08/17/2011 11:53 am ET Updated Oct 17, 2011

Are You Embarrassed By Your Kids' Appearance?

They were engaged in animated conversation, laughing often, and clearly enjoying each other's company. They staged a mock fight with their chopsticks for a contested egg roll. A mother and her teenage son were feasting on the midweek, Chinese buffet special at Mandarin Garden. I assumed that they had come directly from the son's soccer game, since he was still wearing his grass-stained uniform and cleats, like many other soccer kids dotting the restaurant.

They garnered their fair share of rubbernecked and discreet stares because of the teenager's hair. It was blue. A soft, sky-blue. And there wasn't much of it. His head was shaved, with the exception of a four-inch strip of blue hair that began at his forehead and ended at the nape of his neck.

The buffet was mediocre that evening, but that didn't seem to bother this mother and her blue-haired boy. They were having a good time together.

Last winter I encountered another family -- father, mother, and son -- in the produce aisle of my local supermarket. The tall son pushed their shopping cart as they walked closely together. They were talking about moving to California to escape the high cost of New England's imported winter fruits and vegetables. There was an ease and comfort in the rhythm and tone of their discussion. And there was something rather startling that distinguished the young adult son -- he had more facial body piercings than any person I had ever seen.

I will admit to lingering by them at the Granny Smith apples to tally up the number of piercings. Eyebrows, cheeks, nose, bottom and upper lips, ears... and maybe even a pierced tongue. Ten facial piercings, 18 if you count the ears... and 19 if I was right about the tongue.

Times may change, but life's passages do not. My teen and college years were spent in the '60s. I wore my hair very long in high school and cut it in college only when it caused my mother serious distress. In fact I surprised and delighted her on a few occasions, when I came home for Christmas break looking like a freshly shorn choirboy. "You look so handsome. Now that's my boy!" she'd beam. "What happened to Bob Dylan?" my father would ask. Dad always, jokingly pronounced my bushy-haired, folk hero's name, Die-lan.

Blue hair, piercings, and tattoos were not in style when I was a teenager. Back then, nothing said rebellion like your hair. My mom and dad teased me about my hair from time to time. But we too went to restaurants together and shopped in public as a threesome, no matter how I looked -- mom, dad, and Bob Die-lan. I'd like to think that we looked as comfortable together as the mom with her blue-haired teen and the parents with their multi-pierced son.

Those two sons and I had parents who never let how we looked diminish how much they loved us or wished to be with us... anytime, anywhere. Our parents knew what really mattered. So did we.