My children trace the lines of the Claddagh tattoo on my back. Their fingers tickle as the poke the heart and place their thumbs on the hands holding it.
“What does it mean?”
“It’s an Irish symbol for love, friendship, and loyalty,” I explain for the dozenth time. “I got it after I married your daddy.”
“Is that when he got his bulldog tattoo?”
“Yep,” I say, not adding that the small bulldog on their father’s shoulder blade had been kept a secret from his parents who, even though he was thirty, would have had something to say about it. To this day, almost eleven years later, I don’t know if they’ve seen it.
My second tattoo is even more hidden than my Claddagh. It’s the result of a night in Las Vegas where, high on excitement, roulette, and too many shots, my girlfriends and I got matching tattoos to the tune drunken cries of “Best friends forever!” It’s a reminder of my carefree youth as it pulls with the stretchmarks on my hips.
I’m part of a generation of men and women who saw their eighteenth birthdays as a time to get inked. My youngest sister’s hot pink hibiscus scrolls across her back while another sister has Elvis swiveling his hips on her calf. I have friends with elaborate tattoos in visible places. They’re nurses, in the military, artists, singers, have law degrees, manage departments, and are PTA presidents.One day, the nursing homes will be filled with women with a dragon tattoo, men with tribal bands, and both with the lower back tattoo. You would think tattoos would not still hold a stigma, but for some reason, they do.
Not too long ago, pulling up for a rare school drop off, I couldn’t help but notice a woman with long, dark hair pulled back into a ponytail. Beneath the thickly chopped bangs, her darkly kohl eyes were highlighted by tattoos. Her bare arms were covered with brightly colored swirls of art. More illustrations peeked around the neckline of her black top. She was gorgeous. Holding one hand was a cute little boy with a faux-hawk and a pair of red Chucks who looked all of six.
Even with my decidedly open views of tattoos, I found myself doing a double take. I wondered about her job, her life. One look and I decided she was far too hip and too cool to have a conversation with me. It was reverse judgement.
Elizabeth sighs as she finishes tracing the ink on my back. “I can’t wait until I get a tattoo.”
I stop and look at her. “Why would you ever do that? You are perfect just the way they are.” The words coming out of my mouth are decidedly unhip and uncool.
“So are you!” she replies with a smile. I force back a lump at the idea of my baby’s pale skin being covered with drawings. I want her to express herself and as much as I love looking at other people’s tattoos, and as much as I don’t regret my own, I’m a hypocrite and hope that she’ll be satisfied with a few piercings instead.
Do you have tattoos? How do you explain them to your kids?