped earrings, gold ones, which you can see in all of the pictures from my bat mitzvah. I went onto have up to three holes in each ear, one in my navel and pierced upper cartilage, which hurt for at least a year after I did it.
I guess my mom was right–ear piercing really is gruesome and barbaric. And she should know. Her name is Barbara, Greek for “barbarian.”