Today’s Parent (Aug 2012)
Featuring Aparita Bhandari and Piali Roy
MOTHER OF TWO
“I want a earring?” As my two-year-old daughter Mallika’s vocabulary increases, I have to steel myself against constant questions and demands for “More ice cream?” or “Wear party shoes?” – all articulated with a wide-eyed look, quick nod of the head and her pipsqueak voice. This particular one, however, made me melt.
If I’d had my way, her ears would have been pierced already. In the South Asian tradition, girls start very young, with simple designs – plain gold studs or, my favourite, baalis (little hoops sometimes attached with tiny bells). It’s part of our culture of adornment, along with bangles, anklets and bindis – all topped off with a dot of kohl to ward off the evil eye.
None of the parents I know, irrespective of their cultural background, have questioned me on this topic. And we often discuss gender issues. It’s only come up when I notice other daughters’ pierced ears and ask their mothers when they got it done. In fact, the only real debate I have had is with my husband, who is also South Asian. He calls it “torture” and “forcing your decision on her.” The discussion always ends with his logic: When Mallika is older and asks for it, she can get it done.
I have a hazy memory of getting my ears pierced in a New Delhi market. I was slightly older than Mallika. My nani (grandma), mausi (maternal aunt) and mum were crowded in a small jeweller’s shop. Anticipating the pain, I bribed a sympathy gift, a bottle of nail polish, out of them, and clutched it tightly as the jeweller pushed a sharpened wire through my earlobes. I wailed, but was soon showing off my gold baalis.
Over the years, I have rummaged through my mother’s jewellery box, trying out her collection of earrings. Now, Mallika tugs my ears to examine mine. Then there’s that refrain again – “Mallika earring?”
When she was nine months old, I visited India to introduce Mallika to my family. One of my aunts pressed a small jewellery box in my hands. A pair of glinting gold baalissat nestled inside. I carefully tucked them away, with all the traditional Indian clothes I have bought, waiting for Mallika to grow up a little.
I think it’s time to take them out now.
MOTHER OF ONE
Did I ever think about piercing my baby daughter’s ears? Sure, especially whenever I saw a little girl with gold studs looking, well, cute. But I’ve decided my daughter will have to wait until she’s the same age as I was – 11 – to make that pilgrimage to the mall. That’s what I call tradition – if I did it as a kid, that’s the way it is done. My mother’s ears were pierced in Calcutta when she was about six months old, but with me, she waited. And let me tell you, Canadian-born me wasn’t going to be more “traditional” or more Indian than she was.
In truth, when my daughter was little, I was too afraid to have her ears pierced. I did worry about the pain from the ear-piercing gun, but that wasn’t what actually held me back. What I really feared, like my mother, was a baby obsessed with staring in the mirror to look at these shiny little things attached to her ears, pulling and pulling, then getting the ear holes infected and oozing – or worse, tearing them out.
But my other fear was even more serious. Was ear piercing merely the first step into creating my own baby fashionista, a girl who values looks over brains? Would I be encouraging her vanity and stuck with a five-year-old screaming to try on seven different “looks” every morning? As a mother who avoided buying anything pink, I had no intention of forcing her into gender roles.
My daughter is nine now and so far she’s had a balanced approach to her appearance – there haven’t been tantrums yet. She likes sparkly clothes, wears her hair long but forgets to keep it brushed. In other words, she’s a very regular kid.
I’m still glad I waited. Maybe I was the one who couldn’t have coped with a high-maintenance, appearance-focused child, but I love that she is more consumed by Harry Potter than shopping.
However, when my daughter is ready, I will take her to get her ears pierced. She has a lot of old Indian earrings to inherit from my mother and me. Of course, she had better wear them. She will look so cute. No pressure.