My daughter, who’s eleven and a half, is planning to pierce her ears when she is twelve. She’s been begging me for permission for years. I’ve been stalling.
My mother wasn’t allowed to pierce her ears because her father thought it was unseemly. My grandfather–who drank too much and talked too loudly–also believed only prostitutes wore anklettes. But when I was in second grade, my mother and I went together to get our ears pierced. I must have been seven, she was 38.
I’m not sure I even wanted pierced ears. But my mother did. And she wanted company.
A few months later she took me on a work trip to Toronto. We stayed with a friend, a scientist who wore billowy skirts and a scowl. My mom’s colleague had a parrot. I was fascinated by its sharp black talons, riot of colorful feathers, and cheerful, taunting squawks. While my mother worked, I played with the parrot. Our hostess let me take the bird out of its cage. It stood on my shoulder, careful not to dig its talons into my flesh.
But there was one thing the parrot couldn’t resist: the small sparkling gem on the lobe of my ear.
The parrot craned its neck towards my earring, pecking at it with its sharp beak. The first time I giggled. The next time it hurt. The third time I had to take out my earring because it was getting infected. Since the piercing was so new, the damaged skin closed back together to heal itself. I was seven years old and had one earring, like a pirate or a teenaged boy.
Part of me thinks to pierce your ears is a bodily mutilation, which it is. You put a hole in your flesh and insert a metal object into it. When a young man pierces 25 places on his face, most of us find it disturbing or even disgusting. How is putting holes in our ears or our children’s any different?
I re-pierced my ears at the mall years later. A gun at my lobe. Hold still. This will only hurt for a second. On the count of three. One–two–then a sharp and unexpected pain as the stud perforated my flesh.
This time I took better care of my ears. I cleaned the wounds three times a day with alcohol. They crusted over with infection but healed quickly.
I love wearing earrings. I love long dangling ones, big bold hoops, the gold filagree with rubies that my mother bought me for my wedding. My grandfather on my father’s side was a jeweler. Every time I wear a pair of earrings that he gave me I remember the pleasure on his face when he showed me his collection, his pouty lower lip, and the way he loved to make salads.
Still, I can’t help wondering if vanity is a good reason to cause your body pain? If the chance to wear earrings is worth putting holes in your flesh? There are always clip-ons, which is what my mother wore, for special occasions.
I’ve told my daughter that she has to decide who will pierce her ears (a doctor? a teen at the mall?) and she has to pay for the procedure with her own money. She can’t wait. I have beautiful family earrings that will someday be hers. But I look at my daughter’s perfect smooth lobes and I wish she would change her mind.
At what age do you think it’s okay for a parent to pierce a child’s ears? Do you have pierced ears? Do you wish you didn’t? I’m eager to read your thoughts and opinions in the comment section below.