I have no earthly idea how old I was when I first got my ears pierced. What I do remember, though, is that I got them done in a hole-in-the-wall shop in a Long Island strip mall, and I was sitting on a long metal table, and my mother was holding me down while some strange lady with a huge afro and a bigger needle lit the sharp end of the needle’s tip with a lighter and then rubbed my ear with ice. You know what came next. I want to scream right now, just thinking about it.
So traumatized by the experience was I that when one of my holes closed months later, I refused to get it pierced again. I ended up rocking one gold hoop in my right ear for what seemed like forever—looking like a little chocolate Mr. Clean with bangs and bows—until a friend of mine made me feel like a sucker for having only one hole and dragged me to the mall, where, this time around, I got popped in my ear with a piercing gun. Right. That mess hurt, too.
Still, practically the moment I found out the child in my belly was a girl, I turned to my baby books and BabyCenter.com for intel on when it would be safe to get my daughter’s ears pierced. The books said I could have them done after her first two rounds of vaccines; the pediatrician confirmed but said I should wait until she was at least four months old. On her four-month birthday, her godmother and I took her to a high-end jewelry store and, while I held her close and stroked her back, a technician pumped two gold balls into Mari’s lovely ears.
Three years later, when my Lila was six months old, our pediatrician numbed her little ears with some solution and pierced hers, too.
Despite my own trauma, I thought nothing of piercing my daughters’ ears because, well, that’s what we do: we have babies and if they’re girls, we braid their hair, dress them up really cute and get their ears pierced as soon as it’s safe to do so. There was none of this, “oh, it’s her body and she should decide if she wants it altered” talk—no “let’s hold off until some arbitrary birthday so we can get our mother/daughter bond on” discussions. It was what it was. The alternative—baby girls with naked ears—never was an option.
Frankly, it wasn’t for any of my friends with daughters. Specifically, black daughters. I honestly cannot recall one single African American, Latino, Indian, Middle Eastern or other girl child of color that my daughters have been friends with who doesn’t have pierced ears.
But I certainly can recall the big deal that was made when a few of my white friends were taking their elementary school-aged daughters for their big ear-piercing days, which, now that I think about it, usually fell on special birthdays, like double digits or whatever. And there are quite a few of them that do not have their pierced ears, too. Apparently, our affinity for piercing our daughters’ ears isn’t necessarily widely held by white moms. Which might explain all this brouhaha sweeping across the mom blogosphere of late, with bloggers squaring off on whether ear piercing constitutes torture.
No, really—I’m dead ass.
It started with a letter in a Pittsburg Post-Gazette advice column, in which a concerned reader likened piercing babies’ ears to “borderline child abuse.” That same day, a blogger at CaféMom’s The Stir co-signed, calling parents who pierce their babies ears “cruel.” And, well, yeah—shots fired. Our girl Roxana Soto of Spanglish Baby broke down the cultural significance of ear piercing in the Latino culture and basically told folk they should just mind their own business. And Today Moms, the online parenting portal for the Today show, tied up the various arguments into this nice, neat little post, weighing all the opinions and doing polls about it and whatnot.
And over here at MyBrownBaby, I’m still trying to figure out what the hell the big deal is. It’s an ear piercing, for goodness sake. Not a tattoo. Not a female circumcision. Not anything that is harmful or, if you get the piercing done early enough and by a professional, even painful or memorable. I’m pretty positive that Mari and Lila cried more over vaccination shots than they did over their ear piercings (which were much more evolved than the iced-ear/needle method I suffered through as a pre-schooler). I checked in with Mari and Lila at dinner last night and both of them actually thanked me for hooking them up when they were infants, because they don’t remember any of it, which is way cool by them. So unaffected by it is Mari that she asked for a second piercing, and I happily obliged her, so long as she promised that she would clean and care for her new piercing on her own. She agreed. The second piercing is gorgeous—every bit as pretty as their first piercings from when they were babies.
Here’s a thought: how about, if you don’t think it’s cool to pierce a baby’s ears, when you have a baby girl, don’t get her ears pierced. If you want to save it for her 10th birthday, then do that then. But really, passing judgment on us moms who pierce our babies’ ears? Yeah, not fresh.
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.