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  • Writer's picturethehonestmama

My First Tattoo

A Lifelong Lesson on Making Mistakes

*Disclaimer: This entry may sound like I am against tattoos, and I should clarify in advance that I am in no way against tattoos (hence, I have four). I am, however, against the idea of making a permanent decision with an immature and hasty mind frame, in any circumstance.

As a teenager, I went through countless stages of rebellion. I made a lot of mistakes that didn’t last a lifetime, but that taught me lessons that would slowly shape who I was to become as an adult. Looking back now, I’m not completely sure if I was just experimenting with freedom or subconsciously testing my father’s patience level.

As much trouble as I got into and as many mistakes as I made during my high school years, believe it or not, I would still consider my father to have been fairly strict. I always had the earliest curfew (even at 18 I was required to be home by 10:00pm) and he was not afraid to drive to wherever I said I was going to be. We argued often because he didn’t understand many of the choices I made, but through my many mistakes he always made his best attempt at teaching me lessons that he felt would guide me toward a better path.

Once I graduated high school, I craved freedom and adulthood just like most new adults do. Graduation is part of a passage into a whole new world – a new phase of life with the ultimate freedom to make your own decisions and test new limits. So, I decided it was time to get a tattoo as a symbol of my rite of passage into adulthood.

I should first note that I was one hundred percent aware that in absolutely no alternate universe near or far would either one of my parents be supportive of my decision to get a tattoo. I knew that my mother would be disappointed, but that she would be able to get past it. My father, on the other hand, would not be such an easy sell. I knew that choosing to get a tattoo would be considered the ultimate mistake and the ultimate betrayal to him. So my plan was to do what any selfish, mindless, rebelling young adult would do. I would get the tattoo and my dad would never have to find out!

I will never forget the day that I sat in that tattoo parlor, just weeks after my high school graduation. I felt in my heart and in my gut that I was not ready to make such a permanent decision, but I convinced myself that I couldn’t back out now. I let the tattoo artist throw together a terrible design that was much, much larger than I ever would have wanted. In a matter of minutes, I had made the decision as hastily as shopping for a new outfit, and I was sitting in a chair with a needle in my back.

The process of getting the tattoo didn’t take long. As soon as it was finished, I was sitting outside on the curb trying not to get sick. I instantly knew that I had made a hasty choice that I would never be able to take back. Obviously I knew going in that this was my intention, but it was more of a fantasy than a reality until the ink was already settling on my skin. I knew that what was done was done, and there was no going back.

In my clearly very mature and developed 18 year old mind, my dad was never going to find out about this tattoo. As you can surely imagine, there were a few small problems with this theory. First of all, I grew up in a town with a population of about 2,500. There was no such thing as keeping a secret in a town of that size. Second of all, the tattoo wasn’t exactly something that could be hidden all summer long. It was a matter of about 48 hours before my dad saw the tattoo when I was out in public, and I will never forget his reaction for as long as I live.

As I had presumed, a tattoo was the ultimate betrayal in my dad’s eyes, so I wasn’t surprised in what I would consider his somewhat overly dramatic reaction. I knew he was beyond furious, and we were at a public event, so I instantly left the scene. Shortly after, I received a voicemail from my father informing me that since I was now considering myself adult enough to make a permanent decision such as getting a tattoo, that I was to turn my cell phone and my car over to him immediately. I drove to his house, emptied out my car and packed a duffle bag with some of my most important things, and left my cell phone on the table and my car in the driveway, knowing that I would never return to live in my childhood home again.

I made the decision to get that tattoo in June the year that I graduated high school. The next time I saw my father was Christmas that year. Six long months went by between the day my father first saw the tattoo and the next time that he and I spoke to each other again. I can’t begin to list how many things changed in my life during those six months. In summation, I moved out, started college, began my first real job outside of high school, got my first dog who is still part of my family to this day, and began dating the man that I would eventually marry during that time.

I also won’t even begin to go into detail listing all of the reasons that this particular tattoo was and still is humiliating for me. In a mindless haste, sitting inside of a tattoo parlor as a lost teenager-turned-adult, I flipped my entire world upside down. Everything I had known and been comfortable with for 18 years essentially meant nothing after that one day, except that one lifelong decision that only took me a matter of minutes to commit to.

When people ask me about that tattoo to this day, I typically get a little defensive or blow it off as a mistake that I don’t want to talk about. Was this particular tattoo a mistake? Yes. But as much as I hate the tattoo itself, it was one of the best mistakes I’ve ever made. I learned more in the six months after that decision than I’ve ever learned in my entire life. That one grown-up decision truly forced me to become an adult. I am forever grateful for the support of my mother, and that I began my relationship with my husband during that time as he guided me into a much better version of myself and helped me navigate this world as an adult.

Do I completely agree with my father’s reaction or the fact that it took us six months to speak to each other after the fact? No. I believe that time is too precious and we don’t get to keep our loved ones here on this earth forever. Nothing, especially something as miniscule as a tattoo, is worth holding a grudge over. However, we were fortunate to come out a little bent, yet unbroken on the other side, and I still wouldn’t change a thing.

As a mother, I know that my daughter will challenge me many times throughout her life. I know this because that is part of life for children – that is how they learn and become who they will be. I also know this because she is my daughter, and karma will surely not escape me that easily. What I hope for our future relationship is that she can come to me to discuss things, and even if I disagree, that we can have an open relationship and that she can feel free to make mistakes and to learn from them. Mistakes are a part of life that make us who we are, and when my daughter undoubtedly makes them, I hope that I am right there guiding her each step of the way.


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