Friday, March 18, 2005

the tattoo battle

getting a tattoo is quite a decision. after all, this is something that will be on a person's body for the rest of his or her life. few things are more permanent than a tattoo. since i'm not a person who makes rash decisions or uncalculated moves in life, i spent a few years truly considering whether i wanted to get a tattoo. i knew i "wanted"one, but did i really want one bad enough to have one done and carry the stigma that goes w/ having a tattoo? that was the question.

i started considering a tattoo when i was about 25 and still married. i knew that it would be a huge issue, as his family was all about image. it didn't matter that they were "dirty underneath" just so as they were smooth as silk on the surface. i shelved the idea of the tattoo for the time, but it resurfaced after i was divorced. now i was only accountable to God and myself, and i really wanted a tattoo.

i researched the costs and the risks involved, plus i visited some of the tattoo businesses around here. they were called tattoo parlors, but the word "parlor" just reminds me of a bordello and i would rather not think of them such. i was 27 or so at the time, and still was unsure of whether i was willing to mark my body permanently or not. i knew how i felt about it, i knew what the Bible said about it, and i knew how my family would react. all very contradictory, too.

i kept pondering the idea and even designed the tattoo i wanted. i knew in my heart that some day i would get the tattoo, but now was just not the right time in my life. i had too many battles to fight right now to add another one to it by choice. but it was there, in the back of my mind, simmering. i had the tattoo, but the time wasn't right. time went on, and i kept considering the tattoo. i wanted it, but not enough yet to make the move to go get it. but times were changing. i was in grad school at this point in life (30 years old and in the fall of 96), and things were very stressful. my father was diagnosed with als (lou gehrig's disease) and not doing well, grad school was kicking my butt, and i was fighting a custody battle w/ my ex for the children and their visitation. i was totally stressed out. i was sitting in my office at school, trying to get something done, and realized i was just fed up. my stress valve popped, and i decided that i needed out of there. i decided that now was the time to go get that tattoo that i had been wanting, and i got up and left.

i went to body accents in joplin for the tattoo, but decided on the way that the one that i had designed was not right for this time of my life. i looked through all their designs in the shop, and none of those were right for me either. how ironic -- now i had the time for the tattoo, but the tattoo wasn't right. i knew that picking out a design or picture was not something to take lightly, and i wasn't about to chose something i wasn't sure of. i think i wandered around the shop for about an hour and a half before i made my decision. i took out my tube of desert rose lipstick, applied it w/ precision, puckered up, kissed a piece of paper, and handed it to the tattoo artist and said, "would you please put this on my backside?" he had a look of amused surprise on his face, but laughed as he readily agreed. now i had the right time in life and the right tattoo. a dangerous combination!

since the tattoo wasn't large, it didn't take too long. i was kind of worried, though, that i would wiener out b/c of the pain or something. fortunately, it didn't hurt much at all, but i still almost passed out. ALMOST, being the key word there. the tattoo artist had started on the tattoo and been working about 2 minutes when i suddenly felt very hot and a little woozy. i told him i thought i needed a cold cloth, and he quickly provided it and a fan blowing air in my face. turns out i wasn't really sick, but just so relieved that it didn't hurt like i imagined it would. he readily explained that it was a common reaction, as people often build it up to be much worse than it truly is and then are surprised/relieved after it starts. after that little break, we went on w/ the tattoo-ing process w/ no more holdups. before i left the tattoo place, i was given some ointment for the new tattoo and some instructions on how to care for it. it didn't hurt much, but it was a little tender. the toughest thing, though, was taking care of something that needs cleaned, medicated, and bandaged on your own backside! yeah, i could've asked for help, but i didn't want to tell anyone about the tattoo. i just had to figure out how to take care of it myself!

my decision to keep it private was for several reasons, but mostly b/c it was a personal statement. i don't have to wave a flag around just b/c i have one, and that's how i felt about the tattoo. it was my personal statement to the world, society, my ex, the court system, people who labeled kids of divorced parents as "at risk" and any other crap in my own life at the time. sort of like a private joke. i didn't tell anyone -- not my kids, my friends, my boyfriend (future husband), my parents. no one.

the other main reason that i kept the tattoo to myself was because i respected my parents and their views, which differed greatly from mine. i didn't fear them and i didn't feel the need to rebel against them. i didn't necessarily agree w/ them, but i had too much respect for them to flaunt my different views. i had made a choice that i knew they would not like, but i didn't parade that choice in front of them. as far as i could see, my tattoo was out of sight and could quite possibly go unnoticed forever in their lives. not often did they have the chance to see my bare backside after childhood! besides, my father was dying and he didn't need any extra stress. so, now i was tattoo-ed, marked for life. it was rather amazing, really.

i was terribly self-conscious about it for a while and knew that i needed to keep it hidden. i know you might be wondering how this could be a problem, but women often change clothes in the same area and i had children that were used to being in my space. there were opportunities where other people might be around while i was dressing. for several months, trying to make sure the tattoo was hidden sometimes stressed me out. the first time i really looked at it after it was healed, i was amazed that the picture was actually identifiably MY lips. until then, i hadn't thought a person's mouth was that definitive in shape. i mean, i knew there were different shapes, but i didn't think i could look at a shape and say "hey, that's (fill in the blank) 's mouth!" but i could definitely identify those lip prints! after a while, i became so accustomed to it being there that i hardly thought of it anymore. weeks or months would go by and i wouldn't even think of it or i would be surprised when i saw it in the mirror. that was a funny feeling!

in 1999, i decided to add to my tattoo list. i had my eyeliner tattoo-ed, both top and bottom. although permanent makeup is different, it still qualifies as a tattoo. it's not as deep and it's not permanent (lasts 5 - 10 years), but it's still ink implanted under the skin w/ a needle == a tattoo. there was no secret on this one, and even my mother was fine w/ it. but this was part of the image of a professional business woman. i guess because i had some logical reason for doing this it made this one ok. certainly different than a regular tattoo. so far, that one was still on the hush-hush.

around 2001 or so, both of my children started to express an interest in tattoos. it was quickly becoming the "in" thing. both kids were talking about what tattoo they would like to get, how much it would cost, and how much it would hurt. at this point, i decided to talk to the kids openly about tattoos. we always discussed things openly, and that always helped. i told them about my tattoo and they were both shocked that i had had one almost 5 years and they didn't know it. we talked about it being a life-long commitment, attitudes (likes and dislikes) that change over time, and artistic quality.

i knew at that time that both of my children would eventually have tattoos. i did not object to that, but did (and still do) object to people being stupid about tattoos! i talked w/ them about what and where was appropriate. i felt that if either of them was to get a tattoo that it should be something that anyone could see, but located where it could easily be covered up. society still has many preconceived notions about people w/ tattoos and will make decisions about a person based on the fact that he or she has a tattoo. for my family, that means people who have tattoos are military, white trash, whores, or some combination of the three. i felt that any time a person is dressed formally, the tattoo should not show. when and if it did show, it should not be offensive in nature or just plain ugly. after all -- this is a life-long thing.

summer is 21 and still does not have a tattoo, although she may get one next week. she has wanted one, but i would not pay for it. i feel that a tattoo is personal, and the owner should make the choice to do it and pay for it alone. it's no one else's responsibility or decision.

scott is 18, and he got his first tattoo in july of 2004. i say "his first" because he has plans to get more, although i'm not sure how many. he and i talked quite a bit on tattoos before he made his choices. he's a big boy, and he has a big tattoo on his right bicep. he designed the idea himself, and the tattoo artist did a great job of it. he has a celtic cross, dripping blood and overgrown w/ vines from an armband of the crown of thorns, that says "ONLY GOD CAN JUDGE ME". if a young man is to be tattoo-ed, a statement of his christianity is not a bad thing to wear, in my opinion. plus, it gives him an opportunity to talk about it, as most people are quite intrigued by tattoos.

he worked extra and saved his own money to pay for the tattoo. something that i feel is important for the individual's own self-satisfaction. plus, he also thought of the design himself. that makes his tattoo individualized -- not just a copy of some artist's drawing in a book. it looked good, and he was very proud of it. good thing, too, huh?

he showed up at the family reunion on july 4th in a sleeveless shirt, intending to show off the tattoo. his grandmother (my mother) looked at him, elbowed him, and said, "that's not real" and walked right on past him. of all reactions he might have expected, that one wasn't it! well, it didn't take her long to work her way through the crowd to pull me over to the side and ask if it was real and then to give me "what for" on scott's tattoo. when i tried to explain, she said, "we'll talk about this later!"

well, later arrived at 10 pm that night when we arrived at her house to shoot off fireworks. she was loaded for bear when i walked in the door, too. the first words out of her mouth were "why did you let him do that?" i was again amazed at her misconception that you can just make demands of a person and they will do it! this never worked w/ me when i was a kid; i don't know why she thinks it will work on my kids when they are technically adults! i calmly explained that we had spent quite a bit of time talking about the tattoo issues and scott decided that he wanted one. she said, "well, why didn't you just tell him that he couldn't have one?" i pointed out that he was 18, he used his own money to pay for it, he drove his own car, and that he could have one if he wanted it. she didn't like any of those answers until i pointed out that wearing a picture that proclaimed your belief in Christ and your accountability on judgment day was not a bad thing. in a regular t-shirt, it's covered up. hardly offensive to most people.

she groused around for quite a while, pointing out several of my faults as a parent and insinuated that i was just too easy on my kids. it hasn't occurred to her that i'm just more open-minded than she is on, oh, just about every topic under the sun. i might not agree w/ it, but i can acknowledge that someone has a different view on it and still show them respect as an individual. finally she said, "well, i would've just demanded that my kid not get one!" that was the final straw, as i don't believe that a tattoo changes the person wearing it anymore than ear piercings change the person putting the earrings in. i looked at her and said, "i thought my time was better spent discussing what and where was appropriate for a tattoo. besides, i didn't want my kid wearing a tattoo for 10 years w/o me knowing about it."

needless to say, that knocked the wind out of her sails. when it sunk in, she was floored to know that i had a tattoo and that i had that tattoo for 10 years w/o her knowing it. and for obvious reasons -- she wasn't open-minded enough to deal w/ it. at first she didn't believe me, and demanded to see it. considering what it was and where it was -- i was perfectly happy to show it to her after our previous discussion! i pointed out that i had been the same person over the last 10 years as she thought i had been before she knew i was tattoo-ed. then i went ahead and pointed out to her that 7 other people (both in-laws and outlaws) in my generation (on her side of the family, b/c that's the only one that mattered!) were also tattoo-ed. times were/are changing and she needed to catch up some.

she eventually got over the tattoo battle and even told other people that scott had a really nice tattoo. she never mentioned mine, and i didn't either. i figured it was too much for her to tell people that her daughter had a tattoo as well. after all, with it being her grandson (of divorced parents) she can put the blame for his rebellious nature on "the dark side" if she wanted to. it's not like anyone else would believe it all came from there anyway, but it might make her feel better!

well, the tattoo saga continues. i have my next tattoo picked out, but i have to earn it first. i set a goal to lose 40 pounds, and i haven't reached it yet. the last 18 months have been pretty rough, but i set this goal about 12 months ago. raven was born and had complications at birth, chris had left and we had divorced, i had a terrible experience teaching and walked out in october of the year, and i was staring bankruptcy in the face for "being so damned stubborn" (as my mother put it). i felt like my life was just sinking pretty low. on top of that, i had let my church life slide b/c of problems at church, dislike and disrespect of the clergy couple, and just plain self-pity on my part, probably.

in trying to get some order and control (and maybe a little motivation) in my life, i came up w/ the idea to lose some weight and reward myself w/ the new tattoo. the next step was to design the tattoo. well, that AND lose the weight! trust me -- designing the tattoo has been much easier! anyway, i wanted something that again made a personal statement. no one has to know about the tattoo, as i don't intend to flaunt this tattoo either. but it's documenting a phase in my life and significant events and feelings -- it's important. it's a permanent mark on my body.

the new tattoo, that i haven't yet earned, has 3 tiger lilies twined together, representing the 2 children and myself. i chose tiger lilies because you just can't keep them down. can't kill them, can't keep them from growing, can't control them, can't fence them in or out. i thought that was a good representation for us -- we're strong, we survive, we live, we succeed, we're a team, we stick together, we take care of our own, we thrive. we will come out of this situation and all others as a team, knowing that we always have the others to rely on in life. and because i don't want to leave raven out of this phase of life, a little butterfly fluttering around one of the smaller tiger lilies to represent her. she's all beauty and innocence and joy. that picture symbolizes a particular time period of struggle to success in my life -- w/ some major events going on. it's who and what i am and what i stand for.

i intend to have this tattoo by august 1, 2005. we'll see if i can make if or not. if not, i'll keep plugging away at it -- but i will get it sooner or later. the original tattoo that i had designed in 1995 is now known in my mind as the "perfect tattoo" and is still waiting for the "perfect time" as it must fit my life at that time -- when i have accomplished all that is really important to me. it is for when i am totally satisfied w/ my position in life and in all parts of life. then i will have that symbol put on my body. no one knows of this design, but i'll post it for all the world to see when i have achieved it.

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