Piercing the Barriers

“Mom, can I get my ear pierced?”

“Over my dead body,” I said. A cliche, but true.

“Why not?”

“Because boys don’t get their ears pierced, girls do.”

“You mean if Jennifer asked you, would say yes?”

I hesitated, but had to give him an honest answer. “Well, yes, I probably would.”

“But that’s discrimination,” my fourteen-year-old son Ryan shouted. “You can’t tell me I can’t do something just because I’m a boy.”

“There’s more to it than that,” I countered, hoping he didn’t press me for too many details.

“Like what?”

I groaned. I should have known I wouldn’t get off that easily. “Well, it’s not exactly socially acceptable for boys to pierce their ears. Some people will probably laugh at you.”

“So.” He shrugged. “Lots of the big sports stars have them now. And more than half the guys in my class. No one laughs anymore. It’s not like when you were a kid. Back then a guy with a hole in his ear would be called all kinds of names. Now they would just call him cool.”

“But what about your plans to go into the service? I doubt the recruiters will look favorably on a kid with an earring.”

“I’ll take the earring out then and let the hole close over. If it doesn’t close,” again the shrug of his shoulder, “big deal. I just won’t wear any earrings. I won’t need it anymore by then, anyway. I need it for now.”

His need was something I couldn’t understand, or maybe just refused to accept. I fell back on another parental cliche. “If you can get your father to say yes, then it’s fine with me.”

He frowned. “Oh great. Thanks a lot, Mom.” His sarcastic voice echoed in the room and he rolled his eyes. “You know Dad will never agree.”

Biting back a smile, I nodded. Yes, I knew his father would never accept the idea just as I knew Ryan would never have the courage to bring up the subject. I felt that I had once again safely navigated the often treacherous waters of parenthood.
But Ryan didn’t give up. For several months, at least once a week, he would ask me about it again. Yet when I mentioned his father, he would shake his head and tell me, “Never mind.”

Then one day he changed his reply.

“You just don’t understand, do you Mom? It’s not your ear, it’s mine. And it’s not you people will make fun of, it’s me. I think you’re more worried about what people are going to think about you, then what they’ll say about me.” He glared at me with a face that showed the promise of the young man he was trying hard to become.

I gulped hard at the truth in his words, thinking back to my own teen years of mini-skirts that barely covered my backside and boys I had dated who had hair longer than mine. All Ryan seemed to want was a chance to express his individuality. A chance to play the rebel before adulthood forced him to conform.

“I think we should let him do it,” I told my husband later that night. “I mean, after all, what’s the big deal?”

“It’s just not done, that’s all,” my husband groused.

Funny how my own words sounded so differently when someone else said them.

“But what can it hurt? He wants to make a statement about himself. It could be so much worse. He could be doing drugs. He could be smoking or drinking. He could be lying or sneaking out at night. But he’s not. He’s a good kid.”

It seemed strange to be straddling the other side of the fence, but I did it willingly. For every argument he presented, I countered with Ryan’s response that it was his ear, to do with as he wanted. After weeks of grumbling and long nights of discussion, my husband grudgingly gave in.

On the way to the mall the next day, Ryan asked me why I had changed my mind and gone to bat for him against his father.

I repeated the comments I had made to my husband. One phrase seemed to stick in Ryan’s mind.

“You think I’m a good kid?”

“Sure.” I smiled. I found it hard to believe that simple fact should be so surprising to him, yet it was.

“I mean you really think I’m okay?”

“Yes, Ryan, I do.”

“Wow,” was the only comment he could think to make.

In the jewelry store, I tried to look nonchalant, hiding back behind a stand of necklaces, and letting Ryan take charge. He took his time deciding on which earring he wanted for the first six weeks, finally picking a small diamond-like stud that was quickly imbedded in his ear.

After purchasing a few other earrings, and some cleaning supplies, we were on our way
back home. Every five minutes or so, Ryan would pull down the mirror, supposedly to check that it was still there, but more likely to admire the way it made him look.

Most of Ryan’s friends were amazed that we had allowed him this small gift of free expression. His grandparents shook their collective heads in disappointment, sure that Ryan was headed for a life of trouble. But Ryan stood up tall and offered no excuses to any of them. He had made the decision, and he was willing to live with it.

Ryan getting his ear pierced has caused no earth-shattering changes in our lives. He’s still the same old kid who fights with his sister, loves to play baseball, and hates to take out the garbage. And he still plans on a career in the military.
It’s been about six months now. He wears a gold lightning bolt most of the time, but every now and then I’ll catch him scrounging through my jewelry box, looking for something he might want to borrow, and I can’t help but smile. It seems like a hole in the ear was a small price to pay for what I got in return.

This article and other various versions of it have been previously published in: Central Florida Family, Jacksonville Family, Tampa Bay Family, Portland Parent, Sacramento-Sierra Parent, and Parenting Insights.

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