We are surrounded by a sea of pink and sparkles, girly things covered in unicorns and mermaids (but not, much to my daughter’s disgust, bears). She is nervous as all get out, but she refuses to let me comfort her or distract her. At home, I would grab her, pull her onto my lap, hug her close. But we are not at home. We are in public, and in public, I am a barely-to-be-tolerated, sort of embarrassing hanger-on, kind of like braces or an old pair of shoes you have to keep wearing because your mom said you don’t need new ones yet and they won’t let you go to the mall barefoot.
I know she’s nervous because we just spent an hour and fifteen minutes in the car, during which she asked a thousand questions (“What if they fall out in the middle of the night?” “What if they get infected?” “What if they don’t have any cute earrings?” “Do you think the piercing person will be nice?”) and sharing the opinions of the real experts, the other girls in the fourth grade (“Sally Sue said it didn’t hurt at all but Susie Sal said it hurt really badly and then Sally Sue said that Susie Sal must be a huge baby and so then Susie Sal started to cry, but I’m not going to cry, Mom, because Junie Jo said that it’s not much faster than getting a shot and Joanie June said the piercing people are super nice and fast”).
Personally, I’m still shaking from the terrible traffic and construction on the way here; seven years in Tiny Town having destroyed me for city driving. I’m wishing the piercing lady with her arm tattoos would hurry up and put the third hole in the ears of the girl sitting in the chair, wondering why she has to give all the long instructions since obviously this teenager knows how to handle a piercing. (I know, I know, there’s regulations and stuff. But there’s only so many sparkly unicorn headbands a forty-year-old woman can stare at before you just can’t handle it anymore, and also my daughter is getting more nervous by the second.)
We watch the teenager get her holes punched, breathe deeply and then slowly let the air out just like I do every week when I give myself my arthritis shot. I’m thankful she doesn’t cry, or our traipse through city traffic may have been in vain. “You’re going to do great, sweetie,” I say to my girl.
“Mo-ommmm, stop saying that,” she says, eyes rolling. Almost ten, or almost fifteen? You decide.
Finally it is our turn, and G climbs up in the chair. Art shows her the teddy bear with its pierced furry ears that sits nearby. “You can hold her if you like,” the piercing lady says. “Her name is Claire Bear.”
“I don’t want to hold her,” G replies.
“Are you sure?” I ask. “There’s no shame. Or you can hold my hand.”
“I’m not going to hold her, or your hand,” she says, “but I guess she can sit next to me.” Claire Bear is moved to a precarious perch on the seat next to my daughter, and we turn to the truly important task of choosing earrings. On the way here, she had speculated about what ones they might have and hoped they had flower earrings, so I am quick to point out a cute, daisy-shaped, bejeweled pair. But apparently I am too enthusiastic in my endorsement because she immediately rejects them. “I like these ones,” she says, pointing to a pair of silver balls with tiny fake diamonds all over them.
We wait as the piercing lady heads to the back room to find a pair, and while we don’t have an audience I reiterate the fact that there is no shame in holding someone’s hand or squeezing a bear when one is getting holes punched in one’s head. I remind her how I always used to hold my dad’s hand when I was getting shots at the dentist.
She is unmoved. She is not a baby, and she is not going to hold anyone’s hand, even if it hurts worse than when she broke her finger.
When the lady returns, she explains to G that she will mark the spots on her ears where her new bling will go. We watch her carefully do this, and then we look at her handiwork. “They look a little different, because one of her ears is bigger than the other.” It is, and it’s adorable, but I wonder how many paranoid body image conversations will arrive from that offhand comment.
I try to head it off with a smile. “Well, I think most of us are a little lopsided!”
Finally the time arrives. The lady loads her two earring-hole punchers with the mini disco-ball earrings. She aims one at G’s ear, and counts backward. “Three . . . two . . . one . . . ” and then one ear has a hole and an earring in it where no hole or earring had been before.
“Oooh, ouch, ow!” G winces.
“You okay?” I ask.
“Yeah, it just hurt a little.”
Second ear . . . . three two one . . . punch.
“Oooch! ow, oof ouch!” this wince is slightly more intense than the last. She still won’t hold my hand, although at some point one arm has slipped around Claire Bear.
We finish the process, and we haven’t even made it out of the store before she’s saying it barely hurt at all, how it really wasn’t bad, how she wants more earring holes now. After a cookie break, during which she spews forth words in her relief even more loquaciously than she had in her nervousness, we head back to the van. I put my arm around her shoulders, tell her I’m proud of her. She smiles, allows the arm for a few moments until she sees other girls in the vicinity, and then we’re done with that precious moment.
We are navigating these tricky waters of growing up, of fighting for independence while still being so very dependent. I am trying to meet her needs for love and affection in ways that are acceptable to her, both in private and in public. It’s hard. We grate and bump against each other, and I try so hard to respect her need for independence without accepting bad attitudes or snottiness. I pray daily for grace, for the ability to love this child well, to accept her as nearly-ten and not hold too tightly to her. I try to remember to celebrate the funny, sweet, beautiful girl she is and not grieve too fiercely over the little girl she is slowly but inexorably leaving behind.
Motherhood is so hard. It breaks me, stretches me, leaves me desperate before my heavenly Father more than any other aspect of my life.
Later that night, I am getting ready for bed when G comes into my room. “Mommy?” she says.
“You didn’t have to get my ears pierced today.”
“Well, we told you we would do that when you turned ten, and it’s close enough now. We wouldn’t have time next weekend.”
“But, I mean, you drove a really long way and it cost money and you didn’t have to do those things.”
“But we wanted to, baby.”
“I know. You’re such a nice Mommy.” She comes in for a huge hug. I sit on the bed, with her on my lap, just for a minute.
“You’re my girl. I like to do things for you.”
She gets up, heading to her own room and her comfy bed and huge pile of teddy bears, not yet outgrown. At the door she turns around. “Mommy?”
Maybe we’ll survive this after all.