From the moment that line appears on the pregnancy test (or is it words, or sex, or predicted SATs scores these days?), parenthood is full of dilemmas.
Do you choose a home birth or an equipped-to-the-eyeballs hospital setting? Do you breast or bottle-feed? Let your baby make her first forays into sold food via whatever she can grab or by dint of a spoon held firmly by you? And, if the latter, do you spend more hours than seems feasible pureeing a butternut squash or opt for the jars that line the supermarket shelves?
The only thing worse than facing all of these dilemmas is knowing that, even as you do so, you are prime cliche material. The things that feel (and, in fairness, sometimes are) so very vital to you, at that moment, will feel vanishingly unimportant just a few years later and whenever you see someone else in the same position, though you will usually try to hide the fact.
If you have very young children, I hate to tell you, the dilemmas don’t decrease in number as your offspring’s age increases. And if you thought that the baby stages were fraught with the risks of judging and being judged, just wait till you have to navigate your child’s request to watch or play or do something you deem inappropriate while simultaneously not calling into question the morality or good sense of their best mate’s mum who has no problem with it at all.
When your principles, your peers and the interests of your precious first (or second, or third) born collide, there is no help in being aware that everyone else has to make a choice one way or another, or that the world, in general, doesn’t thereby end. Mostly, it’s not a prolonged battle. I am entirely comfortable in my position banning Call of Duty, restricting internet access and vetoing the purchase of hair gel for my four year old. In each case, the desire of the child in question to fit in is, to my mind, easily outweighed by the potential harm (or mess, if we’re talking about the hair gel). Other things aren’t so easy.
My daughter, who is eight at the end of the month, is desperate to have her ears pierced. She has been for at least two years. She plays Claire’s Accessories with handwritten labels, documents all ear-related jewellery in a dedicated journal in the same way that others spot birds or trains, and has an impressive collection of clip-on creations ranging from chandeliers to plastic moustaches (yes, really). She is fairly sensible, reliable and with as much sense as any self-respecting seven year old should have. She will also, come September, be the only little girl in her class whose ears remain unpierced.
I just don’t know what to do.
I don’t want her to have it done, for reasons of, if I’m honest, snobbery, sense and safety. She is still, to me, so little and so lovely as she is. She spends all her time doing gymnastics, with long hair twined about her face and neck. I have twice had to let piercings close up because of infection, and, having had my ears done again in February of this year, am in the unfortunate position of literally being stuck with the pair I chose, since the butterflies seem welded to the posts. In terms of practicality and safety, I feel on pretty solid ground in saying no.
And yet, she is a little girl, not just my little girl. She is a little girl whose best friend moved away last year and is still sometimes adrift in the shifting sands of friendship groups. She is a little girl who likes to fit in, who feels secure in belonging. I can teach her to take pride in being herself, but it’s a lesson I only truly learned myself as I approached forty. Is it fair to try to enforce the lesson now, in this way? Will I look back at photos of her this summer and wish I had let her have her wish, or regret giving in?
I don’t know.
And knowing that it is, in the grand scheme of things, an absolute non-issue, is no comfort at all.