My first tattoo took less than three minutes.
It was the day after graduation, two days after his eighteenth birthday, and my son and I were texting one another.
“I want a spur of the moment small tattoo.”
The words came across my phone screen and I replied, “For reals.” But not really for reals. I’m almost 42, well past the age of the impulsive tattoo.
We’d been talking about getting first tattoos together later this summer. After watching a season of Bad Ink on Netflix last year, I’d been mulling over what my first ink would be. Sitting on it, making sure this was something that I wanted on my body permanently. Now here we were, calling tattoo parlors, seeing who could seat us right now. In the course of an hour, I went from responsible adult to unpredictable tattoo-getter.
I spent a lot of time over the past few weeks trying to write something for my son for his graduation. Something encouraging and inspiring. Something he could read later and remember that I love him, that I’m proud of him, that I’m honored to be his mom.
But the words weren’t there. Everything I started sounded contrived and cliche. I felt like the best words to convey “be brave” have already been written.
We spend a lot of time as they grow warning them of dangers. Teaching them to be responsible. Instilling a work ethic. Sharing all of the lessons necessary to make them Functional Adults (TM).
But when they’re graduating, we change our tune. Suddenly instead of “clean your room” and “wash the dishes” and “beware of strangers,” we have a new story to tell them. Be brave. Don’t take yourself too seriously. It’s okay to dream big. Learn to be comfortable in your skin.
We expect that because most children are good at having fun and enjoying life that we don’t have to remind them of those things. We don’t have to remind them to make messes, to use their imaginations, to be brave. Instead we use our instruction time teaching them to stay tidy, to follow the rules, to be careful. Except for that one day when they graduate and we tell them, “Oh by the way, do those things that came naturally to you 12 years ago but that we have told you to repress since then.”
How do you write something that challenges that without sounding trite?
I was the first in the chair, my arm twisted so my wrist was exposed to the heavily tattooed man who would soon be using his tools to forever change my skin. I was nervous, talking too fast and too loud. Then pain, but not as much as I expected. And in just under three minutes, my first tattoo was there. We traded spots, and not long after, my son’s arm was also inked.
I chose an eighth note for my first tattoo. I wanted something small, something that could be finished quickly. I wanted something pretty, and I think eighth notes are the prettiest notes. I wanted something that represented part of me, and music has been a part of my life since always. I wanted something that represented brevity, because even though it has been 18 years since I became a mother, it feels so short. Something quick, but something permanent. Like so much of life.
In that chair, I was able to say more than I could in thousands of words here. I could show him that yes, we can still be a little reckless, even when we’re firmly in our middle age. We can be impulsive even when we have bills and responsibilities. We can still have fun, even in the midst of jobs and menu planning and budgeting.
We can be brave, even if it’s just for three minutes.