Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Under the gun

For A's 18th birthday, I took her to get what she calls her "first" tattoo. I would like it if it were her only tattoo, but that's her decision to make. And if she does get more, I will probably end up liking them. I just don't want her rushing out to get them all while she is so young. Several of her friends have four or more tattoos and they are not 19 years old yet. I know it is a part of our popular culture right now. And in general I don't dislike tattoos. In fact, I appreciate the artwork and creativity of many of them.
So if I don't want A to be the tattooed lady by the time she is 18 1/2, then why take her on her birthday to get a tattoo? A laughed and told one person, "if you know my mom, you know this was a long, planned out process. Not just some impulsive thing!" I do have the tendency to be impulsive, but not when it comes to something like this with my child.
A has been telling me quite regularly for the past two years that she wants to get various tattoos when she turns 18. Many were cool or creative and even thoughtful, but I just kept telling her it's a bad idea. 18 is too young to make that call. I can't tell her no, but I can give her my opinion, and my opinion is that is not a wise thing to do. A week before her birthday she asked me again, but this time she asked me to get her the tattoo for her birthday as a gift. Again I laughed and said no. But this time I said it knowing she was a week away and a dollar short of being able to go with her friends and do it herself. So I heard her out. She wanted to get a roman numeral 17 on her arm for her cousin Josie who died at age 17. This was not the first time she had talked about doing that. I told her we could discuss it. "Write me an essay making your case for this tattoo. Tell me why and where you want it." And so our conversation began.
Before I got her essay I wrote to her and told her that while I love the idea of a memorial to Josie, I don't believe in tattoos to simply commemorate bad things. There are physical souvenirs for that. The program from her funeral, the pink ribbon she wore in Josie's memory, the photographs and cards she has saved. Sad experiences are important. They can be life-altering. They inform your perspective on the world and can play a big part in making you who you are. But the tribute to those hard times is how you handle them; who they help you to be. How can you move on from them or grow from them if you are constantly reminded by a permanent symbol of that sadness you have tattooed on your skin? So while I think it's beautiful to honor her, what will that tattoo mean?
A responded to me with her essay, which was beautifully written. She outlined the reasons that the tattoo is a celebration of life. How it would remind her to appreciate the life she has because she is lucky to be alive. She wrote about what she learned from Josie's short life and sudden death. She brought up many of the things we had discussed when Josie died, and they are all lessons I know she has taken to heart and lived by since the day Josie died. It was thoughtful and very insightful.
She also wrote about the placement of the tattoo. Originally she wanted it on her forearm. But then she realized that whenever someone asks, "What is that tattoo for?" and she says "My cousin who died," the response will be "Oh, I'm sorry." She didn't want it to be a pity tattoo or something sad. So she decided to put it under her heart in a place where she can keep it personal, but still easily share it when she chooses to.
After reading her essay and discussing it with her further, I decided I would get her the tattoo for her birthday. It's what she wanted, and I was happy that she chose to include me. She didn't have to, and I am fully aware of that.
The day after her birthday we were at Grandma's house and I heard someone ask her about the tattoo. That was when she called it her "first." She responded that she will involve me again when she plans future tattoos, because she likes how much thought I helped her put into it. She said she developed an appreciation for the process, instead of just focusing on the thrill of the outcome.
I want to help A develop her decision making skills as a new adult, and I want her to feel respected by me. I'm proud of her. And Josie would be, too.


  1. She and I actually had a very long conversation about that and how you need to really think about what you put on you and how it will affect your future in all aspects. All of mine have so much thought and meaning behind them and I love it that way!!! I would rather have people not know the meanings behind them and that makes them more personal to me. But I do enjoy messing with people when they as what they mean or say. My first one I had been dreaming about since as long as I can remember and it has become such a part of me that when many see things that have to do with it, they think of me.
    I did enjoy talking about it with her because we share many of the same feelings and beliefs about them and it a way I think it made us closer because we both "get it". I do have something of the nature of her's on me too, so I get it, it's a memorial and a reminder plus I have always been driven by pain.
    I am so proud of her for going about this the way she did! And I know that she wants to make you a part of any other tattoo that she might get. But the thought and the depth of her tattoo is what makes it exceptional and so much more than just living art!
    Way to go Mom! Way to go A!

  2. amok amok amok~Happy birthday miss A :) 18 already.. i feel old. Well done mom, both in raising a decent person for the planet and for, even knowing it might be futile, putting your thoughts in her head. That whole essay thing...beautiful idea. (: