How We Made the Leap
While flipping through a magazine, I came across a full page advertisement that asked:
“WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU DID SOMETHING FOR THE FIRST TIME?”
I was hard pressed to come up with a recent “first.” I queried my friend Corrie Kate, and it turns out she was short on “firsts” also. This bothered us. We expect our kids to plunge into new experiences all the time, but we’d made a habit of sticking with what was safe and familiar.
“Let’s do something,” challenged Corrie Kate. “Let’s get out of our safe little boxes.” Then, without skipping a beat, she exclaimed, “I know! Let’s take a road trip to Reno for your birthday. You can get your nose pierced and I’ll get a tattoo.”
“Whoa,” I interjected quickly, not quite ready to make the jump from simple philosophical discussion to radical plan of action.
“Come on,” coaxed Corrie Kate. “It’ll be great. You’ve been talking about getting your nose pierced for a while now. I’ve always wanted a tattoo. We need something to shake up our lives. Let’s do it!”
I’d wanted to get my nose pierced for over twenty-five years, but I’d always let someone talk me out of it. For the first time, I had someone trying to talk me into it. I decided to take the leap. “Okay, let’s do it,” I told Corrie Kate.
When I got home, I ran the idea past my mom just to test the waters. To my surprise, she gave me her blessing, adding crisply, “You need to either do it or quit talking about it.” Except she didn’t say it quite that nicely.
My eldest daughter had a different reaction that began with a wail and ended with “but you can’t get your nose pierced. You’re a mom.”
As I listened to her objections, I thought of my friend down the street. When she created a Christmas card that included a photo of her and her husband wearing Old West costumes (hers a sexy saloon girl outfit), her children protested fervently. They said she should have worn a “puffy sweater.” That she should have tried to look more like a mom. She rolled her eyes as I laughed. “I told them, ‘I have eleven children. I am a mom. I don’t need to look like one!’”
Exactly. Sometimes you need a “first” to show that you are more than the role you play in real life.
With a bit of maneuvering, Corrie and I found a date for a one day, up-and-back dash to Reno. I wrote up an itinerary and dubbed our journey the “We-Aren’t-Going-Down-Without-A-Fight Anti-Aging Tour.” The week before our “firsts,” we exchanged a flurry of emails, booked appointments, and tossed around ideas. I knew that I wanted a teeny tiny stud on the right side of my nose. The only question was whether to get a little diamond or a plain gold ball. Corrie Kate was tinkering with designs and ideas right up to our scheduled departure time.
We took off at 6:30 a.m. Since our appointments were in the afternoon–and since, as moms, we have to capitalize on every opportunity–we stopped by a Walmart, perused a Marshalls, and stocked up on some groceries at Trader Joe’s. Sitting in the parking lot, we ate the lunches we’d brought from home.
“Are you nervous?” asked Corrie Kate.
“No,” I snapped tensely. She gave me a sideways glance.
“Oh my gosh, what are we doing?” I shrieked. Giggling hysterically, I put the car in gear, and courageously pointed us toward the unknown.
My appointment was first. As I told Corrie Kate, I wasn’t nervous about the actual procedure of getting my nose pierced. What gave me butterflies in my stomach was walking into the foreignness of piercing and tattoo shops. It was a whole culture that I knew nothing about, and I was pretty darn sure Corrie Kate and I were not going to exactly blend in.
To my great relief, the atmosphere at Black Hole Piercing was quite nice, soothing even. The decor was velvety and soft–nothing jarring or in your face–and it reminded me of an upscale hair salon. Except that the employees were wearing an assortment of piercings all over their bodies.
I liked my piercer, Taryn, right off the bat. She was energetic and upbeat, and excited that this was my first piercing. She laid a tray of nose studs on the counter. Corrie Kate fingered a small gold flower. “That’s so cute,” said Corrie Kate.
“Oh, I love that one,” said Taryn. She pointed to a spiral design with a gem in the center. “This one is awesome also.”
As she and Corrie discussed the various designs, I studied the jewelry before me. Compared to the flower and spiral studs, the teeny gems and gold balls got kind of lost, and seemed really plain. I spotted a gold sun with a small diamond in the center. I think of the sun as my personal symbol.
“How about that one?” I asked, pointing it out.
“Oh, yes,” said Taryn excitedly. “I love that little sun. I’ve been waiting for the right person to come along and pick that one. It would look so good on you.”
That pretty much sealed it. Next thing I knew, I was sitting in one of the clinical-looking piercing rooms. The actual piercing didn’t hurt necessarily, but was quite intense. Not long after my appointment began, I was in the parking lot examining the right side of my nose in my rear view mirror.
“Doesn’t it seem kind of big?” I asked Corrie Kate. I have a small nose. On the jewelry tray my sun had seemed a reasonable size, but once in place, it looked like a flying saucer had landed on my nostril.
“It’s great,” said Corrie Kate loyally. “I like it a lot.”
In a nutshell, her experience was a repeat of mine times ten.
The tattoo parlor atmosphere was a bit more raw than that of my piercing shop, and let’s just say, there weren’t a lot of other middle-aged, conservatively dressed moms waiting for their first tattoo. At one point I whispered to Corrie Kate, “If you aren’t ready to do this, we can go. You don’t have to get a tattoo.” Corrie Kate didn’t look me in the eye, but she shook her head resolutely, “No, I’m staying. I’m doing this.” Corrie Kate’s not one to chicken out.
Since her original tattoo design–the first initials of her family members with a swirl at each end–would not fit where she wanted it on the inside of her wrist, she ended up making a last minute decision to get a bigger than planned version of that tattoo along the inside of her forearm. To top it all off, the actual tattooing experience was much more painful than either of us expected. Corrie Kate is pretty much the toughest person I know, but it was obvious from her face, that inking her arm hurt. A lot.
When she was done, we sat in the parking lot and examined her slightly bloody left forearm that was covered in protective Saran Wrap for the ride home.
“It looks okay, right?” she asked me, holding her arm out before her.
“It is awesome,” I told her truthfully. “I really really like it.”
Despite our steadfast encouragement of each other, we were both a little shaky. I broke out the chocolate bar I’d bought at Trader Joe’s, and then we headed home so we could get back in time to kiss our kids goodnight.
The doubts started before we even hit the outskirts of Reno.
“Are you sure this isn’t too big?” I asked, adjusting the mirror so I could see my nose as I drove.
“It isn’t as big as my tattoo,” countered Corrie Kate. “Do you think I will have to wear long sleeves for the rest of my life?”
A version of this conversation continued for the entire four-hour drive home. Midway, Corrie received a text from her husband. “He says that for a while, until we get used to it, we are going to have buyer’s remorse,” she read. “He says it’s normal.”
That made me feel a lot better. My nose piercing wasn’t too big, it was just buyer’s remorse playing with my perception. I would get used to it.
But the fact of the matter was that it was too big. It surprised me every time I looked in the mirror, and I could tell that it startled everyone else who looked at me as well. Only my mother was sincerely enthusiastic about it. “I like it,” she texted after I sent her a close up photo. “Bigger is better.”
But big hadn’t been the point of getting a nose piercing. This “first” of mine wasn’t about shocking other people. I had wanted to get my nose pierced because I’d always liked the idea of a teeny little bit of sparkle on my teeny little nose. I’d always sensed that that physical version of myself would be more reflective of my inner self. I didn’t want something in my nose that said, “Hey, look at me, I’m edgy and cool and don’t give a damn what you think.” I hadn’t wanted to draw attention to myself. I’d followed through on this “first” as a way to stop acquiescing to who people thought I should be. Yet, even within my “first” I hadn’t stayed true to my vision and had ended up with a piercing I didn’t like.
I mulled this over for two days (and a couple of sleepless nights), and then called Taryn. I explained that while I loved having my nose pierced, I wasn’t happy with the stud I’d chosen. Even though you aren’t supposed to change a new piercing for two months, I convinced Taryn to replace my sun with a small diamond the following day even though it meant another eight-hour drive.
Over on her side of town, Corrie Kate was struggling with her “first” also. As I drove through a snowstorm to Reno, I received this email from Corrie: “I’m all over the board about how I feel regarding my tattoo. I like it, hate it, am sad, happy, feel badass, and stupid all at once.”
“But,” she added. “I don’t regret it.”
Neither did I. Even in the middle of the night when I was agonizing over the size of my piercing, I never for one moment wished I could take back what I had done, and I never considered taking it out. I decided during one of my dead of night trips to the bathroom to look in the mirror yet again that I’d rather have a bit of angst over leaping into a “first” than remain in the comfortable flatness of always playing it safe.
Since Corrie Kate and I were rusty when it came to “firsts,” we’d forgotten that new experiences are quite scary, even painful at times. They don’t always work out exactly as planned, and there can be a difficult adjustment period. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said, “A single event can awaken within us a stranger totally unknown to us. To live is to be slowly born.”
It took us a couple of weeks to recognize our “new” selves, on the outside and the inside. Others had to adjust as well such as the people who ask me with obvious distaste, “When did you get that thing in your nose?” or “Why would you do that?” (And just for the record, the “tail” of the stud is bent and flush to the inside of the nostril. No, you can’t feel it. And no, there isn’t a problem when blowing your nose.)
Corrie’s parents were less than pleased with her new arm art, but her younger brother Teb, who is cool in all the ways Corrie Kate and I are not, was really proud of us. He couldn’t get over that we drove to Reno, did our shopping, and then, cold stone sober with nary an ibuprofen under our belts, got a piercing and tattoo. “You didn’t even stop for a celebratory shot of tequila afterwards before hurrying home to get those groceries put away?” he asked Corrie Kate, shaking his head and laughing. Apparently, Corrie Kate and I veered so far from the norm of how these things are done that we now fell somewhere in the category of Totally Rad. Who knew?
And that has ended up being one of the most significant gains of our “firsts.” We revealed more of who we are to ourselves and others. We discovered our “radness” and in the process, became vibrantly alive. As Teb said to Corrie Kate, “If you don’t take risks in life, your soul slowly dies.”
It turns out that both Corrie Kate and my kids were excited that their moms went and did something a little wild. My eldest daughter even declared that after having time to get used to it, she really liked my nose piercing. Especially the smaller one. My dad, when I told him what I had done, simply sighed and laughed, “Just wait, this will come back around. Some day your daughters will be doing stuff like this to you.”
I didn’t tell him this, but I hope so. I hope my girls keep their souls strong by bravely testing out “firsts” on a regular basis, even if I don’t approve. I hope they remember to leap off the ledge now and then, and that someday, when they are middle aged, someone refers to them as “rad” for pulling off the unexpected in a not-quite-normal way. And afterwards, I hope they take the time to get to know the stranger within and discover, as Corrie Kate and I did, that they like who they meet.