Credit: Magnus Manske

Credit: Magnus Manske

I have a tattoo.

And if you have gotten any sense from this blog of the boring, pretty traditional kind of person that I am, then you understand that it is truly the weirdest thing about me.

I never even really wanted one.

The night I got it about a dozen years ago, I was just kind of along for the ride to watch my then-husband and sister-in-law get inked and then go out to dinner. I was in it for the food and drinks, basically.

My sister-in-law had gotten a bee in her bonnet about getting a tattoo – doing all sorts of research on, like, the cleanest place to get one locally and the best artist to do it – and it just enabled my husband’s long-held desire for skin art. So her husband and I accompanied them to their destiny with a needle.

But when we got to the tattoo parlor and were faced with the pages of samples of potential body stamps – cartoon characters, Chinese symbols, flowers – my husband started to think it would be a good idea if I got one, too. A REALLY good idea, he said.

I have never been very good at saying “No.” When handed a cigarette as a youngster I gladly puffed away, and when my BFF in high school suggested we take her dad’s BMW out for a spin, even though we were still a year shy of having drivers licenses, I got in and fastened my seatbelt. I made an excellent accomplice.

So, maybe lifelong issues have stemmed from poor decision making.

Anyway, the husband started some slight pressuring and before I knew it, I was hunched over in a chair with some guy sitting behind me and dragging a needle through my lower back.

I wasn’t even drunk.

And let me tell you, I have given birth to two children with absolutely no medication. Zilch. Zippo. Nothing.

And while the process of getting a baby out of you really hurts, I found natural childbirth fairly manageable. You just need to keep your wits about you.

You should have seen me then, carrying on in the tattoo parlor, sweating and feeling weak with my wits scattered all over the linoleum floor. I was in so much pain that someone had to run next door to the Cumberland Farms to buy some orange juice to keep me from fainting.

Later, one of the other tattoo artists came in to the little curtained-off area to survey the two-inch butterfly sitting on my lower right hip and said, “That’s what all the fuss was about?”

This was a man thoroughly covered in ink, with artwork creeping out of his shirt and all the way up his neck.

The four of us ended up getting tattoos in various shapes and sizes on different parts of our bodies, and then headed off to dinner at a local seafood place. We sat outside on a deck overlooking the river in the soft summer air, pulling steamers from their shells and marveling over what we had just done, feeling just a little bit giddy about our bandaged tats.

As a stay-at-home mom with three kids, it felt so edgy and naughty to say I had a tattoo. This was back before it became de rigeur for all professional athletes and everyone under 30 to be inked up and probably a cultural turning point for tattoos in general when mothers of three from New Jersey were getting body art. If you charted the history of tattoos on a timeline, that summer probably marked the moment when having a tattoo went from being cool to so last year — like Facebook and Uggs.

For the most part, I’ve never really regretted getting it. It’s fun to pull out as a party trick after a few drinks and I liked that my husband thought it was sexy. Now that he’s not around, I still don’t hate it. I’ve never thought of having it removed and since it’s on my back and out of sight, I often forget the bluish butterfly is even there.

But none of this is to say that I would ever support any of my children marring their bodies permanently with ink. One of the upsides of having a tattoo is that I always assumed it would act as a deterrent to our children from getting inked. I mean, who would want to do anything that dorky?

So I thought it was funny when I heard that President Obama was using the same rationale with his daughters. He has said that if Sasha or Malia got a tattoo, he and Michelle would get inked as well.

“Michelle and I will be right there and we’ll post it so that everybody will be able to see it and we’ll say we all got matching tattoos,” he told Ellen DeGeneres this week.

But I have one daughter who keeps talking about getting a tattoo. It would be meaningful though, she tells me. Not some stupid butterfly.

I’ve already come to terms with the increasing number of holes running along the perimeter of her ears. Every time I see her, it seems like there’s another one (thank god no freaky gages, though). But I cannot stand the thought of her ruining a perfectly good ankle or shoulder – covered in all that beautiful skin I spent years patting dry after a bath and slathering sunscreen on for a day at the beach – by some stranger with an electric needle. It really bothers me.

And even though I’ve never had an urge to get another tattoo, when my daughter brings up wanting to get one, I pretend to get all excited about us doing it together. I suggest we get the same beef-and-broccoli sign on the inside of our wrists or whatever.

She just stares and gives me the same withering look she reserves for when I suggest she gets a job at school or takes her car in to get the oil changed.

It’s quite scary, actually.

Before she turned 18, my daughter needed my permission to get a tattoo but now that she’s 20, she can walk in and get the side of her face tattooed Mike Tyson-style if she wanted.

It’s hard as a parent to sit back and watch your kids mess with the things you worked so hard to nurture and protect when they were young — like brain cells, lungs and flesh.

I’d like to ask my mom what she thought about four of her eight children having something permanently inked on their bodies, but I don’t think any of us have had the nerve to tell her yet about our tattoos.

Do you have a tattoo? Do you regret it and have you told your mother?

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8 thoughts on “How to Get a Tattoo

  1. I love your blog, and read it regularly.

    But this post? Well, I’m reminded of an adage frequently mentioned among the “inked” community.

    Q: “What’s the difference between someone who has ink and someone who does not?”

    A: “The person who has ink doesn’t judge the person who doesn’t for their decision.

    I’ve never really thought of you as judgmental til now; it’s kind of disappointing. People get tattoos for so many reasons, and your comparison of a visual/artistic representation or reminder of something overcome, for example, to a pair of Uggs as a “cool” statement is, quite frankly, really condescending.

    I have 7 tattoos. I do not regret any of them. Yes, my mother has seen some of them. Each one holds very deep meaning for me. The most recent of them is on my right ankle – it says, “Syd #35”. It’s in memorial of Sydney Marie Angle – my friend’s 9 year old daughter who was killed in the tornado that leveled Moore, Oklahoma last year. She, along with 6 of her classmates were crushed under the weight of their own school building. But based on the attitude you seem to convey, that’s probably a pretty trite reason.

    You’ve mentioned that sometimes it’s hard to relate to your daughter. Perhaps, instead of feigning interest in her desire, and rolling your eyes, you should really listen to her. Talk about why she wants it. What is she looking to get? What’s the meaning behind it?

    Getting inked is definitely a decision that *should* be made with careful consideration, as laser removal is expensive and more painful than the original ink. But that doesn’t mean that it’s a bad decision simply because you don’t happen to like your own.

    And yes, I do have kids. They are 22, 20, and 18. All 3 of them have ink, and I am the one who took them to my artist to have them done. In fact, they just got a “sibling” tattoo done last weekend. It’s the same symbol, in the same spot, on all 3 of them, to remind them of the intense bond they share. I love that they have it, as my siblings and I are not close at all.

    I apologize if I seemed defensive or bitchy; it honestly wasn’t my intent. This post just seemed kind of out of character from what I’ve read from you.

    One more thing and I’ll shut up. May I suggest that you watch this video? It’s just under 3 minutes long, but it might give you a little more insight.

    • I love your feedback and think I should have been clearer: I think people like me give tattoos a bad name. Or something like that. I really wish that I had put more thought into mine and was more passionate about getting one. It’s people like you that I really admire. People who are passionate about their ink. I don’t dislike tattoos, I just think mine wasn’t gotten with the right intention. And frankly, I find tattoos super sexy on guys and spent more than a few yoga classes admiring the one wrapped around my instructor’s bicep. And of course, my daughter has the right intention — she even draws sketches of what she’d like to get. It’s just that I hate to see that perfect little (okay, now pretty tall) body that I made, marred by anything. But I respect her intention and if she ends up with one, or seven, I’ll get over it and admire her for her convictions. As I do you. Thanks again for reading and calling me out …

      • Point definitely taken. If you got your ink without any thought or intent, as you mentioned, than I think I see where you’re coming from. For you, it was what Jimmy Buffett calls “a permanent reminder of a temporary feeling”. =)

        And I do understand the idea of looking at your kids and thinking they’re just perfect the way they are. It’s why I was so peeved at my youngest when, after having 8 stitches to sew his forehead back together last summer, he flat out refused ANY salve or oil, etc, to be applied to the wound. I patiently explained that it would help reduce the scarring. He rolled his eyes and said, “DUH, Mom. I KNOW that. That’s why I don’t want you near me with that stuff. I WANT it to scar. Chicks dig scars.” Sigh.

        Thank you for understanding that I wasn’t trying to be bitchy. But I do admit to feeling defensive sometimes when people seem to be disparaging tattoos based on old stereotypes.

        Just tell you daughter Mom’s Three Tattoo Rules. #1 – NO names unless it’s family. #2 – Make it mean something; don’t get some tribal barbed wire when you’re not Maori/Samoan/Polynesian or a fairy because it’s “cute”. #3 – Know your artist. Not just “hey, this is {Name}”. Sit down and make sure he or she understands your vision and your style. Ask to see his or her portfolio. Understand that the artist is the expert here. If she or he tells you, “that part won’t render correctly on skin”, believe it. It won’t, and it will look awful.

        • Excellent song reference for the situation. I have pretty thick skin so am pretty good at trying to not take things personally and hear what people are trying to say so really glad you shared your thoughts and especially liked your tips for my girl. Enjoy the weekend … 🙂

  2. I do not have a tatoo and I wish I were as clever as the Obamas. Instead, I made the mistake, many years ago, of threatening a son with expulsion from my household should he follow through with his plan to get one. By the age of 30 he was hard pressed to find a bit of empty skin to serve as a canvas. For the record, he’s almost 40 now and is alternately proud of and repulsed by all of that ink.And I have managed to accept it as part of who he is. In the end, we all make our own choices.

    • I am still struggling with the fact that he’s almost 40. What? But your finishing thought was the best: In the end, we all make our own choices. Ain’t that the truth? 😉

  3. Amy, I got a tattoo after my divorce at 50 in exactly the same place as yours. I thought I could handle anything after having 6 kids without anesthesia or without making much noise at all for that matter. My little image resembling a mancala (without any color-I made him stop after the outline!) elicited a continuous screech for the entire 20 minutes it took for that buzzing little needle to trace the design. No more for me either. But I told both my daughters that I’d get a matching belly button ring if they got one Thank goodness that didn’t happen!
    Thanks for another great story!

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