116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Raising a girl is hard.
Tammy O’Connor, 51, makes that observation as she watches her daughter, Megan Valentine-O’Connor, 31, pierce the tongue of a customer at Wildside Tattoo and Body Piercing in Cedar Rapids.
“At one time, she had 52 piercings,” Tammy says of Megan.
“Actually, I was at 70 at one point,” Megan admits.
“Sometimes as moms we don’t know everything,” Tammy laughs, her face in real life looking like the tattoo of her face on the back of Megan’s right hand. Johnny O’Connor, Megan’s dad and Tammy’s husband, is smiling up from the back of Megan’s left hand.
From Megan’s 16-year-old summer when she moved to Nashville to live with an uncle after fighting with her mom about a secret tongue piercing until today, when Megan, Tammy and Johnny work together to run Wildside, one of the Corridor’s top tattoo and body piercing studios, it’s been a wild ride.
The rebel daughter who came home to join the family business says she needed some distance to see things from her mom’s point of view.
“I don’t go a day without talking to my mom now,” Megan says. “So to think I went 2 1/2 months without talking to her was crazy. But, like I said, I was a young, dumb teenager.”
When Tammy was growing up, the only people in her family with tattoos were her uncles, who had been in the military. She had her ears pierced as a young girl, but didn’t think about adding piercings or ink, which might have been a hurdle as a nurse in the 1990s.
Then she met Johnny, an iron worker with a full set of tats.
“I didn’t tell my parents for a minute because he didn’t fit how I was raised,” Tammy says.
Her parents eventually met Johnny and liked him, which is good because Tammy and Johnny got married and opened Wildside Tattoos, first in Mount Vernon, in 1998. The couple relocated their business to Cedar Rapids in 2006.
Tammy got her first tattoo — a palm tree in front of the ocean and setting sun — when she was 30. Megan was about 10 when she saw the ink on Tammy’s lower back when her mom bent to get something from the refrigerator.
“She was like, ‘Mom! What is that?’” Tammy says.
“The fact that she didn’t tell me about it, I questioned her,” Megan says.
Finding her path
Megan’s first “real” piercing — not something you get at the mall — was her tragus, the tiny flap of ear closest to your cheek. She was in sixth grade and had her parents’ blessing.
She performed her first piercing on someone else when she was 17, under Johnny’s supervision.
“One day she pierced somebody and it was perfect,” Tammy says.
That began Megan’s career as a body piercer, but it took many more years to be comfortable with the trade. She’s now known as being fast, friendly and professional — easing customers’ nerves by calling them “hon” and telling them explicitly how to keep their new holes from getting infected.
Her talents were on display Thursday, when members of the Coe College Track and Field team came in to get piercings.
“Can I get both ears?” Sangai Dukuly, 18, asks.
No problem. Tammy steps in to pierce Dukuly’s left helix, the back ridge of the ear, while Megan does the right. It’s over in seconds and another young woman hops onto a raised leather chair in the center of the tattoo parlor.
Piercing is hot right now, with the most popular parts to pierce being the septum — cartilage that separates the nostrils — and belly button, Megan says. She’s one of the only professional body piercers in town to do children 10 weeks and older.
“I’ve had many parents who come in and say I’m a hit on the mommy page on Facebook,” she said. “A lot of people enjoy watching what I do.”
Tammy loves seeing her daughter come into her own. Not only do they work well together, but the mother and daughter like to shop at the Buckle — “Megan has better taste, so I go with what she says,” Tammy says — and pick up sushi for lunch.
Megan made Italian tacos for Tammy’s birthday last month.
For Mother’s Day, they are planning a family gathering to celebrate the third birthday of twin nephews and grandsons. Tammy said she also will bring lunch and an orchid plant to her own mother, Mary Flack, of Cedar Rapids.
“For Mother’s Day, I do plan to be with her,” Megan said of Tammy. “Either to take her to dinner or probably cook dinner again.”
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