First clue: Ittybit was unusually quiet.
The kind of quiet I remember vividly from my youth. The kind of quiet that usually means hurt feelings; missing toys; or her brother, brazenly touching her stuff. The kind of quiet that could also mean she lopped off the leg below her knee trying to shave ... after I told her (twice) to leave the pink plastic razor alone.
Or was that my mother?
Ignore the first clue. That's my motto. Ignore it and maybe it will go away.
Christmas and birthdays and other not-as-celebratory things are precariously balanced in my head, one more bit of worry added to the stack, I am sure, would topple the pile.
But her glum expression is set and tears well up.
What ever it is won't be ignored.
"YOUWERERIGHT! YOUWERERIGHT!" she bursts out, all red-faced and shameful. "I wasn't ready to get my ears pierced. You were right."
She unfurls the petals of her hand to reveal a blossoming infection. An over-stuffed pillow of earlobe with a sparkling gem-tufted center.
My heart sank. As the captain of the vessel that is our family, I'd relaxed my rule on unnecessary surgeries enough to allow for two holes to be shot into her lower lobes. But only after she'd done ample research into the care and complications of piercing external beauty. And as captain I had every intension of going down with that ship.
This wasn't an I-told-you-so-moment.
It was just rotten luck.
"This wasn't your fault," I told her, trying to get her to stop crying. She'd been diligent about her new chore and had done everything the instructions had instructed. She'd cleaned them twice a day, washed her hands, before and after; she had rotated the studs sporadically, but otherwise kept her hands away from her ears. She was careful to keep her clothes from snagging the baubles and keeping her hair from winding around the posts.
But there it was -- a painful, puffy, red ear that she could no longer ignore.
Yet, there I was unwilling to throw in the towel and admit defeat. Not just yet, anyway.
Calling a professional ... which I was sure would eventually come to pass ... would likely mean the removal of her hard-fought trophy and the subtle feeling that I should have adhered to my first rule would be hammered into my head like a nail.
I didn't want to be shrouded in an unmentioned cloud of disapproval while standing in a room with a medical professional.
I'd much rather do that anonymously, trolling through vast oceans of disreputable information from dubious sources on the hopes that one of them would offer a miracle cure.
*Snort. Just because that never happens doesn't mean one should stop trying.*
With a few clicks of the mouse, I had a place to start: Ice. Heat. Wash with anti-bacterial soap. Use more of the after-care liquid. Add a little anti-bacterial ointment.
And as we try to save face (and earrings) we run through a dance of possible fixes paired with suburban voodoo.
"Ok ... now douse your ear in this; turn around twice, while jumping on one leg; hold your breath while humming A,B,Cs and if that doesn't work ...
I'll call the doctor in the morning.