Friday, December 5, 2008


When I wrote about my mother, I mentioned that she was an advocate for long-haired hippies. It was one of her finest traits, that she never judged people by how they looked or what they wore or what they did for work. In the late 1960s, there was a lot of criticism from older people toward young men with long hair. When someone would say something to her about the subject, she always defended it, and always said, look at Tom; he has long hair and he's a wonderful person.

I've tried very hard to live up to this legacy of acceptance. Much of it comes naturally to me, but it still took some getting used to when my eighteen year old daughter got her first tattoo. I think as parents it isn't easy to see our baby's beautiful skin with a permanent dye. In this generation of young people, it isn't hair styles but piercings and tattoos. And even some of us who had long hair forty years ago, have a hard time with tattoos because they are permanent. Hair can be cut or changed, but tattoos can't be removed so easily. In the past, tattoos were pretty much a military thing - if you saw a guy with one, you could be pretty sure he had been in the service. Or a biker, of course.

It is difficult for some people to understand the desire to endure pain for a permanent design on one's body. All of the young people I know don't seem to mind it so much. They feel it is worth it for the result, a work of meaningful art. I sort of see them as bumper stickers for the skin. They express something about the person. If I could bear needles, I'd have a small international vegetarian symbol. The joke in my family is that if I'm under general anesthesia, they should haul the tattoo artist into the operating room. :<) Each one of my children's tattoos has special significance for him or her. My daughter's first one was her Korean name.

You should have seen all the legwork I did on the computer to be sure it was just right! Her second one has a connection to her work as a massage therapist. Her other two are more just for the beautiful designs. She made the decision to not have any on her arms or legs so that they would not show in a working environment.

My son's first tattoo was in honor of a deeply loved family friend who died at twenty-eight years old. His second one was a Korean flag. Then he got two stars, one on each arm, which have a special meaning for him. He wasn't as concerned about having them on his arms. He just wears a long-sleeved shirt if he doesn't want them showing. As is quite common with second children, we tend to not get as upset about things. We did pretty well with all of his, as we did with hers once we got used to the idea. But then, he made the decision to tattoo his entire arm. That was a bit hard, even for me. :<) He has had his childhood tattooed on his arm. Honestly, it is just amazing. I almost cried when I saw the red wagon. And the tire swing on the maple tree out front. It isn't all filled in yet, but he has an outline of the state and even a couple dog bones to remember our dog, Lucy who loved being under that particular tree. Whew! How can a mother not love it? How can I not feel proud and warmed that my little boy, who is not little at all anymore, remembers his childhood so lovingly? That he feels it was so wonderful he wanted a permanent remembrance of it on the outside of his body, as well as in his mind and heart?

So, there you have it. My mom's legacy coming through. She'd be proud of me, I know. And she'd be proud of both these grandchildren she never knew.


  1. Tattoos are such a work of art and your children have beautiful ones. A cousin of mine has his entire back covered with tattoos honoring his deceased brother. It is very moving.

  2. Being from that younger generation you mentioned (ha!) I must agree that tatoos are no big deal to me. But as a momma, I think I can imagine what it must have felt like when you saw your "baby's beautiful skin with a permanent dye" - I've thought similar things about my kiddo, dreading when he'll grow up.

    At the same time, I'm so heartened to see your son's tatoos! That must be so comforting to you, sort of giving you a pat on the back for a parenting job well done.

    And I must say, I love your daughter's tatoo as well - it's gorgeous.

  3. One of my sons has tattoos, the other not; very much in accord with their personalities and lifestyles. Tony and I have matching small hearts containing each other's names and 25 ... in honor of having made it to that anniversary.
    Jeanne :)

  4. Everyone gets to make his/her own decision about this. I really dislike tattoos but I know great people with tattoos so to each his own!

  5. Ouch! I'm a chicken, too. I'd love one, but I don't like pain and I'm not sure what I'd get anyway. :)

    I'm so glad you're ok with this. I think I would be, too. Amy only has two small tattoo and both are uncolored/white. Rachel had three. A rose with her name written through the stem; a sun & moon kissing on her back, right at the base of her neck; and finally, her daughter's name in a beautiful cursive.

  6. Nan, as always I think you have just the right attitude about tattoos ... calm, considerate and even-keeled. My Mom always said, "Don't major in the minors." I have a friend who lost her 12 year old daughter in a tragic accident and had her child's name entwined with ivy tattooed around her wrist. It's beautiful.

  7. body art is like all art - it's beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I enjoy looking at tattoos especially when they tell stories or reveal important things in a person's life and are unique - like the tattoos of your kids. my daughter has a few tattoos also - she's almost 30 now - got her first right before she turned 18 - so she could 'show it off' at her senior prom. because she was under 18 I had to sign and go with was an very interesting experience, and it is a beautiful piece of art. I'm too chicken to get one....afterall I was 35 before I got my ears pierced. maybe if I hit 65 I'll get one!

  8. Nan, your post gives me great courage. I, too, have a mother who accepts a lot (probably by force, with what my brother put her through)! I relate completely to your sentence about permanent dye in our children's skin as opposed to hair which grows out. I think and feel, all too often, that my son is MINE. This isn't right. But, it's a journey, isn't it?

  9. My daughter got one when she turned 18. I'm just pretending it's not there as I really don't like them. Do you think that if you had gotten more upset at your son getting the first one's he might not have done his whole arm? LOL

  10. Your son's tattoos are so unusual - really neat. I love that he is writing the story of his childhood on his arm. It's a real compliment to his happy upbringing, mom-Nan!
    On the other hand, my daughter's two tattoos I accept but don't celebrate. I think she plans on getting one of them redone at some point but they were very impulsive. It hurt to see that skin I tried so hard to keep safe all her childhood have tattoos on it! However, I try not to remark. It's her (adult) life.

  11. Ouch for me, too. I'm supposed to check my glucose with a needle every so often and I don't like it. I couldn't endure the pricks of a tatoo or the fact that they're so permanent. You are a wonderfully kind and accepting mother.

  12. What wonderful comments you all left. Thank you so much. Joanie, your words about the mother's tattoo were so sad, and also meaningful because they emphasize what is important. And I love the majors and minors quote.


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