Mama Madison: Age-appropriate rituals

Kids yearn; parents learn -- to be flexible

All kids covet that "special something" which (according to them, at least) every other child in the class has had for ages, but you are just too mean, strict, or out-of-touch to let them get the same. For it me, that "special something" was a pair of Dr. Scholl's, the wood-bottomed, one-strapped exercise sandals so popular among the Marcia Brady-wannabes (which was everyone) at my school. All my friends had a pair, some even two or three.

And they were all planning to wear them to our sixth grade graduation.

But it didn't matter how hard I begged, pleaded or cried, my dad said I absolutely could not get them. I don't know whether he thought they were inappropriate, dangerous (they kind of were, you had to clutch for dear life with your toes to keep them on) or just plain ugly. And he held fast to his decision. I went to graduation in white Mary Janes and had to wait the full year until my Bat Mitzvah to wear backless shoes for the very first time. It was a pair of burgundy knock-off Candie's slides. No, I can't remember for the life of me what Torah portion I chanted that evening, but man can I remember the shoes.

My feet hurt like hell long before "Hava Nagila" was played at the party. But I wouldn't have traded that pain for the anything in the world.

Footwear hasn't yet come between my daughter and me. But for years her "special something" has been getting her ears pierced. I had always said 13 was the magical age, subconsciously, I guess, guided by own experience with delayed-until-Jewish-adulthood gratification. And besides, unlike my parents who had been digging in their heels over a pair of sandals that I would surely outgrow, ear piercing, I felt, was a much higher stakes (it's practically permanent, for goodness sake) decision.

My daughter has never agreed though, and ever since age six or seven, she's been begging me for a single piercing (I guess I should count my blessings) in each ear. For years, I'd remained strong and explained the whole "patience is a virtue" thing over and over again until her patience wore thin.

This past week though, she took her hard sell to a whole new level and presented my husband (who has no strong feelings on the minimum age for piercing -- ears that is) and I with a five-page persuasive essay on why this, her eleventh birthday, should be the day.

She hit the health angle, citing a website which stated that the younger a child is when he or she gets her ears pierced, the less likely infection or keloid scarring is to occur. She included arresting visuals including a detailed table that carefully illustrated when every girl in her class had gotten her first set of earrings.

She even took the sustainability (and humor) angle and argued that unless you are Vincent Van Gogh, your ears are something you will keep forever, making a gift of ear piercing a very environmentally friendly choice.

I'm guessing she will grow up to be a lawyer. A lawyer with pierced ears. Because I immediately caved.

Right after school that day my daughter and I headed straight to Claire's at West Towne mall where a lovely sales associate held a gun (she called it a "piercing instrument") up to each of her lobes and inserted a tiny cubic zirconia. It was over in three minutes.

I treated my jubilant daughter to a food court frozen yogurt right after to celebrate. And when I asked her how her ears felt, she said, "they hurt a little, but in a really good way." Just like my feet at my Bat Mitzvah.

And although she didn't have to chant a lick of Hebrew to get her "special something" two years early, I am glad neither of us had to wait for her to be so happy. I'm also pretty sure, given her ear piercing success, that she's currently writing a brief on why she should get a cell phone at 11-and-a-half. But I'm really sticking to 13 on this one.

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