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In 2001 R was a sophomore at Cal Berkeley – home of orange/purple hair and Peoples’ Park. Naked musicians performed at the corner of Telegraph Ave.

R wanted a diamond earring.

“Absolutely not!” I said firmly. What would my traditional community of Indian Americans say?

 “As long as you’re not expecting me to fork out thousands of dollars,” my husband winked at me. I gave him a withering look.

“Just stay cool,” he whispered. “He’s trying to push your buttons.”

Pathway To A Piercing

A few months later we visited Berkeley in the summer.

“Come on Mom, can I please get a diamond earring?” R begged.

His father and I had hoped he’d forget about it, but apparently R had not. I sighed inwardly and nodded.

We went to Bombay Jewelers on University Ave. They sold 24 karat gold instead of the 18 karats usually sold elsewhere. My husband, who hated shopping, flatly refused to accompany us.

At the store a few Indian ladies with young girls in tow were already trying on jewelry. Their heads swiveled us we entered.

I took a deep breath.

“My son would like to get his ear pierced for a small diamond stud,” I said to the owner.

The man tried not to look surprised.  He failed.

He showed us to a corner seat.

“You’re getting your ears pierced too, right?” my son asked me.

“Of course not,” I retorted. “I had my ears pierced when I was a child.”

Pavadai & Payasam

In  Tamil Nādu, India, it’s traditional to pierce a daughter’s ears by her first birthday. Parents want to celebrate their child’s survival for that long, so they perform the ritual, accompanied by prayers and celebrations.  They dress the child in a silk skirt and blouse or “pavadai,” and offer the family deity “payasam” before enjoying the dessert at lunch. When my father was young, apparently, boys had their ears pierced too.

“Oh, come on Mom,” said R. “I want you to get it done too. Please? You can wear two earrings on each ear.”

I did not want to endure the pain of piercing, nor did I want to pay for more earrings.

“It is the style nowadays for ladies to wear an extra earring on one ear,” the owner suggested helpfully.

Piercings Are Painful

My son looked hopeful. I suddenly realized that he was scared and looking for reassurance. The other customers watched us surreptitiously, waiting for my decision.

“It’s not that painful,” said the owner reassuringly.

“But now I’ll have to buy an extra earring, right?” I was still reluctant.

“We don’t sell single earrings,” said the salesman. “They come in pairs.”

My son’s face fell.

“If you’re looking for a single, small second earring I can show you a nose stud.” The owner found a solution. “That way you don’t have to pay for a pair.”

R’s face brightened. I found an understated gold stud that I could wear every day. Then I helped R pick out a discreet diamond earring for himself.  We readied ourselves for the piercing gun.  Inserting those earrings into our earlobes was going to be painful. All eyes in the store were on us.

I cursed myself for agreeing to this crazy proposal.

But the look in my son’s eyes as he walked out of the store with his new diamond earring made it worthwhile.

Piercings Are Us

Sue’s gold stud (image: Susheela Narayanan)

“Did they offer you a two-for-one deal?” My husband was surprised when we both walked in with inflamed earlobes.

Then he put his arm around my shoulder, “That’s okay, I like the second earring on you.”

On the phone, R’s friends were envious – their mothers would not permit ear piercings.

My friends in San Diego fumed. “How could you allow him to do this? Now our kids are going to want the same thing.”

“Well,” I countered, “He doesn’t smoke or drink (he didn’t then), he’s not on drugs and his hair is not purple. A diamond earring is a small price to pay.”

My Earring Is A Milestone

A few  mornings ago, I texted R to ask if he still had the diamond earring.

He did. In his dressing table drawer.

“Do you ever wear it?” I asked.

“I may consider it,” he replied with a smiling emoji.

His girlfriend’s reply was swift. “He CANNOT put the earring back in,” she texted. “It’s not a good look on him!”

She is British Indian and tends to be more formal in her ways.

My son is now an attorney in the Bay Area. But his girlfriend won’t let him wear his diamond, except maybe occasionally to Cat Club, a popular hangout in SFO for lovers of 80s music.

But the gold stud stays in my ear as a constant reminder of that singular moment in our lives. Besides, who knows what my 18-year-old grandson might decide to do when he goes to college?

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Susheela Narayanan

Susheela Narayanan is a retired early childhood educator and Professor of Child Development from San Diego Mesa College. A longtime resident of San Diego, she is active in her community and with Rotary...