Several years ago, while on a family vacation, my then eight-year-old daughter decided it was time to get her ears pierced.
There are certain moments in fatherhood that one never forgets. Birth, first steps, first words, first body modification…
We found a place in a mall and made plans to go a couple of days later. It's never a good idea to respond too quickly to these requests. Giving a kid a day or two to think things over never hurts. They need time with their ideas. Plus, I could tell, this idea, while very appealing, had her feeling nervous.
When the time came, we went to the mall and found our way to the store. The pink walls and loud pop music cast a gaudy shadow over the atmosphere which was only compounded by the baubles and dangly Eiffel Tower charm bracelets and lady bug ear-rings which cluttered every surface in the small space.
We spent a few minutes navigating our way through the store before we found a very small section where the “starter” studs were located and we picked a very basic set. We took them to the counter and meekly announced to a young woman with a mouth-full of bubble gum that we would like to set up a piercing.
I started to sense my daughter's discomfort; nothing debilitating, at least not yet. What had been nervous excitement, anticipation, had become shaky, fidgety uncertainty. We went to the front of the store, to a small glassed-in alcove designed much like the front window of a mall pet store to put you and your crying children on display for the entertainment of all the mall's shoppers. My daughter cautiously took her place on the stool.
The situation began to deteriorate quickly. The young woman who was going to do the piercing began rummaging through drawers looking for alcohol swabs and other items and talking to my daughter about the excitement of the experience. A true rite of passage right there in the fluorescent-lit mall with the Pussy Cat Dolls playing “Don’t Cha” energetically in the background. A few moments later, she pulled the piercing gun out and started to load one of the studs in. I looked at my daughter and realized she was the ashy color of wet newsprint.
I pulled her in for a huddle and asked her if she was sure she wanted to go through with it.
No. Not sure.
OK, Dad, I thought. What's the thing to do? We can just call it off. Come back another time. No harm. Or, I could give her the be-strong speech and see if she gets her courage back.
I quickly considered my options, and then I said, why don't I do one first, so you can see it done and decide if you want to do it yourself?
Suddenly, the color returned to her cheeks and the edges of her mouth curled up slightly. I realized I'd perhaps gone a bit farther with that than was warranted, but that's my hallmark. When in doubt, go too far.
I announced the change in plan to the woman with the loaded piercing gun.
Better do me first, I said. She should see it done so she knows it won't hurt too bad.
The young woman smiled, but she didn't say much more. She asked if I'd like to pick a different stud, which I did, and she loaded it up.
A few moments later, with my daughter watching closely, it was done.
See, that's not so bad, I said. I can hardly feel it. Are you ready to try now?
My recollection is that she immediately said she didn't want to and could we please go do something else. To be fair, there was probably a good deal more conversation and are-you-sures exchanged before we walked out of the mall, my daughter still with unpierced ears, me with a new hole in my head, but a smile on my face.
The time was not right. And sometimes, that is not a bad thing.
The next summer, she repeated her announcement. But this time, she walked in and without batting an eye got both ears pierced. In and out in under 10 minutes. The time was right.
That was seven years ago. My daughter, now very much a teen, came to me the other day and announced that she wanted to dye her hair blue.
I'm not doing it first, I said.