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Whenever the question came up, I’d take a deep breath and play dumb. In the scheme of life, I know it’s always best to handle issues head-on, not tiptoe around them and act like everything’s fine.
But in this particular case, I couldn’t help but break the rule.
“Mom, can I get my belly button pierced? That’s all I want for my 16th birthday. Please?” Then she’d smile at me, flash those pretty teeth and wait for an answer.
Welcome to the current generation gap. And it’s a wide one, folks. Sometimes, I have no clue.
As a teenager, I was grateful when my parents allowed me to pierce my ears—one hole in each ear.
Enter my daughter, Lindsey, who had her ears pierced at age 7. For her 14th birthday, she requested a second pair of holes in her lobes. What’s more, she encouraged her mother to do the same ... me, a 40-odd-year-old fashion queen who wears high-waisted jeans in public and fuzzy socks in bed.
Just a few weeks before, I’d visited with a childhood friend who had double-pierced ears. Jenette’s tiny diamond studs coupled with modest hoop earrings looked pretty. Why not, I thought? So when the day came for Lindsey’s ear piercing, I had mine done, too.
For her next birthday, Lindsey wanted a THIRD pair of piercings in her lobes, and I signed the parental paperwork once again.
This newest birthday wish really befuddled me, though. A belly button ring? Whatever for?
“I just want one,” Lindsey answered matter-of-factly.
“Just ’cause,” she shrugged.
Later, during parental talk time in bed, James, her stepfather, helped put the issue in perspective.
“It’s a teenage-girl thing,” he whispered in the dark. “And it’s just a little hole that’ll grow back. We’ve told her she has to pass chemistry first, then maybe she can get it done. I don’t see anything wrong with it. She’s not asking to pierce her eyebrow or lip. And remember, it’s NOT A TATTOO.”
To this day, I’m still not sure how she managed, but Lindsey passed her chemistry class by one point. Naturally, I shared her relief—no more chemistry class. I also felt a bit of dismay ... now I had to shop for a TATTOO PARLOR.
Shortly after dark on the appointed day, we pulled in front of a glass-fronted business dubbed as the town’s “best tattoo parlor.” Surreptitiously, I glanced over my shoulder as we trooped through the door. Heaven forbid that anyone see us here.
Inside, rock music blared. Fish swam in murky aquariums. Models on a video showed off their assorted bodily piercings. A glass display case featured jewelry for piercees while numerous books touted designs for tattoo candidates. For several minutes, James and I just stood there, trying not to gape.
“It’s not too late—you don’t have to do this,” I told Lindsey. But she shook her head vigorously. There was no changing the girl’s mind.
Finally, Corey—who’d been busy with a previous piercing job—led us to a brown vinyl-covered table, where he asked Lindsey to lie down. Throughout the procedure, he answered Lindsey’s questions, stressed his use of a clean, never-before-used needle and patiently ignored the steady flashes of my camera.
In less than 10 minutes, Corey helped Lindsey sit up, then handed her a mirror. Her face immediately lit up with pure happiness. She’d gotten her wish.
More than a week later, I mentioned to a friend what Lindsey had wanted for her birthday. “Oh, I bet that was hard on you,” he sympathized.
I smiled and nodded in return.
But really, I realized later, it hadn’t been. I’d never felt adamantly opposed to the idea, just very puzzled. I simply couldn’t fathom—and probably never will—the appeal of having a hole in your navel. But I don’t need to understand. My mother didn’t pierce her ears until she was well into her 40s. Her mother never did at all. Each generation chose their own way, and we all grew to be good, strong, true women.
That’s what I’ve tried so hard to do with my daughter—allow her to find herself and be herself, to be independent and confident, wise and ambitious. It’s been a rocky journey, and at times I’ve questioned my parental skills, especially during the years when black dominated her wardrobe.
But this I know—one way or another, Lindsey in her own way will knock out the world someday ... with or without a ring in her belly button.
Sheryl Smith-Rodgers is a frequent contributor to Texas Co-op Power.