I Wish I’d Pierced My Daughter’s Ears When She Was a Baby

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A baby.
A baby.Photo: Safia Fatimi/Getty Images

Sometime last week I had a stunning revelation. It came to me in the middle of a workday, and it was a complete turnaround from an opinion I’d previously held strongly and almost certainly evangelized at some point.

As I sat at my desk I texted my husband: “We should have pierced Zelda’s ears, lol.”

I added the “lol” because I knew he might be caught off guard. We’d spoken about ear piercing only once, when she was a baby, when we both agreed that we couldn’t imagine bringing pain to our tiny newborn. What kind of mother would do such a thing, I wondered, all in the name of gender performance?

To some extent, the question of ear piercing is adjacent to the circumcision debate. It’s a question of body modification, and of what kind of decisions a parent can make for their very young child. But the similarities are surface: Ear piercing is mostly temporary, it’s gender-neutral, and it’s about nothing more than making your ears a little fancier.

I don’t want to lay out my circumcision position here, and I’m not going to justify the general practice of ear piercing. But I can say that, now that she is 2-and-a-half, she’d look extremely good with earrings, but she’s so aware of reality and pain and discomfort and the concept of boo-boos that the window for ear piercing has closed. I can’t imagine it opening again for a good three or four years, when her personal desire to have an earring collection might overwhelm any fear of pain. Like it did for me, when I was 5.

Having my ears pierced was, like, one of the most important days of my life. I remember it clearly, how brave I was, on my 5th birthday, my mother’s parents taking me to the mall to have them professionally pierced with one of those terrifying staple guns. I remember going to bed that night, my earlobes still throbbing, and I remember the feeling of the cold solution I dabbed on them with cotton balls to clean them. With earrings, I was a new, more grown-up person.

Beyond the pain, maybe that’s part of what I was originally opposed to: The concept of adornment does really seem so adult, and by definition, nothing is less adult than a baby. It’s cultural, of course, and in many ways, despite making my own decisions based on what I thought was my own way of thinking, when it came to certain things — like ear piercing — I tend to come down where my own parents did. In this case: wait until she decides for herself.

But recently I’ve talked to girls — now women — who were afraid of getting their ears pierced by the time they hit 5 or 6. Some put it off into adulthood. “I sort of wish my parents had done it when I was a baby,” one friend said.

I know, this is such a minor decision. But we spend an enormous amount of time, my daughter and I, choosing clothing for her. She loves to pick out which shoes she’ll wear each day, and she is so observant of all my own habits. She asks for lipsticks and for shoes that match mine. And she asks for my jewelry.

I wanted to get second holes pierced in my ears when I was 15, but my parents said no. Piercing as a concept beyond simply a hole in each ear wasn’t really mainstream yet and my parents were strict, the kind you had to hide dark eye makeup or bright-red lipstick from, which I did. I kept it in my locker at school, with my cigarettes.

Teens need their secrets, and I wouldn’t be put off. Over the course of a few months, in the basement of my parents’ house, I stayed up late, and, with a needle and thread and an ice cube, I pierced my own ears while watching MTV. Sometimes a friend was with me, sometimes I was alone. By the time I was done, there were ten holes in my ears, which I still have. I couldn’t hide my ears from my mom for very long, and she seemed impressed enough with my fortitude and let me keep them. Eventually, I gave her second holes in her ears, too.

So I won’t underestimate the importance of makeup or jewelry in a girl’s life. These things have held great significance for me, and so I am happy to admit that, though the timing is now all wrong, I would definitely, were I to have another daughter, get that girl’s ears pierced at 3 months — or whatever the traditional “very young” age is — simply because I know that an infant’s concept of pain and expectation is fleeting enough to make it the less cruel of the available options.

The nice thing about ear holes, of course, is that they close up. If you feel like your right to make decisions about your earlobes was taken away by a babyhood ear piercing, you can just stop wearing earrings and eventually those holes will disappear, nearly without a trace, forever.

I wish I’d thought about it a little more while my daughter was still young. Now, I’m simply left here imagining what a 2-year-old would look like wearing these.