I got a tattoo. Wait…don’t go. I have a reason. It started probably 6 to 8 years ago, when my kids…the boys particularly…began talking about tattoos. I downplayed the conversation, dismissing the chatter as kids enamored with a passing fad. Of course tattoos would go by the wayside, I thought. All fads do. In a couple of years, before my kids were old enough to purchase a tattoo, they would be out of style. I was sure of it. No need to panic. No need to make a big deal out of it. Just wait out the inevitable decline. Only they didn’t decline. My mommy radar detected that not only were tattoos increasing in popularity, but my own children were being mesmerized by them.
At this point, I began to wage a secret war against dying your skin permanently. I was stealth in my attempt to randomly drop comments about how unattractive tattoos are. I moved onto how PERMANENT they are, and from there right into how no one would ever hire you if you had a tattoo. I thought my guerrilla warfare was working until one day Aaron came home from college and wanted to “discuss” getting one. We reiterated the obvious-to-us issues:
- It is permanent, meaning you can never undo it.
- It will hurt.
- It might get infected.
- They might use dirty needles.
- It will sag when you get old.
- Bosses who hire people don’t like them.
- You will not be able to get a job if you have one.
- It is unprofessional.
- It has a negative connotation.
- People will judge you.
- People will judge me. (My real concern.)
- Why on Earth would you do this?
He was patient. His reasons were logical. His heart was set. His design had meaning. It was bold and was reminder of his foundation which he wanted engraved over his heart. He had an answer for each and every argument. I knew we were losing the battle, but we had not lost the war. One tattoo was not the end of the world. Once he had needles sticking into him he would see it our way and become our biggest weapon. He would tell all his siblings what a mistake it was and now badly it hurt and how they did NOT want to get inked. I just knew it. I was wrong. Not only did he like his tattoo, he got another one. He had gone over to the dark side and I chalked it up to the pull of the culture.
Next, Hannah was in Nepal when I noticed a word on her wrist in a picture. “Is it real?” I typed. “Yes it’s real.” She responded. “It says, Beloved.” That word is significant to me personally; of course Hannah didn’t know that at the time. But when I saw it up close via Face Time, I found that I loved the word choice so much that the fact that it was a tattoo didn’t faze me. The idea that she is God’s beloved, and that she would feel so strongly about that that she would etch it onto herself permanently, weakened my resolve somewhat. I found that my logic (which said this is crazy) was in conflict with my heart (which said, what a beautiful thing to do).
I began to pay even more attention to tattoos all around me. I saw them everywhere, on every type person, in every workplace, in every store, in every restaurant. My old way of looking at them began to shift, and even though I still do not like the look of people covered in tattoos, I have found that my stereotypes of what a tattooed person is like are just not accurate. I went to sit with a teacher friend while she got a tattoo in honor of her dad who had passed away from brain cancer. I talked to others who had pictures and words impressed into their skin. Most had significant reasons for their choices. A Phoenix is reminder that you can rise from the ashes of heartache and loss. A feather of faith helps you to continue to fight the cancer inside of you. Each image had a meaning. I was intrigued. I started doodling the words Live Fully on napkins, with cancer ribbons for L’s, and a Morning Glory. I had friends doodle too.
When I decided to go to Thailand, I mentioned to Hannah I was thinking of getting a tattoo while I was there. I mean, what a way to express living fully and being out of my comfort zone than to get a tattoo of my life’s motto in a foreign country? She was supportive of this idea and said if I would get one she would get one. We could have mother-daughter tattoos. I liked this idea…alot. However, when I arrived, my feet, that were to be the canvas, were the size of cantaloupes and remained that way for most of the trip. The last day the swelling was down, and we thought it might be enough to proceed with the plan. We arrived at the tattoo parlor to find it closed. I was so disappointed. I thought we could go to another one close by, but Hannah said, “I am not taking you to a place where they do not speak English, and may not be sanitary. This is a permanent thing Mom.” I heard the echo of my previous arguments in her words…and she was right. I left Thailand without the mother-daughter tattoo moment and to my surprise, I felt sad about it!
Upon my return to the US, I kind of gave up on the idea honestly. Somehow, getting Live Fully imprinted on my foot in my own town seemed anti-climactic. Where was the adventure in that? I filed my design away, but in my heart I still wanted to have it done as a reminder of the lesson learned in the dark place of Cancerland. Eight years post cancer, the priorities of the old way tried to sneak back into my life. The clarity of what is truly important faded over time. Work, obligations, frustrations, and pressures try to cloud the new perspective…to hide it from my view. A mark on my foot so I will not forget… that I will see every morning…seemed somehow appropriate. Not only appropriate, but intensely necessary.
One day Peter came upstairs and I asked him where he was going and he said, “To get a tattoo. Wanna come?” (He had been saving up, because I don’t pay for tattoos.) I jumped at the chance to go…a mother-son bonding moment through pain right before he left for college, who could turn that down? Before I knew it a young man (I stress the word young) with gauges in his ears, and a body completely tattooed including his face, was sticking needles in my foot. I was gulping for air and trying to remember my Lamaze techniques and thinking that this was indeed still an adventure despite the fact I was minutes from home. Peter held my hand, and I, in turn, held his. We both escaped with all bones intact, which was quite amazing seeing as how we used death grips to get past the pain. However, when it was all said and done, the end result was beautiful. To me anyway.
I know there are many who will not get why I would imprint myself. They will not see the need to make a statement. I understand that. But every generation has their own statement-making-vehicle. Ours was rock and roll. Our parents hated the noise of it. Remember? And we played it anyway. Our kids’ kids will have their own statement to make, (heaven only knows what it will be!) and their parents will one day sit in our shoes trying to convince them to see things differently, and if we are still alive, we will smile with understanding.
I admit I still do not like the head-to-toe tattooed look. You will not find me going back for more. It is about the meaning of the image for me…it’s like a story. Ink just for the sake of ink isn’t appealing to me at all. Yet in the midst of the voluntary pain of the needle, I found a bit more understanding of my children and their generation which was worth every grimace, squeezed hand, and deep breath. So I say… if you can’t beat ‘em… join ‘em.