I look back at some of my old posts-the ones I put up way back in the olden days, when my first child was an only and I was tired and overwhelmed and just a little, tiny, eensy bit lost in the strange paradox of mundane and unpredictability that is the life (and in particular, stay-at-home life) of a new parent, and think: oh dear Lord. I have nothing to talk about now. But I do have stuff to talk about. It just seems to be bigger and less funny in its life-i-ness than it used to be.
Saoirse told me this morning that she’d like to get her ears pierced. (I haven’t told David this yet, so whoops: Hey, Dave? SK wants to get her ears pierced! Please don’t faint). She was standing in her room–the room that pretty much just houses her bunk bed and clothes now because she sleeps in Quinlan’s room and why in the world did we move houses if the girls don’t even want their separate spaces?–before she left for school. She was wearing her uniform–short-sleeved white shirt with the Peter Pan collar, jumper, tights–and she had a headband on over her hair even though we hadn’t even properly brushed it yet for the day. She looks so grown-up to me lately. Her face has changed, for sure. Her manner of speaking is more her own rather than just “cute kid,” if that makes sense. She uses words that seem entirely too big for a 7-year-old’s mouth to form. And yet. There she is.
But when she said it: “Mom? I want to get my ears pierced,” my reaction surprised me. I never encouraged the girls to get their ears pierced–quite frankly, the idea of any of our children ruining their perfect little child selves by shoving a needle through from one end of their skin to the other makes me recoil, and then there was my hippie feminism coming through: why do some people need to adorn themselves in such a way to “fit in,” when others do it to stand out? Why IS it normal for a female to mutilate her ear lobes just to hang ornaments from her body like some human Christmas tree? It bugs me, even as someone who once had more ornamental holes in her body than I care to admit out loud. And yet. There it is.
But the thing is, when SK first said that–and you know she was looking at me the entire time to gauge my expression–my first reaction was…dare I say it?…pride. I was actually kind of excited and proud. Why is that? I am the person who did not want the skin-poking. I’m the one who was all “Down with gender conformity!” And I’ve seen this coming: the requests to join the American Girl club at school instead of the Lego one she’d been talking about all summer. The new habit of staring at herself in the mirror after she gets dressed, preening to make sure she looks good. She’s even started talking about how many calories are in her food, a conversation piece she picked up from a classmate at school, who in turn picked it up from her own mother, which terrifies me and David to no end. It’s happening. The aligning herself with type, the bending to fit into the box: it’s happening. And yet. I felt relieved. Not about the calorie part. That’s horrifying. Just the piercing part.
I’m assuming that a good number of you reading this today might think I’m ridiculous and that it’s no big deal, that ear piercing (and American Girl and preening and calorie-counting) are just a part of being a girl. But if you’ve been reading me long enough, or are friends with me in real life, you know how David and I both are. We’re THOSE parents–the ones who tried so, so hard to avoid the girl-v.-boy toys, the pink, the Barbies. It’s simply our value system, and that’s not necessarily right or wrong, but it’s most definitely us. Or at least I thought it was. And yet.
It’s a hard thing, to be a parent, watching your children, wanting to celebrate their uniqueness but also wanting to be assured that they’ll be okay in the world that watches them. I’m thinking of someone close to us who came out as gay to his parents when he was a teenager. The parents had to take a day afterward to do a bit of crying before they shook it off and went back to life as normal: and it wasn’t because they were disappointed or ashamed or any of that stuff. It’s because they were afraid. They knew the battle would be harder for their child. They knew that someone they loved didn’t fit into those black-and-white expectations, and what it might mean for him in the years to come. Geez: I remember wanting an Esprit sweatshirt (so cool!) and leather bomber jacket (worn open and hanging off the shoulders, natch) when I was in the seventh grade because everybody else had them and I knew life would be easier if I just FIT IN. It’s like you want your kids to walk a line: be awesome and unique and themselves, but not ever, ever get, you know, beat up because of it. It sucks.
I’m not sure when we’ll do it. I’m sure we’ll talk about it more, she how she feels, gauge if she’s ready to take care of new skin-holes with our help. It’s strange to me that a child who still believes in the tooth fairy is capable of keeping pierced ears hygienic and cleaned, but it’s where we are. She wants dolphin earrings, please. So she can have fun with them and be excited to wear them, she said (Because you know I casually asked her why she wanted pierced ears and she came back with a 3-point justification for getting them). She’s my first baby girl, talking about her Christmas list for Santa and the meeting she’ll have today with her imaginary friend and how excited she is that someone told her she looks like the mini American Girl she keeps tucked into her backpack for club meetings. She’s still the child I want to keep protected forever. And yet. Maybe celebrating her uniqueness also means celebrating the decisions she makes for herself, too.
I told you it was hard, you guys. Raising our children to be their “truest” selves means we have to be honest, too. Even if the world at large might not always think we fit in.