Pierced ears and parenting angst.

When I was a kid, my friends and I got our ears pierced at the mall. Times have changed. My 9-year-old just got her ears pierced, and I was surprised to here where the cleanest, safest place to go was. Read this BEFORE you need it and you'll save yourself a lot of angst (and maybe an infection).

Last Saturday, my daughter wandered into my office and burst into tears.

After some cajoling (and a big hug), I figured out what the trouble was.

She wanted to get her ears pierced, but she was terrified of getting her ears pierced.

Her tenth birthday is quickly approaching. She knew I got my ears pierced on my tenth birthday a long time ago. She knew before long Will and I would finally give her the permission she’s been waiting for. And then she’d get what she wanted and it would hurt.

I have a lot of sympathy for this kind of anxiety: I was a nervous kid myself. My well-meaning doctor told me at my ten-year-old check up that I wouldn’t need another shot until I was fifteen. I hated needles, so I lived in fear of that shot for five years.

Because of my own history, I’m acutely sensitive to helping my own kids navigate those issues. (Which means I’m destined to be blindsided by some other parenting issue I’ve never considered, but never mind that for now.)

When I found out Sarah had been (literally) losing sleep over getting her ears pierced, the solution seemed obvious: she needed to get her ears pierced. Now. 

*****     *****     *****

Before I told my daughter today was the day, I made a few calls and asked on facebook where a 9-year-old should get her ears pierced in my city.

I was surprised to learn the answer: a tattoo parlor.

(Things have changed since I turned ten.)earrings

It turns out a reputable tattoo parlor has all kinds of advantages over the piercing booth at the mall.

Tattoo parlors are highly regulated and meticulously clean. Their employees are well-trained. Their methods are different from those employed by the mall stores. I’ll spare you the details (because I still don’t like needles), but piercings done by tattoo artists go in cleaner and heal faster than the blunt piercings performed by nail guns at mall kiosks.

*****     *****     *****

I found out what needed to happen: to get her ears pierced at the tattoo parlor, Sarah needed an appointment and a notarized consent form to pierce a minor.

Knowing what we needed—and that we could do it that day—I asked Sarah if she wanted to get her ears pierced. Today. 

She surprised me: she burst into tears.

But an hour later she was decided: she wanted to do it. She couldn’t wait to have pierced ears, and she couldn’t wait to put the uncomfortable anticipation in the past.

But it turned out the tattoo parlor couldn’t work us in that day after all.

*****     *****     *****

I’d backed myself into a corner: I knew too much to be comfortable going to the mall. But I didn’t want my daughter to face another week of sleep-depriving anxiety.

In the end, we went to the mall. We watched two grown-ups get their ears done while we waited. (I was afraid this would freak out my daughter, but the women hardly flinched. Bless you, ladies, wherever you are.)

I knew just enough to be an obnoxious customer. I examined the piercing gun. I made sure the employee (who inspired confidence and had a great demeanor with my daughter) changed her gloves and sterilized the counter.

Everything looked fine to me. They pierced both ears at the same time, which we both appreciated. We had a good experience, but I still felt conflicted.

I wish I’d known more in advance, so I would have been prepared to take her to the tattoo parlor.

*****     *****     *****

In another year or two (or honestly, next week if she starts losing sleep over it like her older sister was), I’ll be taking my younger daughter to get her ears pierced. We’ll be going to the tattoo parlor. I’ll have the notarized form ready in advance. I might pick it up today, just so I’m ready when the time comes.

Maybe you’re not inclined to self-doubt like I am. But for those of you who are, I hope to spare you some parenting angst.

Because I can tell you: I never expected to regret not taking my daughter to the tattoo parlor.

I’d love to hear your experiences with pierced ears and parenting angst in comments. 

How a photo can save a child’s life.

How a photo can save a child's life | Modern Mrs Darcy

From the archives. Please read and share and check your photos!

7 years ago, our baby boy was diagnosed with eye cancer because of a Christmas photo. He was almost two at the time.

That baby boy is nearly 9 now, and the story is becoming more and more his and not just mine—so I’m growing reluctant to go into the details with people now that he’s getting older.

But I have to share this, because we nearly didn’t find out there was a problem. The photographer knew that there was something wrong with our son’s red eye reflex, but he didn’t want to scare us or be the bearer of bad news. His wife, however, insisted, because she had read an article about an actress whose child had a very similar presentation (that’s what doctors call it).

We’re so thankful she did.

Our son was quickly diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a rare form of childhood eye cancer that affects 1 child in 20,000. That’s only 300 cases per year in the U.S. In 2005, we were one of those 300.

Now that it’s been 7 years and he’s healthy, we don’t talk about it much. But this Christmas I didn’t want to not speak up for fear of spooking someone or being the bearer of bad news.

But here it is: when you’re looking through your Christmas photos this year, pay attention to the red-eye in your flash photography. The red-eye appears when the retina reflects light. Pediatricians check for it every time they see you, and many cases of retinoblastoma are diagnosed at routine well-checks (though our pediatrician didn’t catch it because of the unusual way the tumor presented).

In that Christmas photo our son had red-eye in one eye and white eye in the other. A white or milky-looking pupil in a flash photograph is a classic indicator of retinoblastoma.  The pupil appears white because light can’t reach the retina at the back of the eye.

Note the white eye on the right: a classic sign of retinoblastoma.

Our son’s tumor was growing dead in the bottom of his eye, which meant that the vast majority of the time, his red-eye reflex wasn’t impaired.  We have dozens of photos from that Christmas that look absolutely perfect—even though he had late stage cancer. But my uncle snapped one photo when the tumor seeds were up and dancing around, blocking the retina and causing a white eye.

A white eye in a photo doesn’t necessarily mean the child has eye cancer, and it’s not the only sign. (Other signs can be strabismus, a drifting eye, or a red and irritated eye.) But we discovered our son’s cancer because of a Christmas photograph. 

I have no medical experience.  I’m just a mom whose baby had eye cancer.

If you have any concerns at all, ask your doctor. If you ever see a white eye reflex in a child, have it checked out with a dilated eye exam—it’s not a big deal and it’s not expensive. But it could save a child’s life.

And please, don’t be afraid to speak up.

I’m so thankful someone spoke up to me.

Friends, check your Christmas photos! If you have a child who's 5 or under you need to check your Christmas photos for one simple thing. It could save a life, literally.

photo credit: J Morley-Smith

How rare is a great marriage?

How rare is a great marriage? | Modern Mrs Darcy

I start a lot of posts like this …

I’ve been thinking about this for months.

(Heaven help me if I ever find myself needing to write about current events on short notice. I’m a slow processor and it takes me months to figure out what I think about anything.)

It was Jamie and Claire that first got me thinking about it. In Drums of Autumn (that’s Outlander #4 to the unitiated), Lord John admires their marriage, saying, “Do you know how rare such a thing is? That peculiar sort of mutual passion?” (“The one-sided kind,” he notes, “was common enough.”)

Nevermind that Jamie and Claire are fictional. It’s still a good question, though a hard one to discuss.

The topic of marital satisfaction tends to provoke knee-jerk reactions, so I’m wary of broaching the subject. But I think it’s a question worth exploring.

How rare is a great marriage?

I’ll start by saying: I don’t know. Nobody does for sure.

We do know this: the majority of marriages fail. According to psychologist Ty Tashiro, “Of all the people who get married, only three in ten remain in healthy, happy marriages.”

I could cite you more stats, but they’re only so helpful. Most measure divorce rates, or marital longevity, and “not divorced” is not the same as “happily married.”

When I think about how rare a great marriage is or isn’t, I think first about my own marriage, and about the marriages around me. We have a high number of close friends who seem to be well-matched and happy. In those circles—and this is important—we talk about relationships. And not just the good stuff: importantly, the bad stuff isn’t taboo.

But that perception is only so helpful. Like attracts like, for one: happily married couples associate with other happily married couples. And our perception is limited.

Over the past few years, neighbors and acquaintances have divorced—some of them enduring ugly, heartbreaking messes—but no close friends.

Perception is faulty, of course: early in our marriage, we had a group of fellow newly-marrieds friends, seven or eight couples among us. We were flabbergasted when the first couple in our ranks got divorced. We had no idea they were struggling—notably, we didn’t talk about the bad stuff—until he moved out.

I would have guessed that they were happy, but he’d been sleeping on the sofa since their second month of marriage.

We see other marriages up close, marriages where both spouses are perpetually cranky, yet their marriages appear stable—maybe even happy. If there really is someone for everyone, maybe they’re perfect for each other.

I don’t know how rare a great marriage is or isn’t: but I do know this: it’s not the default position. It doesn’t happen by accident.

How rare is a great marriage? | Modern Mrs Darcy

Marriage expert John Gottman says two things distinguish happily married couples from unhappy ones: kindness and generosity. Happily married couples purposefully build cultures of appreciation and respect, one interaction at a time.

A great marriage requires intimacy, and therapists say intimacy itself is rare these days, even between spouses. (And even if spouses themselves are intimate, it strains the marriage if that is their only intimate relationship.) The bar is high for true intimacy, which has 7 necessary characteristics:

• emotional safety
• consistency
• love
• compassion
• understanding
• mutual respect
• freedom to be yourself

Reading that list, it’s not so hard for me to believe that only three in ten people who ever get married remain in healthy, happy marriages.

So why talk about this?

It’s worth knowing—whether you’re single or married—that great marriages are possible, but that not every married person is in a great marriage. Disbelieving the first is plain depressing; disbelieving the second makes it impossible to talk about relational struggles.

It’s also worth knowing that intimacy is hard, in or out of marriage. But most of us would be better off with a few more intimate relationships.

Great relationships aren’t the norm. They don’t happen by accident. But they’re worth working for.

I’d love to hear your thoughtful commentary on marriage, statistics, relationships, and intimacy in comments. 

How to deal with your crazy family (from an accidental expert).

How to deal with your crazy family (from an accidental expert) | Modern Mrs Darcy

From the archives, just in time for Thanksgiving. 

The holidays are almost here.  Can you believe it?

Some of you are counting down to long-awaited reunions with those you love.  Some of you are dreaming of turkey and stuffing and pumpkin pie.  And some of you are thinking, “How am I going to deal with my crazy family?

If you’re in the last camp, and you’d like to keep the family drama to a minimum this holiday season, here are 7 tips to keep the peace.

1. Do a reality check—and do it now, before the big event. The stakes are higher over the holidays, so now’s the time to remind yourself to be realistic and keep your expectations reasonable. Now’s the time to think about what’s likely to be problematic, and what you can do about it.

2.  Get yourself ready. If your family gatherings tend to be stressful, make sure you are well prepared. Get enough sleep, eat some real food before you arrive, and don’t drink too much (coffee, alcohol, whatever).

3.  Talk with everyone. Those of you with giant families know what I’m talking about. If there are 30 people at an event it can be hard to actually speak to everyone: make sure you do it. (And of course, if you’re speaking with everyone that also indicates that you’re actually on speaking terms with everyone–which is a very good thing.) Make the effort to talk to your shy nephew, or chat up the girlfriend who hardly knows anyone.

4.  No baiting. If we want fireworks at our family gatherings, we can toss out Occupy Wall Street as conversation fodder. Or the presidential election. Or recycling! Passionate family members will rise to the challenge. If you don’t want fireworks at your holiday gathering, keep the peace by knowing what’s off limits.

5.  No trash talking. Don’t gossip about other family members. Period. This is really tempting for me over the holidays, because I’m always tempted to do some female bonding with my sisters-in-law over some juicy family gossip. That’s not a bad reason to gossip—but there are better reasons not to. Don’t do it.

6.  Be a good sport. Do what you can to go with the flow. If your family loves Trivial Pursuit, get ready to play some Trivial Pursuit.

7.  Be grateful. Find something to be thankful for. After some family gatherings, I’m grateful that I am blessed with such a wonderful family. After some family gatherings, I’m grateful that I get to go home with my husband—and not all those crazy people we just had dinner with.

Do you deal with family drama? What are your best tips for dealing with difficult family members?

P.S. My favorite Thanksgiving movie that you’ve never heard of.