My Mama turned 52 yesterday.
Now, ordinarily I wouldn’t share that little nugget of information, given that women normally adhere to a very strict “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy when it comes to obnoxious numbers like age and weight. However, it just so happens that Facebook announced her age to the watching world on account of the fact that she has yet to master the internets, and so I’m afraid that at this point the proverbial cat is quite out of the bag.
And really, I don’t think she minds all that much.
When I was in middle school, I desperately wanted to get my bellybutton pierced. Desperately. Unfortunately, those were the years that I fondly refer to as the dark ages, during which my Mama had an inexplicable affinity for startlingly big 80’s hair and dowdy jean jumpers. Never mind that it was 1997 and both had long since gone out of vogue. The potential coolness of a silver butterfly dangling from my naval was utterly lost on her.
My Dad was even worse. He simply furrowed his brow, rolled his eyes, and told me in no uncertain terms that nobody ought to be seeing my bellybutton anyways, so I certainly didn’t need any shrapnel in it. No amount of wheedling and cajoling and but-they’re-cute-ing could persuade my conservative, nothing-good-happens-after-eight-o’clock parents otherwise. Thus, it was firmly pronounced that the day I turned 18 I was free to desecrate my body however I saw fit, but there would be no vaguely whorish piercings a second sooner than that. My best friend Melissa and I made solemn, little girl pinkie-promises to go get our bellybuttons pierced together on my 18th birthday, and settled in for what promised to be an impossibly long wait.
In a devastating turn of events, several years later at the end of 7th grade, my parents announced that we were moving from our little apartment on Ivana Kudri street in Kiev, Ukraine, to a yellow house in Budapest, Hungary. I remember crocodile tears filling my panic-stricken eyes as I looked at my Mother in utter disbelief and indignantly shrieked the only pertinent question: NOW WHO WILL I GO GET MY BELLYBUTTON PIERCED WITH?!
In a fit of dementia and good intentions, my Mama calmly looked me dead in the eyes, and told me to listen up. Honey, if you don’t have someone to go get your bellybutton pierced with when you turn 18, I promise that I’ll do it with you.
Like astonishingly dainty elephants, Peterson women never forget. And so April 19th of my senior year of high school found Cindy Peterson and I sitting in a rather suspect Raleigh tattoo parlor called Warlocks. And let me tell you, if anything in this world will force you to reevaluate the trajectory of your life, it’s sitting in a plastic folding chair at Warlocks staring at rows and rows of barbed wire tattoos.
My wise Father had long since given up trying to talk us out of the whole idea, having begrudgingly resigned himself to the sad reality that the trollops living under his roof could not be stopped from skirting the edges of scandalous. He had, however, made me swear on my college fund to get pierced first, confident that if I watched a blonde with an aggressively pierced face and rather menacing black gloves shove a giant needle into my Mother’s belly, I’d never crawl up on the table after her.
The next day I proudly marched into homeroom and showed off my VERY CLASSY silver butterfly bellybutton ring. [Sorry, Dad!] I’ll never forget my friend’s eyes widening as she gleefully gasped, Oh, Ash. Does your Mom know?
It was one of the great delights of my life to smirk back at her. Please. My Mama is my best friend, and she did it with me.
That’s my Mom. She’s a daring woman who drinks life to the lees, as Tennyson would say. She is a truth-teller, a problem-solver, a fighter and a chocolate-cake-baker. She taught me to love wildly, to lead with tender ferocity of spirit, and to always keep a secret can of fudge icing hidden in the back of the fridge for just-in-case purposes. She taught me to anchor my heart to the truth that God only gives good gifts. And in a sensible world full of pressed khaki pants and 401K’s, she taught me that there was beauty and value in letting my imperfect flag fly.
So here’s to you, Mama. All 52, pierced years of you.