It was dark outside. Instead of being tucked into bed watching reality TV where I belonged, I was spending the last hours of my daughter’s 14th birthday in the back room of a downtown tattoo parlor.
Wait, it gets worse.
I sat stiff on a couch gripping my mother’s hand as some bald dude with a face full of holes stuck a needle through my baby’s ears.
Does it hurt? I asked stupidly, as I squeezed my mom’s hand on the bench beside me. We were both in the throes of pretending blood wasn’t dripping down that delicate lobe. My not-so-little girl grinned through clenched teeth, through pink face. Pride unmistakable.
For about a month, I’d been asking my daughter what she wanted for her birthday.
Gone are the days I’d be the hero by surprising her with a decapitated Makeup Barbie head or a fairy princess costume, or a grown-up purse, or a phone. She’s got all that, and more. So much more, that on any given day, her bedroom looks just like a store fitting room does after I’m done with it.
This year, she came up with the big gift idea right before her big day. What she really wanted – all she wanted – were more ear piercings, bringing the grand total to six, including the piece de resistance, one brand new cartilage punch.
I’m a big believer in parenting balance. Then there are moments like these when I find myself tipping back and forth between getting stomped all over by my kids or chaining them to the house.
More often than I’d like to admit, I’m what I call a Rug Mama, letting my kids wear me down because I just want to be liked. I know I’m off balance when my No not only does not mean No, it means how about you whine, cry, shriek, slam doors and do whatever else it takes to get a Yes. It’s a sick feeling, like being strapped into a car your kid is driving, and you’re freaking out they’ll miss a stop sign, and it’ll be your fault because you sucked at setting limits.
That’s when I slam on the brakes and end up with the opposite parenting problem – the Chain Mama who just wants her kids home. Safe. Basically chained to the house. I know I’m on that side of balance when I’m shaking my head NO before their question is even out. But that’s not fair to anyone. If there are too many No’s without negotiation, I worry my kids might start sliding open windows to escape, even if they have to jump and break their necks.
So there I was, the scale tipping side to side on my daughter’s birthday gift. I had a battle going on my head.
Rug Mama: Yes! Do it, Cool Mom! Let your Cool Girl decorate her body the way she wants. It’s fashion! It’s freaking art!
Chain Mama: She is 14. You do not need to drive your child around town desperately seeking a place that will perform crude surgery on her because that’s what she wants before midnight. Bad idea. No, no, NO.
Just three birthdays ago, my daughter sat in a chair in the mall jewelry store and held her breath as the gun fired tiny green emeralds into her ears. Seconds later, she could sport earrings – just like her mom.
I had a second hole and a cartilage pierce once too. True, I was 18 and finally let them seal up after they burned like hell and dug into my scalp for months, but I get the pierce appeal. If I said yes to my daughter, though, what came next? Would I be OK with the nose ring? The tongue pierce? The belly button diamond? How about a few tattoos?
In the end, after much discussion and waffling, all packed into a matter of a few hours, I granted part of her birthday wish. The extra lobe pierces were a go, but the cartilage would be parked – for now. Balance? Maybe. Like so much of parenting, it’s a subjective word.
Once I made the decision, the celebration began. We conscripted Grandma to join our adventure, and we three generations headed to some not-quite-seedy spot with a case full of silver studs and rings, populated by leather-bound punks who were only too happy to do the deed. It was far from the mall experience.
And there I sat, sad and proud and a little out of place, saying Happy Birthday to my child by letting her subtly change.