About six months ago, my daughter, who was then still five, inquired as to when she would be allowed to get her ears pierced. Without so much as a flinch, I told her that she could do it whenever she was ready. After all, I got my ears pierced when I was really young – three or four, I think1 – and I know she’s going to get them pierced eventually. I mean, I have way too many great pairs of earrings to pass down to her for her to not get them pierced. So, twenty-five minutes later, we were standing in Claire’s Boutique in the Westside Pavilion Mall. We picked out the starter earrings – little pink flowers with a yellow center – and I signed a legal document (in triplicate), initialing away my rights to sue for infection, disease, severe pain, scarring, and lopsidedness that may result from the piercing. I sat her down in the chair, the piercing lady put on her rubber gloves, and then I made the mistake of referring to the piercing gun as a "gun." As in, see honey, that white plastic thingy is the gun that holds the earrings, and they just squeeze it really fast, and the next thing you know – wait, why are you screaming? Oh, no, don’t cry, it’s just – oh, don’t get off the chair. Okay. Okay. Yes, we can go home.2 And so we left, un-pierced, and we forgot all about it. Until yesterday.
Yesterday, Harper announced, out of nowhere, that she was now, unquestionably, ready to pierce her ears. Well, probably not out of nowhere. From the intel I’ve managed to gather, there’s a girl on her camp bus who is seven who has her ears pierced, and that girl and a C.I.T. have been encouraging (pressuring?) Harper to pierce her ears all summer. And since tomorrow is Harper’s last day of camp, she had to get her ears pierced TODAY in order to show these forces of corruption that she does, in fact, have the balls to go through with it (my choice of words, not Harper’s). And also, I’ve been letting her watch Jon & Kate Plus 8 on TLC3, and on a recent episode, one of the seven year-old twins gets her ears pierced, and even though she cries, she only cries for a second and then says it wasn’t so bad. Plus, she gets a lollipop.
Which brings me back to yesterday, or, more specifically, last night. I was leaning over to give Harper a kiss goodnight, when suddenly, she grabbed my earlobe and dug her thumbnail into it with the force of an electric drill. Nonplussed by my shriek of pain, she asked if that is what it feels like to get your ears pierced. Because in some kind of vehicular ear-piercing simulation, the seven year-old on the bus did that to Harper even harder than Harper did it to me, and it didn’t even hurt that bad (um, actually, it hurt pretty bad), so therefore she’s ready, and she wants to go tomorrow.
And so, this afternoon, I felt like Denzel Washington in Déjà Vu, as I found myself once again back at Claire’s. She picked out her earrings (tiny pink sparkly numbers), I filled out the form, they put on the gloves, she sat in the chair, and then they pulled out the gun. But this time, instead of freaking out, Harper examined the weapon and concluded that it didn’t look scary at all. In fact, she thought it would have long, sharp needles in it, but actually, it just looks like a piece of plastic. So they put the guns in place,4 and as they counted to three, the life of my child’s perfect, little ears flashed before my eyes. I remembered how they used to look just like tiny flower petals when she was a newborn; I remembered gently stroking them while she nursed in the middle of the night; I remembered her playing dress up as a toddler and clipping long, dangly, princess earrings onto them. And I thought, what am I doing? Why am I allowing this to happen? For six years, I’ve spent most of my waking moments trying to keep her intact. Somehow, we’ve managed to avoid broken bones, stitches, and even scars. And now here I am, sitting by and watching as she puts two holes in her head that don’t belong there. I wanted to yell for them to stop, but it was too late. Before I knew it, Harper was letting out a quick yelp, the guns were being pulled away, and there was my beautiful, perfect little girl, with a pink, sparkly thing protruding from each ear and a huge, proud smile on her face.
I wasn’t sad, exactly, but I’ll admit that I did feel a twinge of sadness. I just kept thinking that Michael and I made her, from scratch – we made this perfect, flawless person – and now she’s different. She’s permanently altered her body, and in making the decision to do so, she’s taken full custody of it. And I realized, in the middle of Claire’s Boutique, that this is what it is to let go. They showed Harper her new self in the mirror, and offered her a lollipop. And I asked if I could have one, too.
1 And when I was fourteen, or fifteen maybe, I double pierced my ears myself, in my bedroom, with a sewing needle and a raw potato. Which, in retrospect, was totally disgusting.
2 I think this may have happened a few days after Harper asked how bad guys rob banks, and I explained that they take out guns and tell the people at the bank that they’ll shoot them if they don’t give them all the money. To which Harper replied, in total shock, "Wait. Guns are real??? Oh, my God. That is the worst invention ever. I mean, mommy, someone could get hurt."
3 Actually, I have gotten her completely addicted to a slew of horrible reality shows, including, but not limited to, Food Network Challenge, Project Runway, Deal or No Deal, and Wheel of Fortune.
4 On the theory that she would not want to go through with it a second time if it really hurt, they did both ears simultaneously, thus avoiding the dreaded, "one earring" look reminiscent of ‘80’s pop bands from the U.K.