A few years ago, Georgia admired someone’s earrings and so we explained to her what was involved. She listened(ish) to us, looked back at the shiny earrings and said plainly, “Georgia. Ears. Pierced.”
At that moment the campaign began.
Over the past few weeks she was asking more adamantly. Or rather just stating, “My ears are getting pierced” as a clear and inevitable fact.
I admit that I was far more worried than she was. I imagined all sorts of badness. I had a horrible picture in my mind of six people holding her down while passersby in the mall worried about child endangerment. I was concerned she didn’t fully understand the experience and might not be able to handle it.
Little did I know.
Every good campaign involves education. So we did what we do when something really different is going to happen in our lives: We talked about ear piercing. A lot. More than you could imagine. Repetitively, frequently, simply. We watched YouTube videos of girls — from the calm to the hysterical — getting their ears pierced. It’s amazing how many videos have been uploaded. It’s wild what’s out there taking up space on the internet but in the end it’s quite good for us.
We talked about the fact that she’d have to wear the earrings to bed. (Keep in mind this is a girl whose bedtime routine has not changed in 12 years.) We stressed that she couldn’t play with them or touch them much. We introduced hand sanitizer as a regular part of Georgia’s day. Or, as we call it in our house (where the Christmas season begins immediately after Labour Day, apparently): Hand Santa-tizer.
I also injected a regular barrage of, “Do you really want your ears pierced? Nah, you don’t — do you?” into everyday conversation. Each time she answered with a tired, and slightly distracted but still firm, “YES, Mommy. Georgia. Ears. Pierced.”
At some point a few weeks ago Georgia decided that she wanted her ears pierced on Friday, a PD day. Too soon! I wasn’t ready! She wanted to have lunch at a restaurant first and then she wanted to “go to the mall” to get her ears pierced. Being a born multi-tasker, I added in a flu shot, just to get the pain all over with on one day. Voilà, we had a plan!
Cue maternal anxiety cranked to ‘High.’
I mentioned our plan casually to a few people. I got plenty of friendly, wonderful advice about how I should get her ears pierced, and when and where to do it — all of which countered Georgia’s plan: Avoid the mall. Go to a professional piercer. Don’t get silver posts. Make sure the posts aren’t exposed before they’re put in. Go for titanium or 14K gold. Avoid the mall. Please, avoid the mall.
All good and helpful advice. I read it, listened to it. Started thinking. Tried not to think about it. Panic set in. Was I putting my own kid at risk by letting her actualize her plan? Argh.
I did some late Thursday night online research and discovered two things. First, there are no posts anywhere that mention places it might be better to take a kid with autism to get her ears pierced. This was surprising to me. The internet provides such a rich abundance of all things PLUS autism — but not this. Second, I realized that for every argument against Georgia’s choice of method, there was a counter-argument and a whole lot of supportive but often anecdotal evidence. I read until my head hurt.
There was something bugging me all throughout this. It took me a while to figure out what it was. But when I did figure it out, it really helped make up my mind. It was the nagging fact that I really, really needed to do this Georgia’s way.
Hey, this kid sometimes likes things that are not what I would choose. She wants to hang out in Dundas Square and watch the ‘world’ go by. She loves lunch at Quiznos. She likes food courts! She would eat salami every meal if she could. She wants to get her ears pierced at a mall. And she wants “little white ball” earrings. It’s important to note that there are few things Georgia actually and actively WANTS in the world and fewer still that she goes out of her way to articulate to me. Never mind articulate those things — complete with a plan AND lunch at a restaurant first. She just doesn’t do this every day. I needed to take note of this and to make it happen.
With some kids, I can imagine talking to them about the range of choices and what they would prefer. How they’d like to experience ‘getting ears pierced’ and even discuss risk and benefit in terms of method and location. Not with Georgia. I wanted to do it her way. In fact, I needed to. I became convinced that this was important and a positive step. Of course, I had to do some serious work to tell that to my 3 a.m. self, awake and blinking in the darkness, madly worrying.
I lay in bed and pictured the worst. Horribly distracted minimum-wage gum-chewing adolescents with bad attitudes holding unhygienic half-working old-fashioned ear piercing guns in their soiled hands. Rolling their eyes at my kid.
I imagined the ear getting pierced halfway and then the rusty gun seizing, and the subsequent bloody wrestling match between the piercer and what remained of an earlobe on screaming, traumatized Georgia. I pictured her writhing and squirming and turning her head violently at the key moment, so that we ended up with a half-pierced cheek, and chaos. I could almost hear the ear-piercing scream following the ‘click’ of the gun, and see the entire sordid population of the mall turn their attention toward the Bad Mother. I drifted in and out of sleep to horrific visions of infected and swollen and pus-covered ears dancing in my head. Was I doing the right thing?
And then it was Friday. Georgia woke up, opened her eyes and stretched languidly. Stopped. Rolled over in bed with purpose. Looked me straight in the eye and said without hesitation, “Today’s the day. I’m getting my ears pierced. With little white earrings.” Dammit. She remembered.
We worked the whole day toward this Georgia-initiated event. She ate sushi for lunch (while the lovely waitress told us about her earrings and I wished I had ordered a gin martini) and then went to get our flu shots. (“That wasn’t so bad. No problem, Mommy!”) And then there was nothing left to do but pierce my child’s ears.
The mall loomed. I dawdled, asking her again, “Are you sure? We can do this another day.” But no, this girl was determined. She strode confidently into the store and watched, mesmerized, as a hipster dude got a giant cubic zirconia in one ear. When he flinched a bit, I was sure she’d be gone. Nope. She just watched, eyes wide, quietly taking it all in. I realized I was wringing my hands and mumbling under my breath.
We chose the most expensive, most infection-resistant earrings they had. Chose the longest post to avoid problems later on. I agonized, changed my mind, then returned to the original choice. Asked for the managers. I analyzed the efficiency of holding her head versus her hands, while the manager patiently listened and advised. Our loyal babysitter Krista, Georgia’s true friend and an honorary member of our family, tested my smartphone video camera, chattering away. She was as nervous as I was. The two managers agreed to pierce both ears at once. Georgia, her eyes like saucers, just watched, silently and calmly. I was what I imagine a mother cricket or other frenetic bug mother might be like. I could feel the sweat dripping and my palms were clammy. I put my hair up in a ponytail to get it out of the way of this operation. I was THAT mother. When they told Georgia to breathe calmly in and out again, I realized that I was panting loudly with anxiety.
– click –
And then it was done.
My kid – that fabulous uber-calm kid – sat as if nothing had happened. No flinch, no sob, no wiggle. The nurse in me decided that she was in a state of extreme shock and would start screaming at any moment. Nope. Nothing. She smiled and calmly admired herself in the mirror they held up, turning her head this way and that. I was incredulous.
“Oh wow, I’m so proud of you! Wow! You!! Why, I… Wow! I mean, you didn’t even move! Georgia!! Wow! You are SOOO good! Are you okay!? I mean, wow! Wow! Did it hurt?”
She thought before she answered. I wish I had some insight into what went through her head during those seconds. When she finally responded, “yes” I wondered if that was her answer because she thought, in some way, that I needed to hear that.
Georgia did something amazing that day that I never imagined she would ever do. While many people said, “Oh, getting her ears pierced is such a rite of passage,” I suspect they had no idea just how much it would signify.
She thought about something she wanted and articulated it to me. Something age-appropriate, and something that lots of other kids her age want too. She asked for it. She made a real plan. And then she made it happen.
She took the purse with the horse pictures on it and a loonie in the side pocket. She knew how to act, she knew what was involved and was far more prepared than I was. She grew up that day in a way that’s hard for me to describe.
And me, I had yet another insight into this neat little separate-from-me Georgia-person, and the fact she has the potential to make things happen in her own life. For herself. Earrings are clearly just the start.
She had one request as we left the store: She wants to wear – once the studs come out – the tackiest, dangly half-avocado earrings, one earring with the pit and the other without. This kid knows what she wants. I’m just hoping the Santa-tizer takes note of that request for her stocking this year.