Making My Daughters Wait — and Wait — To Get Their Ears Pierced

I read Elana Sztokman’s post about her daughter’s nose piercing with great interest, as for years now I’ve been fending off my daughters’ pleading requests to get their ears pierced.

Now, I know that ear piercing is no big deal in our culture – my own ears are pierced, with three holes in my right ear.

There are two in the lobe and one in the upper cartilage. I still like the way a small diamond stud looks there. But it was sore for over a year after I got it, and I can’t recall my mother ever getting as angry about anything as she did this rogue ear piercing, which I did at 19, after I’d been out of the house for a couple of years at boarding school and overseas and felt like an independent woman.

But my mom also made me wait, until I was 13, to get my ears pierced for the first time, and I remember how special an experience it was (and no, I don’t think getting the other piercings was a rebellion against having had to wait for the first ones).

After years of yearning and anticipation we went to The Jewel Box, a tiny store on The Green (the park at the center of town) in Morristown, N.J., and went to the back behind a small velvety curtain, where I got the first of the holes put in.

My girls periodically whine that all of their friends already have had their ears pierced, and I know that it’s true. But my sweet girls will wait until they are 12. It’s not that they are insufficiently mature to take care of newly-pierced ears.

My girls, who are now 10 and 8, will wait because I want them to experience deferred gratification.

We live in a culture where everything – and I mean everything – feels instantaneous. Not just the speed of emailing and on-line surfing, but also in the way that the cheapness of goods means I can replace worn out sneakers the next day with a quick trip to Payless and pick up whatever else they need promptly at one of the many stores in our Brooklyn neighborhood.

To be sure, they must wait for Chanukah or an “old enough” birthday if they want something special, like an iPod, and Aliza, my older daughter, has been hocking me for a cell phone for the past two years. She will get (a basic) one this year, though, along with her own house keys, because she’s walking more places on her own now and has proven her ability to care responsibly for things.

But getting their ears pierced requires waiting even longer.

It’s a way in which the girls will mark (quite literally, on their flesh), becoming bat mitzah. At our Conservative shul it is policy for girls, like boys, to celebrate it at 13, but Jewish tradition says the age of responsibility for girls begins at 12, and this is one place where the tradition regarding females is different but not inferior. Since we don’t have the option of celebrating their bat mitzvahs at 12 within the context of our shul community, one of the ways in which we’ll honor it privately is by getting their ears pierced.

But that’s really secondary.

Mostly, I want them to anticipate the big day as much, and for nearly as long, as I did.

Though I’m sure I hated the waiting when I was their age as much as my girls profess to now, over the ensuing decades the it has become a sweet memory – and one of the life lessons for which I am so grateful to my mom.

Hopefully one day my own girls will come to regard my making them wait the same way.

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