A few weeks ago, my dental hygienist sent me spiraling into a minor identity crisis (and when I say “spiraling” and “minor,” I mean – I thought about it a few times in between working full time, trying to get our ten-month-old baby’s sleep into some semblance of order, fitting in a yoga class and a run here and there, considering cooking … etc.). She meant no harm, of course – she was just taking advantage of the fact that her hands and torture instruments were jammed in my mouth, blocking me from responding, to rant about the damage that my beloved tongue ring has wreaked on my teeth and gums. She wasn’t the first dental professional to make such allegations about my most beloved of piercings, I’ll admit, but for whatever reason, she actually made me consider taking it out. But I can’t. Not yet anyway.
This shiny little guy has been with me for 16 years – more than half my life (ahh!). Right there with me at every meal, every conversation, every drink. Sitting in the middle of my head through every heartbreak, every success, every difficult confrontation. I fiddle with it unconsciously while I think, entertain small children by sliding the ball back and forth between my lips and pretending to control it with an invisible string, and yes – sometimes bite it by mistake and it freakin’ hurts. I’ve had to defend it so many times to grandparents and other older relatives that it feels like an inextricable part of me – more like part of my personality rather than a glorified paperclip with ball bearings on either end. Stupid as it may sound, I’m not sure who I’d be without my tongue ring.
I’ve faced challenges like this before. When I quit smoking I knew this feeling – the doubt. The uncertainty as to what exactly I would look like (figuratively) as a non-smoker. And ultimately I got through it, and years later am somehow that ex-smoker who turns her nose up at cigarette smoke on the street. Is it possible that one day I’ll be that old woman making my grandchildren groan with bad jokes about whatever body art is all the rage in decades to come?
I’m still trying to figure out exactly what the piercing represents. Probably some sort of teenage obsession with being “cool” that I should have let go long ago. But now it’s taken on a new incarnation – in the will to be a “cool mum.” A yoga mum, a hippy mum, a mum with crazy ideas and piercings and tattoos. Mum, I hope you’ll forgive me for saying this – but my mum is the same. She wanted (wants?) to be a hippy, to be an earth mother – but I didn’t see any of that. Not until much later. I just saw my mum, I wasn’t having a popularity contest. So if this is about how my son sees me – he doesn’t know that a tongue ring means I’m cool. He just knows it’s a shiny thing in my mouth that he likes to play with when he breastfeeds, that makes him giggle when I pop it in and out of my mouth. He doesn’t know that it represents my 16-year-old self, rebelling, exploring, evolving.
Ultimately it’s gotta be about what I want – not anyone else. And it has to be okay for me to change, to evolve. To value being cool and impressing boys and getting high one decade, my career the next, and my family and my teeth and gums the one after that.
But I’m still not ready. Not quite yet.
And when I am – at least I’ll still have my “cool” tattoos.
Blogger’s note: A few months later… it happened. Read the post.