The main objection to tattoos you hear is, "But you're going to be stuck with that for life!" Which is a pretty hilarious thing to tell a mom, because, you know, we have made people inside us. We're pretty OK with life changes. Still, getting a tattoo is not very me. I'm the type of person who got good grades in school, had steady friendships, didn’t get into a lot of trouble, went to college, got married, and then had a child. But I always felt like there was this tiny alternative version of myself sitting on my shoulder, saying, “Come on, do something a little rebellious. Get a tattoo." It maybe went against my ideas of what a mom is (the PSL-drinker in chief), but by 32, I had been hearing that voice for so long, I decided to act.
Only my husband and co-worker knew what I was up to as I walked into the tattoo shop on a random day after work. Inside, the walls were covered in laminate galleries of Mandarin symbols, and dragons, and skulls, and kittens. I looked around at walls full of artwork in awe. Whatever you wanted permanently etched into your epidermis, it felt like there was a rough number (#A23) corresponding to your true self. There was rap music blaring in the background and I bopped my head, trying to blend in — how do you demonstrate your casual enjoyment of rap music? I don't know. As I glanced around the room, I acted like I wasn’t nervous, but deep down I felt that shiver of responsibility a mom feels whenever she is about to make a Big Decision.
As I sat in the chair and the tattoo artist prepped my ankle, I tried to chat a little to ease my thoughts. Every response resulted in me laughing nervously like someone on a game show, trying to play along but utterly paralyzed by the fear of the moment, the cameras, the high stakes.
He peeled the backing off the stencil, and I saw it there: the idea of how my ankle would look after that needle got jabbing; the idea of me, mom-lady, as a person with a tattoo.
The tattoo artist and I made small talk about how he started as an apprentice and worked his way up to a senior artist with his own station at the shop. He mentioned he just got married and wanted a kid right away, and suddenly, there we were, discussing my rambunctious 5-year-old daughter in this den of roses and skeletons and torso-sized pet portraits.
He peeled the backing off the stencil, and I saw it there: the idea of how my ankle would look after that needle got jabbing; the idea of me, mom-lady, as a person with a tattoo. Once the tattoo machine was turned on and I could hear the buzzing sound, I knew there was no going back. I explained to the tattoo artist that I had waited a long time to get this tattoo. I recall his response being a friendly, "mmm," like he heard that all day.
So much fuss, I thought, about a small piece of art. I couldn’t stop looking at my tattoo. It was perfect.
When the needle hit my skin, there was relief. It felt like a cat lightly scratching my leg. I think I was mostly nervous about the pain. As the artist dabbed off the last of the excess ink, I snuck a glance down at this tiny mark I'd etched onto my body. So much fuss, I thought, about a small piece of art. I couldn’t stop looking at my tattoo. It was perfect.
Back at the office, my co-worker said, “Hey, I can see it! You know, I never pictured you as someone who would get a tattoo.” And that was the perfect response. Before I finally dove into the muddy waters of permanent body tattooing, I was afraid my friends, family and co-workers would think I was trying to be a trendy mom, or that I would get side-eyes for my choice of art.
But it's not about what other people think of me. Getting my tattoo was my moment to be myself.
The tattoo is small, about the size of a quarter, and on the side of my ankle, so not very obvious (that is the timid side of me poking through). I got the Aries symbol, from the #astrology gallery. It’s simple, yet represents so much about me. I’m impatient, but determined. I’m impulsive, honest and passionate. It is the perfect mix of rebelliousness and simplicity.
I got a tattoo at the age of 32 — beyond the famed 27 club, and after the "goodbye twenties!" party we threw to usher in my 30th. For me, it means exploring a new chapter in my life. A chapter that allows me to not be seen as a cookie-cutter mom, but someone who is open to exploring new things while staying true to myself.
The next time I get a tattoo, I will take my daughter with me to share in the experience.
I am not a perfect mom, but I like to think that the one good thing I do is teach my daughter to always be herself and be proud of who she is. When I first showed my daughter my Aries ram, she was excited, though she was more interested in TV and toys than the cosmic meaning of my tattoo.
I don’t have that itch for more ink yet, but I think the next time I get a tattoo, I will take my daughter with me to share in the experience. She might think I’m a ~cool mom~ for getting a tattoo, but what I want her to understand is that I am being myself and finding a way to show my colors to those who may not get me just yet. She will also see that I am doing something for myself, outside of my identity and responsibilities as a mom.
Many times after I had my daughter, I felt like my life revolved around my child, and gave up activities that I usually would enjoy, like shopping and writing. Women should not give up on their bucket-list just because they have kids. As a mom with a tattoo, I realize that the cool moms I've looked at from afar aren't any different from me. We're all trying to model the values we think are important for our kids, and claim a tiny piece of ourselves back in the process.
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