I waited a very long time to get my first tattoo. I had always thought they looked awesome (when done well!), and I had my first one planned out by the time I was about 15. I didn’t get it, though. Not only was I petrified of commitment, and scared it wouldn’t look exactly the way I wanted it (total anxious perfectionist over here!), but I also knew that getting one would be a complete sh*tshow when it came to telling my mother.
My mom is very traditional. She grew up in South America and moved to the states in the ‘70s, when she was in her late teens. She held on to her conservative values and beliefs, though, and one of those beliefs is that tattoos are kind of vulgar. She associates tattoos with criminals and rowdy sailors, and not at all with her precious only daughter. No matter how many beautiful, veritable works of art I’ve shown her, she simply doesn’t view skin as a respectable canvas.
So, needless to say, when I did finally gather up the courage to get my first tattoo (on my 30th birthday), the fear of telling my mom was almost more terrifying than the actual pain of the needle on my flesh. I’ve since gotten a few more, including a gorgeous half-sleeve on my arm, and have even more in the works. Every time, I dread revealing the fact to my mother, and it sparks this particular emotional roller coaster:
1. Fear Of Your Mom's Reaction
The first thing that happens when I think about showing my mom a new tattoo is that I become crippled with fear about her inevitable forthcoming judgment. I know she's going to hate it... but I did it anyway. So... too late now? But that doesn't mean I want my mom to hate me.
2. Hiding... So Much Hiding
Every time I see my mom in the days/weeks/months after getting a new tattoo, it's always a very delicate operation that consists of wearing turtlenecks with long sleeves (and never, ever rolling up the sleeves). Basically, the more covered up, the better, so there's no chance of any fabric slipping to reveal fresh ink. Not very much fun in the summertime...
3. Planning Your Confession
I always start thinking about the perfect way to reveal my tattoo to my mom. I want to be gentle about it, and maybe ease her into it, so she doesn't flip out. Should I send her a photo of the tattoo (without my face on it) and just ask her what she thinks? But what if she just says it's gross, and she hates it? Should I take her out to a fancy dinner, and butter her up with wine first? Yes, wine... wine is probably the answer.
4. Excitement Over Your Tattoo
Inevitably, there's that moment where I forget to keep hiding, because, gosh darn it, I love my new tattoo. I saved up a lot of money for it, and it came out amazing, and I am so much cooler than I ever was before this tattoo... I want to to show it off to the entire universe!
5. Oh, Crap, She Saw It!
D'oh! Of course she saw it at the most inopportune time, and that heartfelt confession you've been planning goes out the window. I knew I shouldn't have bent over to pick up my napkin at dinner. Ugh!
It's not a good feeling to make your mom cry... but cry she did when she caught sight of my first tattoo. And every other time, too. On the one hand, you're a grown woman, it's your body, and you are technically free to do whatever you want with it (as long as you're not hurting anyone). But, on the other hand, this is the woman who raised you, and you don't want to feel like a huge disappointment. Who knew that tiny arrow on your arm would cause so much emotional turmoil?
7. Attempting To Educate Your Mom
I always try to educate my mom on the truths about tattoo culture, how much it has changed over the years, how trendy it is now (have you seen the hipsters in Brooklyn, mom?!), how talented the artists can be, etc. It's kind of like banging your head against the wall, though, because she's set in her ways and never really listens.
8. Acceptance/Compromise/Moving On
Eventually, we come to some sort of understanding. Sometimes it takes not talking for a few weeks or more (been there), but, hopefully, at some point you'll be able to talk about it somewhat rationally. Maybe you agree not to display your tat when you're together. Maybe she'll even come around and start to like them. One of my best friends actually made a deal with her mom that she wouldn't get any more tattoos in exchange for her mom paying off her student loan debt. The verdict is still out on whether my friend will keep her end of the bargain, but at least she and her mom came to a compromise! It might take some time to heal (both physically and emotionally), but how long can your mom really go on being mad at you?
You know, I really want to get a line from my favorite Maya Angelou poem tattooed on my inner arm... It will show everyone how educated and cool I am all at once! But... wait, what will my mom think?
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