(Note 2: Received a great comment from a friend that really made me think. I answered her comment and added some thoughts below.)
If you've ever lived in another country, inevitably you'll come across what I like to call the "Huh? Wha-?" moment. What is that, you might ask? A "Huh? Wha-?" moment is that slight pause or hiccup in your thought processes while your brain panics and frantically goes through its files to try and find some semblance of familiarity in the thing you are seeing. For example, the first time in Mexico that I saw a bus packed to overflowing with a man hanging out the window. I knew what I was seeing, but a message kept flashing in my mind: "Image does not compute." It's the same thing that happens every time I take a moment to really think about my marriage. I look at Yunuen and think, "She's married to ME?" Then my brain starts flashing the message: "Does not compute."
Granted, things don't have to follow logic in order to exist. Take the jellyfish, for example. What the heck is the deal with that thing? And why can't it make up its mind? I mean, is it jelly or is it a fish? It's not enough to be just a non-polyp form of individual from the Cnidaria phylum (thank you very much, Wikipedia); oh no, it has to be a gelatinous fruit preserve that is great for long-term storage AND classify itself as an ectothermic, aquatic animal with gills and lacking limbs and digits (once again: gracias, Wikipedia). So which is it? It's both. And THAT'S what makes this life great. You can be a non-mammal AND taste great on a PBJ and no one can say anything about it.
But I digress.
One thing that makes me do the "Huh? Wha-?" is earrings on babies. "But that's so common," you might say. "Why would that strike you as strange?" For a couple of reasons, actually. (WARNING: If you pierced your baby's ears, YOU MAY BE OFFENDED by some of the things I write. If you tend to be easily offended, please skip to the very last paragraph of this blog entry. Thank you.) First of all, why pierce a baby's ears? What purpose does it serve? Unless you don't think your baby is cute enough and are trying to compensate. (I warned you.) Second, shouldn't poking a hole in your body be a personal choice and not something forced on you by parents who don't think you're cute enough? Now, I'm not female (stop laughing............I mean it), but it always seemed to me that getting her ears pierced is a big thing for a little girl. It's one of those "coming of age" type of things, like biting a smiley face into your imitation cheese slice or wearing superhero/princess/Sponge Bob/Dora undies. It's a moment in a little girl's life when she can say, "I want to show my independence by jamming little metal spikes through my lobes." I can respect that.
However, lots of people pierce their daughters' ears right after birth. It seems cruel to me. But in some countries everybody does it. Everybody. That many people can't be cruel, right? In the United States we dress our pets in costumes. That seems cruel to me, but if everybody does it it must be fine, right? And, you know what? Who am I to tell other people how to parent their children? They can jam whatever they want through their children's ears and it's ok by me. Because it's THEIR child. Not mine.
Yunuen is from a place where people like to pierce their baby daughters' ears. During our first pregnancy it took me a while to admit this to Yunuen, but as soon as we heard the sonographer say "It's a girl!" I knew the "earrings on babies" thing would come up and that it could possibly be a source of contention. I didn't want to offend anybody. I was so worried about it that I forgot to say anything until after our daughter was born... until the very moment my wife told me her aunt had sent some beautiful earrings for our daughter from Mexico.
Before I go on, I admit I had a more practical reasons for not wanting to give earrings to our baby daughter:
1) earrings don't take care of themselves and I feel it would be better to let her decide to get earrings when she can take care of them on her own, and
2) baby's have tiny earlobes.
Ever seen a woman who got her ears pierced at a few weeks of age and now one earring is in the center of the lobe while the other is floating somewhere near the planet Jupiter? Ears grow. If the earring-specialist twitched or was recovering from a midnight bender he/she may not place the earring right in the middle of the baby's lobe. Best wait.
Tentatively, I told Yunuen that I didn't want to pierce our baby daughter's ears. I braced for the reaction, the backlash, the explosion of the cultural Chernobyl I had just caused. Instead, she said, "Ok." And that was that. No earrings.
From time to time our Latino friends ask us why we didn't pierce our daughter's ears. Yunuen simply replies, "We didn't want to." No throwing Ryan under the bus for being closed-minded. No snide remarks about weird things from my culture (of which there are many... hopefully she'll write a blog post on them). Only support of my neuroticism--something I think is completely awesome.
In the years since there have been many other "Huh? Wha-?" moments in our marriage (such as the infamous Trail of Tears in Brigham City, an incident that will go down in Uhrey family history and yet shall never be spoken of again). They make things fun, keep you on your toes, give you good stories to tell. I know I'll inevitably have another "Huh? Wha-?" moment when I see my daughter with earrings. The day will come when my baby--who is no longer a baby, but a little girl who loves painting her nails, going to ballet class, and singing with Mulan at the top of her lungs--will beg to have her ears pierced. When that day comes I'll be happy for her--I'll even take her there. I'll probably cry. And I have no doubt she will look absolutely beautiful... something that my brain will definitely be able to compute.
Message for those who are easily offended and have babies with pierced ears:
UPDATE: A good friend of mine asked in a comment: "You wrote 'It seems cruel to me.' Did you circumcise your son? :)" I really liked her comment because it pointed out the inherent mistake of spouting opinion as truth (something I did quite well above), and also showed how easy it is for us to look at and judge other people's customs while completely ignoring our own. (I'm saying "us" and "our" when I should be saying "me" and "my.") Circumcision is the accepted norm in our Judeo-Christian society here in the US. For a long time it was just something you did.
As most of you know I work as an interpreter at a children's hospital. In the last few years I've heard the pediatric urologists say time and again that they no longer recommend circumcising to families unless there is a medical reason to do so. Meaning, they leave the decision to the parents, their beliefs, etc., without giving an opinion supporting or opposing the practice. That being said, what difference is there, then, in deciding to pierce your child's ears or remove foreskin from one of the most sensitive areas on the male body? Great counter-point. Admittedly I am in favor of circumcision, which makes me kind of a hypocrite because it is infinitely more cruel than piercing ears. I could spout my reasons and justify my opinion, but the truth is that WE ALL have opinions and customs and even though one person's customs may seem strange to us and we may not agree (such as piercing babies' ears), the people who do it have their reasons--just like I have my reasons for believing circumcision is ok. Do I have the right to ridicule or make fun of something just because I don't completely understand it? No. So, let this blog stand as a witness to my learning. That's what this life is all about, right? Thank you, Alicia, for pointing that out. It gave me a lot to think about and I appreciate you lovingly pointing out a great counterpoint to my rather flamboyant opinion.
(Alicia, creo que sé cuál Alicia eres y si estoy en lo correcto esto sólo muestra que sigues enseñándome, aún después de tantos años. Un abrazo. Te quiero mucho.)