I turned eight on November 22, 1976. I asked for pierced ears and ballet lessons. Not normally accustomed to receiving what I wanted — my mom substituted items for what she thought would be more suitable (an encyclopedia set; a sporty Mickey Mouse watch with his tennis ball as the second hand; a bible) — my mind blew when one San Francisco fall morning, I opened up a box of pink ballet shoes, and a promise for pierced ears. I promptly called my best friend, Laura Tomasini, and asked her to come with me for the piercing, and to please please please ask her mom if she could get her ears pierced, too.
Her mom said yes, (this was turning out to be a wondrous birthday of many delights), so we all hightailed it to the mall and the waiting ear guns. For some reason, I, normally afraid of everything and nothing all at the same time, could care less that holes were about to be punched into my ear lobes, flitted from jewelry rack to jewelry rack. “These,” I said, holding up a pair of blue mushrooms, “I want these.” Enamel with fake-gold-filled posts, it was no wonder infection raged through my ears a scant week later, but they were MY earrings, MY infection, MY symbol of best-friendship. Because Laura got them, too.
We gallivanted about Foster City, CA like we owned the place. Hey look everyone! We’re best friends! And also! (Said I) I’m a big girl now! A big girl with jewelry in her ears, and ballet slippers upon her feet (never mind that most kids had been taking ballet for five years already).
Speaking of which, at those ballet lessons, my severe-cheeked Russian instructor directed her class to NEVER eat meat, because it would make you less graceful, not to mention we were killing animals, so for the next five years, I refused to eat anything of a killed-animal nature; a practice that drove my Wisconsin-raised father absolutely nut-shit. But the decision was mine, I was a girl of independence and my own vegetarian practices, and by GOD, I would grow up whether he wanted me to or not.
Nineteen-seventy-six was also the year I moved away from Laura Tomasini, and my ballet teacher, and Foster City. It was how I started over in so many ways, finding out who I was and where I’d go.
Even now, I remember that time as when I became me.
And I see the same in my daughter, turning eight in a few months, asking for pierced ears, and I wonder how my parents felt as I began, ever so slowly, to move away from them.