When I got my nose pierced this summer my oldest daughter HATED it on sight.
It’s a small diamond stud on my right side. I’ve wanted to do it for a long time and I was quite pleased with myself until I came home.
We’ve taught our daughter not to say she “hates” anything so it was all she could do to say “It’s not my favourite,” as she grabbed my chin and yanked my head back and forth to get a good look. “When are you taking it out?”
She’d make comments like these with her nose wrinkled and eyebrows raised, as though a bad and confusing smell had just permeated the room. In that unique and infuriating way of ten-year-old girls, she made sure I knew she wasn’t happy without saying anything that could get her in trouble.
I got the piercing for me and the only opinion I worried about was my mom’s because old habits die hard. But if asked, I would have expected both my kids to approve.
In fact, I was pretty smug, sitting there in the piercing chair.
“Here comes the cool mom” I imagined the kids saying as they stared in awe, parting to let me pass them on the playground like Rihanna on her way to Nobu.
“Your mom has her nose pierced?” they’d say. “That is so rad!”
Kids still say rad, right?
Anyhoo, after parting with $100 (since when did rebellion become so dang expensive?), a guy named “Slim” conducted the procedure, which, I don’t mind telling you, felt like being punched in the face with a flaming claw hammer.
So now I’m the proud owner of a barely visible stud that no one ever notices AND my daughter’s seemingly limitless disdain (which is both rich and vexing considering she hasn’t brushed her hair since the Obama presidency. Turns out being a free spirit does not extend to one’s mother’s body piercings.)
When I was my daughter’s age, it was 1983. My own mother was a working woman with two, soon to be three, children. It’s hard to imagine her doing anything that would ruin my life the way I’ve ruined the life of my own daughter. Maybe wearing two Swatch watches at once? Refusing to do the Twenty-Minute Workout? A nose piercing seems like a comparatively minor infraction, does it not?
After a few weeks of subtle and not-so-subtle insults, I finally asked my girl what gives, why she hated my piercing so much.
She thought for a minute then said: “You don’t look like a mommy anymore. Mommies don’t have their nose pierced.”
Ah. Now we were getting somewhere.
I didn’t look like a mommy which meant her sense of security, her belief that she knew who I was and what I was had been threatened.
I guess I forgot that when you’re ten you don’t want to be different and you certainly don’t want your mom to be different. You want the people you love and rely on to fit into nice little boxes. You want the world to be predictable, not the kind of place where your mom walks through the door looking like things went horribly wrong at the Claire’s store.
I forgot that being ten means feeling a sense of ownership over your parents. It means seeing everything through the “how does this affect ME” lens.
So I launched into this whole speech about not judging based on appearances and freedom of expression (and waiting until you’re 18 to make these choices).
Then we talked about what she thinks a mommy should be and what a mommy should look like and her answers really surprised me because my girl is someone who knows what it’s like not to fit in. She knows what it’s like to be judged because you still bring your stuffed animals to school and because you’d rather dig for worms than talk about boys. She flies her flag proud and I thought she would respect my right to do the same.
This was not the case.
“Mommies should look like mommies. They should have their hair brushed or in a ponytail and just look…. Normal. They can dress cool too,” she said, and it did not escape my notice that this was only a hypothetical in her mind. Like, I guess if I had a mom who dressed cool it would be okay, which told me where I stood on that score.
But she drew the line at piercings. “Too permanent,” was her conclusion. “And it’s like, on your face.”
Maybe this was her way of trying to protect me from being made fun of or from not fitting in. Maybe she was trying to warn me without being able to articulate exactly why this made her uneasy. And while I love her for it, my girl and I have agreed to disagree on the subject of my piercing: I like it and she does not. She respects my right to have it (sort of) and I respect her right to hate it (sort of).
And now that we’ve worked through that, I can celebrate the fact that I’ve succeeded in demystifying the whole body art thing, and the fact that my kids will no longer be able to pierce themselves as a form of rebellion because I just made it THE most uncool thing you could ever do.
Next up, I’m going to get a tattoo and sleep with a drummer, maybe both.
Having to decriminalize every possible form of rebellion will really put a cramp in my flannel shirt, asleep-by-ten-pm-lifestyle, but I’m willing to do it if that’s what’s best.
You know, for the kids.