'Joey got an earring, Mom. Can I get one, too?" my firstborn asked at age 6.
Trying not to sound judgmental, I said, "That's a pretty grown-up thing for a first-grader. Do you know how they do that?"
Jason shook his head.
"They take a needle," I said, gesturing with my two index fingers about eight inches apart.
"Ohhh," Jason said, his wide eyes on my extended fingers. "Maybe I'll wait until middle school."
"OK," I said, glad it was that easy.
"Mom, do you promise I can have an earring in when I get to middle school?"
"Absolutely," I said, and didn't give it another thought.
That was 1995. Five years later, Jason and I were having our "day together." Each year, I would spend one entire day with each of the kids and let them choose what they wanted to do. The year before, Jason and I went to Yankee Stadium. We wore Yankees jerseys and baseball caps. We sat in the sunshine, inhaling the delectable smell of stadium hot dogs while eating Carvel ice cream out of miniature baseball helmets. I couldn't wait to hear what he wanted to do this year.
"Let's go to the Broadway Mall," he said.
"OK," I said, trying not to show my disappointment. I'd rather get my teeth cleaned than go shopping.
My loquacious son was unusually quiet. Would this be the new normal now that he was in middle school? The thought put a lump in my throat.
After visiting the mall in Hicksville, we stopped at Carvel. I watched my 11-year-old as he held the cone and licked the vanilla ice cream, amazed at how much one can love a child.
I felt, as I had all day, something wedged between us. I couldn't identify what it was. I didn't ask because I didn't want to risk making him uncomfortable and perhaps even more distant. I blinked away the tears.
"Mom, can I tell you something?"
"Of course, Love," I said, turning toward him.
"Remember when you promised I could get my ear pierced when I got to middle school?"
"Of course, I remember," I said.
"I really wanted to get my ear pierced today."
Relieved this was what had caused his silence, I said, "Why didn't you say something?"
"I was afraid you wouldn't remember."
"Do you want to go back to the mall now?"
"You would take me back to get my ear pierced?" he asked incredulously.
"A promise is a promise," I said.
Afterward, we took pictures in a photo booth with him grinning broadly, pointing to the cubic zirconium stud in his ear, and me looking shocked in the background.
I wasn't thrilled with the idea of my sixth-grader having a pierced ear. I knew some people would view it as trashy, but demonstrating to my son that I would always keep my word was what was most important to me.
The earring had to be removed for baseball and ice hockey. League rules. Jason soon tired of putting it in and taking it out, and cleaning the piercing with alcohol and bacitracin ointment.
He eventually stopped wearing the earring, but I hope his memory of the promise kept will last a lifetime.