I remember the day I called my father from New York, where I was living at the time, to tell him I wanted to get a tattoo. I was 21 years old and certainly didn’t need his permission, but I felt the need to run the idea by him. Having been raised in a conservative Jewish home, I knew getting a tattoo was frowned upon. My father, who was on the orthodox side, was not excited about his baby girl marking up her body, but he understood it was MY body and the symbolism behind the tattoo. So, without skipping a beat, he told me if this was something I really wanted to do, he would prefer I wait to have it done in Florida so he could go with me.
Two months later, my father picked me up from the airport and drove me to a place that he said was the best in town. He never tried to talk me out of it; he just sat there holding my hand and trying to make me laugh while I had what would be my first tattoo (and only for the next three decades) engraved onto my ankle. It wasn’t until I had my own children many years later that I realized just how incredible a gesture that was from him.
My daughter has been talking about getting a tattoo since the time she started speaking. I remember coming home from work one day when she was only four to see that she had set up our living room to look like a tattoo parlor, with pictures she had drawn taped on the walls and her sitting in a chair by the couch with magic markers, ready to ink up her next customer. As I sat down to have her scribble a smiley face on my hand, she would tell me how she was going to get tattoos when she was older because “who wouldn’t want pretty pictures on your body?”
So, I was not surprised when months before she was about to turn 18, she started to talk more seriously about what she wanted her first tattoo to be. She had drawn a simple butterfly, something we both feel a connection to ever since my mother passed away, as the tattoo she wanted on her left forearm. It would be very small, but the meaning behind it would be huge! I cried at the gesture and told her I would make her an appointment as I would go with her to hold her hand the way my father did mine. But she shook her head no. To say I was a bit shocked, perhaps even saddened, is an understatement. She laughed, though, when she saw my pouty face.
“Mom, I don’t want you to just go with me to hold my hand. I want you to get a matching tattoo! I want this to be a special thing for us BOTH!” I began to cry… again. I had been joking for weeks saying that I was going to give her wings to fly, and yet it was she who would be doing that for me!
As our children become older and start to forge ahead alone, it’s easy to feel forgotten, sad, and no longer needed. But if we do our job right – if we express our opinions but still choose to show up and hold their hands even when they don’t take our advice – then one day, they may invite us to not just watch but to be a part of the new life they are creating for themselves. And, if you are lucky, you will have a beautiful picture on your arm to remind you of that moment!