"Mommy, I'm ready to have my ears pierced. Really, I am," Bella shouts to me from where she sits in the back of our mini-van.
I glance at her reflection in the rear-view mirror. My heart feels heavy as I note how much taller she suddenly seems in her booster seat. I no longer have to adjust the mirror to see her anymore when she speaks to me.
"Did you hear me, Mommy?" she asks, coercing me out of the past and thrusting me into the present.
I reply, "Yes, I heard you. You want your ears pierced." The tone in my voice is composed, yet at the same time, bordering upon melancholy.
A friend of mine had brought her young daughter to the gym that morning and proudly displayed her daughter's newly pierced ears. Almost immediately, Bella inquired about getting her own ears pierced.
My initial response had been one of excitement, as I imagined us wearing matching earrings...an act which would demonstrate our tight mother-daughter bond. She had talked many times about getting her ears pierced but when it came down to it, she would always decide that she wasn't ready.
However, now, with the staunch realization that this time she is undoubtedly going to follow through, I can't help but feel a little wave of sadness at the very thought of this milestone.
The responsibility and desire I feel to make this experience a positive one for her weighs heavily on my mind. This important memory will stay with her forever...it is something she will never forget.
With a deep sigh, I state, "Okay, we'll run a couple errands and then we'll stop by the mall to get your ears pierced."
She smiles brightly while peering out the window, her eyes sparkling with radiance as the sun's golden rays light up her face. Even though I've always thought she was gorgeous, for some reason, her beauty takes my breath away, today, as I steal another glimpse of my only daughter.
Her promises for a lifetime of love and friendship run tireless circles around the inside of my head..."Mommy, you'll always be my best friend and I'll always be your baby girl".
Finally, after finishing our errands, we arrive at the mall and enter the store, with her skipping delightfully ahead of me as I stagger behind, willing time to slow down.
She is ready but I am not.
She eyes the tall chair in front of her, a cloud of hesitancy veils the smile that was on her face merely seconds before. For a brief minute, I'm consumed with relief...maybe she's not ready, after all.
I witness her uncertainty vanish as quickly as it had appeared when she pulls herself up into the chair. Just an hour prior to this, she had looked so big in her booster seat and now she seems so small in the large chair that envelops her.
With the innocence of a young child, she criss-crosses her legs and swings them nervously beneath her, hands clasped tightly together.
The manager comes over and explains the process. She hands Bella a frame which shows the various earrings she can choose from. It doesn't take her long to point to the sparkly pink flower earrings.
"These, Mommy," she whispers softly. "These are the ones I want, okay? Do you like them?"
I nod my head and smile, giving my approval of her choice in earrings. Of course, she wants the ones which scream BLING in every way possible. That's my girl...extroverted, gregarious and flashy, all wrapped into one. Everything I was not, at her age. I can't help but feel a tinge of envy, only wishing I had had an ounce of her confidence when I was 6.
The manager interrupts my thoughts, "Ma'am, I'm going to have my assistant manager do her right ear while I do her left ear so we can just get it over with all at once. It's so much easier than doing them one at a time."
I agree, knowing Bella has a low tolerance for pain and would prefer to get it done in one swift move.
With a purple pen, the manager marks dots on each of Bella's ears.
"Okay," the manager says. "We're going to line the earrings up with the marks on your ears and then on the count of 3, we're going to put them in. Are you ready?"
Bella cautiously nods her head ever so slightly, signaling that she is ready. Her delicate hand reaches out for mine and squeezes it tightly. I find solace in her touch..it's proof that she still needs me, even though she's growing up right before my very eyes.
"1, 2, 3....," the manager counts out loud. Bella sits frozen in the chair, her eyes wide open with fear. I grip her hand tighter, hoping that the feel of my skin against hers will ease her anxiety.
I hear a quick popping sound and then both the manager and her assistant step away from my daughter to get a good look at her newly pierced ears.
Instinct warns me to stuff my emotions down deep inside where they can never be revealed and to put a smile on my face. "That wasn't so bad, was it? And now it's over...your ears are pierced! Do you want to see?" I ask, reaching for a mirror.
But to my surprise, instead of grabbing for the mirror being handed to her, Bella's eyes fill with tears. Her sniffles quickly dissolve into a breakdown of heavy sobs.
I stretch out my arms toward her and she gently falls into them.
"What's wrong?" I ask. "Did it hurt worse than you had imagined?"
Through muffled cries, I hear her respond, "Uh-huh".
"Oh, I know. It's one of those things that you can never fully prepare yourself for...the pain, the suddenness of it all. And now that it's done, it's done," I whisper softly into her ear.
Continuing, I explain, "But if you find that you don't like having your ears pierced, you can always go back to the way it was before. The holes will close up eventually and there will be no more reminders".
She takes a deep breath yet I can still feel her trembling against me. I embrace her securely against my chest, as she purges the startling emotions which have caught the both of us off guard.
When her body finally begins to relax, I pull away slightly and lift her chin up with my hand.
"It's going to be okay, you know. This was a big step for you. You're still beautiful, whether your ears are pierced or not," I remind her.
She raises her head higher and very quietly asks, "Can I see what they look like?"
I hand her the mirror and my heart melts as a smile washes over her tear-stained face. She looks at her left ear, then her right...and then back at me.
With glee in her voice, she says, "Mommy, they're so pretty! I love them!" I nod my head in agreement while biting my lip in a weak attempt to stop my chin from quivering.
Suddenly, I can envision us 20 years in the future. We are in the dressing room of the church where she's about to marry the man of her dreams. I've just given her the gift of "something old", the earrings I wore at my own wedding....the day I married her father.
We are both swept up in the bitterness of the moment...the joy and happiness, along with the poignancy and disbelief that her childhood has gone by so quickly. It is time to let go, as she begins a new life separate from mine.
She is ready but I am not.
As she captures another look at herself in the mirror, all grown up in her lovely wedding gown, I imagine my daughter's eyes glistening with tears when she asks, "Mom, do you remember when you took me to get my ears pierced when I was 6...?"
My heart melts. Yet again.
One last time, I glance at her reflection in the mirror and answer, "How could I ever forget?"
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