Oct. 25, 2010 at 10:58 AM ET
In the spirit of always pushing my brain to new places, my six-year-old son, Roan, threw this one at me over breakfast a few days ago:
"I'd like to get my ears pierced. Ok?"
"Nope. You're too young. When you're...twel...fourtee...er...ummm...thirteen you can choose to get that done."
"Because I haven't had enough coffee yet, and cannot answer any more questions."
And thankfully, my boy knows to respect the "I haven't had enough coffee" clause in all discussions, and dropped it. Until I picked him up from school that same day, when he picked it right back up. He'd been doing some thinking and was ready for me and my flimsy brain. Roan asked me if I'd had time to think about it, and I said yes. Then he asked what my answer was, and I said it was the same. To which he replied, surprisingly (ha!), "Why?"
I explained to him that my main job as his mom is to protect him. And that if he had his ears pierced, in our world and our culture and our neighborhood, he would probably have some kids say mean things to him -- maybe even some parents. I told him that people consider it "normal" for little girls to have their ears pierced but not little boys. And even as these words were leaving my lips, it didn't sound like a good reason. And he knew it. And Mr. Roan was prepared, bringing out the "Dad had his ears pierced" argument. And the "Dad had his lip pierced" argument. And Dad has tattoos. And people don't always think that's normal.
"But your Dad was older when he made the choices to get those things. That's the difference."
"But when he didn't want his earrings anymore, he just took them out, and I could do that too. It's not permanent."
"True. But how will it feel for you if people say mean things to you about them if you get it done? Can you handle that?"
"I don't care."
Which, dear citizens of the planet, I must admit I loved to hear. Because I don't want him to care. I want Roan to have the confidence to be himself, regardless of how the world sees him. I want him to stand up and be himself, respect himself, and act without fear. And then Roan brought down the hammer. The gay marriage hammer.
"Do you remember when you told me that people think it's not normal for a man to love a man, and a woman to love a woman, and so they stop them from being able to get married?"
"Yup. It's the truth. Some people are very afraid of that."
"And then....you told me that because they stood up to the people who said mean things....they were strong, and now in some places they can get married?"
I totally see where this is going. My son is out of my league already in arguing. I'm so done for....
"So isn't it good to do what you want even if people are going to say mean things to you about it? Even when they don't think it's normal?"
End scene. My 6-year-old had just totally schooled me, and all I had was, "I need to talk to your dad about this."
The olden days - when he just wanted to dye his hair.
So my husband, Anson, and I talked about it, and his reaction was exactly the same as mine -- a knee jerk "No", followed by all the same non-reasons I had. I advocated for Roan's position, not trying to sell it, but trying to simply represent this other side -- where we don't actually have to say "No" to things, just because our parents would have, just because most of our friends would. If the answer is "No", I'd like to be able to articulate a reason. And in representing Roan's position, I finally realized that I have always tried to raise Roan to push boundaries if he'd like to, to feel confident to question things and to take risks with things that are maybe not "normal" as long as they are safe, as long as no one stands to get hurt. For instance when he dyed his hair blue and green and red and pink. No boy in his school had that look happening. And suddenly, after Roan did it, the look popped up everywhere, in every grade.
We came up with a compromise. I told Roan I'd buy him a magnetic earring that looks like a pierced earring. And that he could wear it when and wherever he wanted. And that if by his seventh birthday, this coming December, if he still wanted to get his ears pierced, the answer would be yes. Roan loved the idea, and we found some super cool black and red skull and bones magnetic earrings online, and got them to our home within a few days.
Of course, the story ends with something I should have seen coming. Roan wore the earring on his way to school on one day, then bailed. He put it on again at the park later on and got rave reviews from his friends -- no teasing, nothing mean said. And then? He put it away. And hasn't gotten it out again. When I told him that I'd noticed he wasn't wearing his earring, his very 6-year-old comment:
"I'm over it."
Oh my. I do believe I am in for a lifetime of learning with this child. And with two more on the way? I. Am. So. Screwed.
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Jodi Nelson Call writes at Pistols and Popcorn.
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