A Lesson in Ink

Young people today are sprucing up body parts with ink and adding holes to their heads (and elsewhere), all in the name of individuality and expression. Please understand—I have no issue with tattoos per se. In fact, I find many of them very beautiful, and I love the stories they tell (unless the story includes a fifth of Jack Daniel’s and a dare).
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That being said, I don’t have a tattoo and have no plans to get inked in the near future. Call me old school. Actually, call me needle-phobic. For whatever reason, I have never had the urge to get one, not even back in the dark ages—when I was a new adult myself.

I recall a graphic arts class during my sophomore year of college. One of my professors was a middle-aged Birkenstocks-with-socks kind of a gal who possessed some very strong opinions. This out-of-the-box thinker was determined to push her nontraditional views on our fresh, pliable, young minds.

One day, she informed the class that it was our personal duty to express ourselves through body art (aka tattoos). After offering the class an intimate viewing of some of her own personal masterpieces, she delivered a rousing lecture on the subject and challenged us to create designs for our own future ink jobs.

She apparently saw the concern written all over my face and called me out, asking if I had anything to share with the group.

With trepidation, I spoke up, the uneasy words trickling from my mouth. “Um, Professor, I was just thinking, um, that what seems like a good idea at nineteen might not seem like a great idea when you’re old, um, like fifty.” Feeling the need to clarify, I continued. “You know, what starts out as a rosebud here”—I pointed at my boob—“might grow into a long-stemmed rose over time.”

Needless to say, I didn’t do so well in that class.

Let’s fast-forward a quarter century or so. One mother-daughter pair I know went out and got matching tattoos to commemorate the daughter’s high school graduation. Female bonding via ink. A lifetime memento of the class of 2014.

Instead of questioning her daughter’s wishes, this mom chose to fully embrace them and head to the tattoo parlor too. She has no regrets. Her theory was, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”

Then there was our firstborn’s eighteenth year. A year of freedom—when many of her peers were sneaking off to tattoo parlors. Her dad, a tattoo-free conservative, was no more thrilled than I about a lifetime reminder of our daughter’s senior year imprinted on her ankle or boob or back—or anywhere else, for that matter. She hadn’t even mentioned tattoos, but with many of her friends getting inked, we wanted to be proactive. There are many different ways to raise children to be healthy, well-adjusted young adults (with or without body art). This was one battle we, as her parents, chose to fight.

While I tend to think with emotion, my darling hubby thinks like the businessman he is. So after a little research and some lively discussion between the two of us, we opted to take a businesslike approach in addressing potential body ink. We sat down to have a serious conversation with our still-tattoo-free daughter, armed with a stack of bills and a college fee statement.

We buttered her up by reiterating our parental pride in her accomplishments and acceptance into the college of her dreams. We affirmed our commitment to help her finance her education. Then we made it abundantly clear that as long as she was operating on our payroll, she simply could not afford a tattoo.

Call us control freaks. Call us old-fashioned. Call us parents. But it was true: We were bankrolling tuition, books, room and board. We were helping her with car payments, gas, and insurance. We were subsidizing her cell phone. Yes, she had a part-time job that paid pretty well. And yes, she did contribute. But her job did not a afford her the luxury of ink.

Our opinion was that once she earns her degree, lands her first full-time job, and pays her own bills, then she can make the adult decision to purchase some permanent body art. (I only hope it’s not a rosebud.)

Accustomed to her solid debating skills, we braced ourselves for her rebuttal. Imagine our shock when she said, “Okay. I get it. I didn’t really want one anyway. What seems like a good idea now might not seem like a good idea when I’m old. You know, like forty.”


This is an excerpt from Out to Sea: A Parents’ Survival Guide to the Freshman Voyage, a resource for parents as they prepare to launch their children.
**image used with permission from Sorry Mom tattoo products

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