The Choices We Made

I let my 11 year old get his ear pierced a couple of weeks ago. Now, before you judge me (or if you’ve already judged me, we’re still good and I’m just going to keep writing here) let me explain why I would do something that some people think is ridiculous, or even wrong (like, oh, you know, my husband).

My daughter, who was six at the time, had her ears pierced as a birthday present, at her request. For reasons that are long and somewhat involved (and may need to serve as another blog post someday if I’m short on material, so I don’t want to blow the whole wad now), she removed the studs and her holes healed over.  About a month ago (she’s seven now) she decided that maybe she’d take a chance on the whole ear piercing thing again.

I’d been discussing it with her for several months, letting her incubate the idea. At the time that the subject first came up (probably six or eight months ago), my oldest son asked me a couple of times if he could get his ear pierced too. Each time I said he could when he was 13. I felt like if he still wanted it done in two years, he’d really mean it.

A couple of weeks ago on a Saturday, my daughter and I dropped into the shop downtown where she’d had her piercing done before , just to find out when the woman who did it would be working. The woman who was in the store at the time turned out to be the woman who would do it, and she told us when she was available. She also delivered the news that the shop would no longer offer this service after August 31 of this year. Apparently new owners had come in and were ending the practice. Maybe for liability reasons, I’m not really sure, and the woman either didn’t know or didn’t say.

My daughter decided that she wasn’t quite brave enough to do it right then, but said maybe the next day. We’d go home and think about it. When we got home, I told my husband within my son’s hearing about the store ending the ear piercing service. My son immediately begged to have his ear pierced. My husband said no.

In a later conversation away from my son, I said I thought we should let him do it. My husband still disagreed. When I asked him why, all he could say was he didn’t think it was a good idea. He was vague like that for a few minutes, then he presented this argument:

“Did you tell him people might think he’s gay?”

Ah. Now I see.

My husband has no objection to homosexuality. He is not a homophobe, at least, not overtly—if he is one, I’ve never seen any indication of it, and early on in our marriage, one of our closest sets of friends was two gay men, with whom we spent many hours, and even went on vacation. I don’t mean that as a “some of my best friends are gay” kind of statement. All I mean is if he were truly homophobic, there were opportunities for it to have been revealed.

I suspect this question sprang from a bit of the very common syndrome that I think of as, “Not My Son.” I saw it when it was first suggested that our son had ADHD and should be evaluated and considered for medication.  He was resistant to the whole process, and insisted there was nothing wrong with the kid. The ADHD meds have radically changed my son’s school experience, to the point that when I sat down with his teacher for a conference at the beginning of 5th grade, and remarked on the comment on his report card that he was an “avid reader,” she was shocked to hear that he had ever been anything else. In fact, I was shocked to hear he was—he’d been so reluctant for so many years. But the meds give him the ability to focus, and quiet the noise in his head.  They were clearly the correct choice for this kid.

Now, I don’t intend to imply that an earring is in any way like medication. Obviously it’s not medically necessary or particularly life enhancing. But in this case, I felt like it was a small thing that was a huge emotional step. He was making a choice about his appearance (something he hasn’t cared much about up to this point). He was making a choice that I made clear would define him in people’s eyes, for better or for worse. He was making a choice that could have consequences, but they were consequences he could control, up to a point. If he got shit from people, and decided that the earring didn’t give him enough pleasure to balance the shit, he could remove it and there would be no significant trace. Most importantly to me, he was making a decision to do something simply because it was something he wanted, not because it was the “cool thing to do” or “what everyone else is doing.” He was thinking for himself. Call me crazy, but I’d like to encourage that.

We live in a fairly progressive area of a fairly progressive state. We have legalized gay marriage (and legalized pot). Plenty of kids that my kids know have “two mommies” or “two daddies” or are a different race than their parents because they were adopted. My kids gloss over these facts without questioning them. It’s simply the way things are, and quite frankly they don’t even pay attention to them, as far as I can tell. Over the years we’ve had conversations about what a “family” is, and that some people love people of their same gender, and that’s totally OK. Sometimes they’re interested, sometimes they appear to be completely bored by the topic. All of this is a very long way of saying I doubt he’s going to get any shit for having an earring when he goes back to school in a month.

While he was prepared to wash his hands of it and let me do what I thought was right, my husband was adamant that it was a mistake. He couldn’t articulate why it was OK for my daughter to have her ears pierced, but not our son. He just said something about conventionality. I pointed out that it’s been pretty mainstream for men to get their ears pierced for at least forty years now. He asked me if I was going to let him get a tattoo. I said of course not, because 1) it’s not legal for him to do so, and 2) it’s extremely permanent. Neither would I permit him to get the plug things that stretch out their earlobes, nor pierce anything other than his earlobe. An ear piercing, I argued, is not permanent. If he changes his mind, he takes it out and it heals up, and we’re out twenty bucks. Period.

Interestingly, my husband would have been on board if my son had wanted to dye his hair. Why it would be OK for the kid to dye his hair orange, but not have a very small hole made in his ear, was not clear either.

So in the name of encouraging individual thinking, and promoting responsibility (for two months they have to clean and turn the earrings every morning and every evening), I allowed my son to get his ear pierced. As far as I know, none of the other kids in his class has made this choice. I’m expecting to take some heat for my decision to allow this when school starts. There will be adults who disagree with my letting my 11 year old pierce his ear. There will be kids who will go home and ask their parents to let them do it, and will be pissed off when their parents don’t agree with my thinking about individuality and self-expression  and think that 11 is just too young for a pierced ear. He may face some ridicule for his decision. Either way, we both made a choice, and we’re prepared to deal with the consequences of that choice. As a parent that’s one of the most important lessons I can teach him.

Besides, I think the earring looks kind of cute.

The other one is in his left ear.


Unknown said...

"We have legalized gay marriage (and legalized pot)." Your so lucky! We only have legalized marriage. Yes, you did teach him an important lesson although I could see my husband being hesitant, too. It's tough b/c you want to protect your kid, but you also want to encourage them to be themselves & to be independent thinkers - even if it IS crazy b/c society doesn't like independent thinkers.

I'm sure it'll all be fine when school starts. Plus, ppl are going to judge no matter what.

Tracy said...

Thanks! It looks super cute too, I think. And yeah, if they don't judge him for that it'll be something else.