Thursday, December 04, 2008


I got my ears pierced when I was 11 (my sister got hers pierced when she was 10, which is part of the overall injustice of being the oldest, which M claims I do not understand, but I do).

I am shocked that I don't remember where I got my ears pierced, because supposedly I remember everything, but I do remember that my mom's friend P did it with me, and I think it was in a jewelry store at the mall, a real one (jewelry store, not mall), and I believe they did both my ears at once, but maybe not. Perhaps my mother remembers, because she was there too, though usually she counts on me to do the remembering.

Those were the first piercings: the neat ones in the proper middle of my lobes.

I started piercing my own ears somewhere around the time I started cutting my own hair, several years later.

Piercing my own ears involved alcohol, a flame, a needle, and an earring. I believe I generally pierced my ears when I was angry; I cut my hair when it got too long. Putting the needle through my ear was easy, as was getting the earring into the front part of the hole; the hard part was getting it out the back. I'll spare you the details.

I don't think my piercings ever got infected, which seems miraculous, given the previous paragraph.

When I was in India in 1990, all the white girls had pierced noses, which I knew would come out as soon as they returned to Oberlin and Birmingham and Sydney, and I refused to go there (though I will admit that I sometimes wore a bindi, but only when my Indian friends put one on me). When body piercing became the thing, a year or two after I returned, I still demurred, thinking of those ridiculous white girls.

The fact that I have five piercings, all in my ears, seems to perfectly sum up my cultural status. To the far mainstream, I am edgy, but given the vast numbers of people I know with piercings every which where, I find myself ridiculously staid.

In the ear with three holes, the top two are silver studs. In the ear with two holes, the top one is a tiny silver ring. I never change those three.

I only wear silver earrings, which is to say I don't wear gold, though I have earrings of plastic, stone, paper, wire, ceramic, fused glass, bead, and many varieties of silver and gemstone.

When M was a baby, I considered piercing her ears, because I think babies with pierced ears are adorable. Then I realized that by piercing her ears, I would deprive myself of an easy yes, so I demurred.

From the age of four months, M sucked the first two fingers on her left hand incessantly. Several years later, I told her that she could get her ears pierced when she was eight, if she stopped sucking her fingers.

M turned eight, avidly sucking her fingers.

In the ensuing years, though we never thought it would happen, M gradually stopped sucking her fingers, except when she is asleep, which is good enough for me. I offered pierced ears several times, but she demurred.

For the last year or two, E has been obsessed with clip-on earrings.

Clip-on earrings hardly exist today. Stick-on earrings do not stay stuck. Last week, E got magnetic earrings, but they pinched, and then she took them to school, with a little box to keep them safe if they pinched and she needed to take them off. When her grandmother arrived to pick her up, she took the earrings out of the box to show her, dropped them, and couldn't find them. She found them a few days later, in the playground, in pieces, magnets gone. How this all happened, we have no idea.

A future of magnetic earrings seemed to bode only heartbreak.

E's birthday is imminent. I suggested pierced ears. E leapt at the chance. M begrudgingly agreed that it was time.

These days, the only piercing options seem to be Claire's and tattoo parlors. We opted for Claire's. We decided that M would go first, because we thought she was more likely to bail. We asked if they could do both ears at once, and they could. We picked out silver balls for M and December birthstones (sparkly and blue) for E.

M sat in the chair, closed her eyes, and they were done. It hurt less than she thought.

E sat in the chair, clutching Fifi, her bear, and cringed. We told her to close her eyes. She kept her eyes open, cringed, shrugged her shoulders up to her ears, and clutched Fifi. She said she didn't want to do it. I told her I wouldn't make her do it, but I knew she wanted to, and she would be sad if she didn't.

It was an odd moment. I don't generally push my children past their comfort levels, and I certainly didn't care if she pierced her ears, and by this point she was weeping and insisting that she didn't want to. But I knew she did.

When she ran across the store, I decided it was time for a break. We went to the food court and had a snack and didn't discuss piercing. When we were done, E said she didn't want to do it. I said that was fine, but if she didn't do it now, she couldn't do it till she turned nine. It was one of those spur-of-the-moment parental rule-making events. She said OK, she'd do it, and we marched back to Claire's.

Back on the chair, sitting in my lap, she started again with the shrugging and cringing and saying she couldn't. I asked if I could hold her and they said yes. So I stood up and held her in my arms, facing me. She buried her face in my face, they counted to three, and it was done.

Written out like this, it sounds totally brutal, but as soon as E realized they were done, she jumped down from my arms, ran to the mirror, and started prancing about, displaying her new earrings. Then she had me take a picture of her with my phone and sent it to S, with a text message saying "I got my ears pierced!"

Now everyone is all about the newly-pierced ears, and the family has almost doubled its piercings, but not quite.


Mary said...

Thank god I don't have girls. I would hate to go through that. My mom forced (yes, forced) us to get our ears pierced - I was like 5. It hurt like a mofo, my piercings got infected over and over and over, and I wasn't the one who wanted them done in the first place! It was another in her long line of things to do so I wouldn't be a lesbian...

Libby said...

What an interesting story. My mother pierced my ears (hatpin, alcohol, and surprise useful ingredient: fresh ginger rubbed on the lobes--both an anesthetic and a tenderizer!) when I was 11. I had Mariah's done when she was a baby for the reasons you considered it--and so I wouldn't have to face it the way you just did! She hardly ever wears earrings any more, but did just get her nose pierced last year after she turned 18. (Oh, and I have one extra piercing, also in my ear. Totally normal these days, you're right, though when I was 12, not so much...)

jackie said...

I only have two piercings total, but like you, they are just edgy enough-- two silver rings in the cartilage of my left ear, one midway up and the other at the top of my ear. I got them both done in tattoo parlors. Last year, I was shocked when one of my ninth graders said she had been lobbying her parents for a cartilage piercing, and used me as part of her evidence! Yikes! I have thought about getting more cartilage piercings, but that's it. I like the way they look, and I like not having to change them ever. Nose, eyebrow and belly rings have never appealed to me.

I had my ears pierced in the lobes, at Claire's, when I was infifth grade, to celebrate that I had shifted from Catholic school (no earrings allowed) to public school, but they got infected over and over again, so I took them out and gave up. Oddly enough, my cartilage piercings have not gotten infected at all!

Sinda said...

I just saw this post in Jezebel which led me to an Ayelet story on NPR - of course, I had to send it to you!

addy said...

I got my first set done at Claire's (gold heart studs). Sixth grade my mom thinks but she told me I should know. She says I cried too but then I "sucked it up." I got the second set of holes (silver ball studs) in 8th or 9th grade (I never wear earrings in those ones). I'm so excited for both E and M. Earrings are fab!I still have both sets of my studs. Yay. Congrats!:)

Kelly said...

I had to wait until 12... at the mall... have had 3 in one ear, 2 in the other... but let all but the first set close out of laziness and keep thinking about getting them done again. I miss them.

My sister, while in Prague after college, pierced her own nose using alcohol, a sewing needle, ice and a tampon. It got infected.

no other piercings here...but 3 tats, 2 of which I'd love to get rid of... which is weird because I waited to do it until I was in my 30s. Sigh.

Lila loves the stick on earrings, but they're utterly pointless and drive me crazy. As soon as she asks for real ones, I'm saying yes.

landismom said...

We got the Bee's ears pierced at 8, my first set was done at 13, but I wouldn't make her wait that long.

When she got hers done, I got my fourth set in each ear. Hoping that the Potato isn't going to ask for a full set when he's 8--I'm running out of room!

Anonymous said...

Mine were done as a baby (yes, I come from a culture where that is the standard). I wanted to do my daughter's as a baby, but am someone compulsive about sterility/infection, and couldn't see taking a baby to the mall to get her ears pierced (or, in any way doing it myself). She got her's pierced at 7, and loves it.

I know that white women (or whatever we want to callt that particular culture) think of ear-piercing as a grown-up passage, kind of like wearing make-up, so I made a point of explaining the different cultural expectations to the other moms. But, nevertheless we might have started a trend, with more girls then expected having pierced ears, and at a younger age, in the rather rarefied private school world we inhabit.