The Electrician turned 29 recently, and to celebrate my (slightly younger) husband’s existence for another year on the planet, I decided to buy him a new pair of shoes. Finding shoes for size 13 feet is not always a simple task, and as a result of spending too many hours with his feet squeezed into confining footwear, my love tends to favour skateboard shoes in his off-hours.
The birthday present part of this story is that I found the perfect pair of DC shoes in the deep wine colour The Electrician has started favouring in the last year or so. I was just hoping for a pair of plain black or grey ones, so the burgundy was a huge bonus, but this story, really, is not at all about shoes.
Since it was the last week of August, the store was jammed with kids and parents frantically seeking back to school necessities. Navigating the place was akin to playing Frogger. I dodged a kid on a pink-wheeled skateboard who inexplicably rolled by close enough send a breeze across my kneecaps, and in my off balance state, spotted the burgundy shoe tossed casually on the floor. There were no matching shoes on the racks, so the floor sneaker was my only choice. As I straightened up from retrieving it, I turned and nearly knocked over a little girl who was probably ten and was uncomfortably close to my left side.
“Hey!” she chirped. She was really, really in my personal space, so I just managed a half smile and took a quick step backward. “Hey!” she tried again.
“Uh, hi,” I replied.
“How many earrings do you have?” she asked, speaking really quickly and waving her skinny arms.
“Uh,” I started, doing a quick mental tabulation. For the record, I have five in the left ear, three lobe and two cartilage, and four in the right ear, again three in the lobe with one in the really crunchy part of the cartilage called the rook. I haven’t had anything new pierced in close to a decade, but I like the earrings I have and I plan to keep them around for a while. “I guess I ha–”
“I only have one hole and I want to get a second hole pierced and my dad says no but I think it looks pretty and I really want to get the second hole pierced before school because it looks nice and I think I’m old enough for a second hole and–hey dad! This lady has lots of earrings and they look nice!”
Cue the death glare from a bald, tattooed, and very large father. I’m sure he was a lovely man, but he certainly had the intimidation thing down.
“Uh–” I attempted again.
“Because my friend got her second holes pierced for her birthday and I told my mom and dad I’m old enough to decide if I want earrings but they keep saying no and I think it’s not fair.” I tried to come up with some kind of response, but she continued, “Hey, did those ones in the top hurt? Betcha they did because that’s cart-ill-edge.”
Sensing something I could latch on to, I went with it, “Worst pain of my life. It was awful when I had it done and it ached for months while it was healing.” Did it take months to heal, yes; was it horrible pain, not at all, but I was not going to take this hyper little girl’s side in her quest to have extra holes punched in her head before junior high school. Her eyebrows went up a bit, at least.
“But I have lots of earrings and right now I can only wear one pair at at time and that seems like a waste because if I had a second hole pierced I could wear twice as many earrings and that would be awesome. Don’t you think it would be awesome?”
“You know,” I started, “I didn’t have any of my extra earring holes pierced until I was old enough to make the choice for myself. I think it’s pretty important a person is old enough to make those kinds of decisions before she makes changes to her body.”
“Like ten?” she asked, hopeful and wide-eyed.
“Ten? Oh heck no!” Her little face darkened. “My mom said I wouldn’t be old enough to make those kinds of decisions until society trusted me to make big choices. I wasn’t allowed to pierce my second holes until I was sixteen and had a driver’s license to prove I was at least somewhat responsible.”
In reality, my best friend at the time and I went downtown after school on a Thursday and had our second holes pierced at a small-town hair salon with no permission from or forewarning to our parents: we were barely fourteen. I had the third holes pierced in a similar manner a year or two later. At the time, it never occurred to me that a hairdresser might not be the best person to punch new holes in sensitive parts of my body, or that a hair salon wasn’t a particularly sterile place to undergo the puncturing.
“But sixteen is so old!” she whined. I think she was pretty peeved that I burst her balloon. For a short time, I may have appeared to be a “cool” adult, one who would support her desires for pre-pubescent body modification. Of course, I’m not cool at all, really.
“I think the government has it right. Anybody younger than sixteen isn’t mature enough yet to drive a car, and anybody younger than sixteen hasn’t lived long enough to make choices about piercing holes in her flesh.”
In that moment, I realized I had crossed the threshold from my youngish adulthood into full-fledged grownup-ness. It kind of sucked. What has happened to us when we’re suddenly lying about the slightly foolish things we did in our youth so we avoid becoming the dreaded “bad influences?” Since when do I side with the parents, the old people, instead of with the young people: why do I identify more with the moms and dads–having no kids myself–than with the children, who are typically a lot more fun than their uptight folks?
Apparently, any semblance of coolness based in non-conformity I may have once held (a lean sliver at best) has drained into the dry toastness of conventional adulthood. I thought I’d become a grown up later than this, but here I am at 31, joining the ranks of the adults.
As he ushered his daughter toward the till, the inked and intimidating father–perhaps once a non-conformist too–mouthed “thanks,” rolled his eyes and sighed. I think he was going through the same realizations I was.
Getting old is painful.
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