My niece Kylie wanted her ears pierced.
She was thirteen and her parents figured she had waited long enough, so that’s why Beth called me on December 23. Any chance I could pick them up and take them to the mall?
Ears pierced? I had to laugh. “What, you mean Kylie doesn’t have to wait until she’s 16?” I was referring to the draconian rules that governed my own childhood. My sisters and I couldn’t get our ears pierced until we were 16, or drive until we were 17, or go outside of the house – ever – until our beds were made. I was the third born, which meant that my older sisters did most of the parent-breaking-in before I even came along, but it also meant I had a long, jealous wait to catch up to these milestone dates. Of course, being the brat I was, I waited until I was 16 to get my ears pierced, and then went back a few more times for good measure. The extra holes have basically closed over by now, but Kylie was still able to spot them with her teenage eagle-eye.
“No, it’s okay with us,” my sister said. “She’s a teenager now.” And such a sweet, Washington-bred, farm-raised girl at that. The teenagers I know in California communicate only by cell phone and spend their class time doodling the design for their next tattoo.
All right, fine. But – the mall? On December 23? The crowds, the horribly overplayed Christmas music, the abysmal parking situation. Visions of road rage were dancing through my head.
But this is what you do for family – particularly family that lives out of state and only flies in once a year for a week.
I sighed. “Okay.”
An hour later (after circling the parking lot and stalking a family with small children as they walked back to their SUV) we found ourselves at Icing, and Kylie was sitting in the chair at the ear-piercing station. Another girl – a veteran, from the looks of things – didn’t even flinch as the piercing gun punched a stud through her cartiledge.
“Look at that – nothing to it,” I said. I was trying to remember if Kylie had been looking a little green earlier, or if this was a recent development.
A little girl who barely reached my elbow came up with her family. Her cheeks were tear-streaked. “Well, are you going to do it or not?” her mother demanded. “We’re not coming back here. You’re either going to do it now or not do it at all. You have to decide now. Ears pierced or no?”
The girl shook her head, and the family disappeared back into the mall.
I smiled brightly at Kylie. My sister was engaged in complicated negotiations with the Icing employee, which ended when she initialed a release form a dozen times confirming that Kylie wasn’t pregnant, didn’t have diabetes, and would seek medical attention if needed.
The employee went through the schpiel: Clean your ears four times a day with the solution on the tip of a cotton ball. Don’t touch your ears without washing your fingers. Make sure you don’t get your clothes or hair caught in the earrings. Twist them back and forth every day. Keep the studs in for six to eight weeks. (That last part – waiting six weeks – was always my downfall.)
The employee made two tiny dots on Kylie’s earlobes. “Ready?”
My sister and I grinned encouragement at Kylie. Kylie nodded.
The first punch was over in a blink. Kylie’s eyes got a little wider, but otherwise I didn’t see any reaction.
“See? You didn’t even feel that, did you?” my sister asked.
“Yes!” Kylie gasped.
Another punch and it was over. When she stood up from the chair, her step only slightly wobbly, Kylie looked a little older, a little more mature, more womanly. She was ready to take on the world – or at least, the crowds at Sephora.
Paula Treick DeBoard