When Mom Gets a Tattoo


I got a tattoo today.

That is a sentence I never imagined I would write. I have been a tattoo admirer in the past, but never a tattoo desirer. I couldn’t imagine an image or word I would want drilled into my skin. I would get sick of it, I thought; I would regret it when I got older. Then, a couple of months ago, I realized that my kids’ initials, in birth order, are AHA–I’m not sure how this never occurred to me before–and my first thought was “I want that on my body.” A true AHA moment.

Of course my kids are already inscribed in my flesh… the scar from the emergency c-section I needed with my first baby; the scar from the tearing I had with my last baby; the effects of eight cumulative years (and counting) of nursing on my breasts. But a tattoo is different. A tattoo is more conscious and direct, a story written on my body that I’m happy to share in public.

My kids are 22, 19, and 3. People often ask me what wisdom I gleaned parenting my older kids that I’ve been able to apply to my youngest, and honestly, the main thing I learned is how quickly time goes. When my older kids were younger, I felt as if they would be little forever. I couldn’t see past diapers, or later, past homework; every decision I made felt so fraught–if I didn’t read them the right bedtime story, I was sure I had put a black mark on their future.

Somehow they managed to grow up into amazing adults despite my various fumblings. My oldest son graduated from college last year and is a competitive cyclist. My daughter finished high school on her own terms last year and moved from California to New York to become a comedian. I am so grateful both of them are following their passions, and I’m glad I could serve as a model for them in that way, but I know I can’t really take the credit. As my kids grew, I watched kids from great homes fall into drug addiction; I saw kids from difficult homes go on to do great things. I saw that ultimately we as parents have very little control over our kids’ paths, that so much of parenting is about letting go and letting our kids become who they truly are. We love them and nurture and enrich them the best we can, but from the time we cut the umbilical cord, we have to let go of our children one incremental way after another.

I sometimes tell people I see my 3-year-old as an honored guest in my life, and their faces flinch as if I’ve said the most horrific thing. I don’t mean that he doesn’t feel like a real part of the family; I don’t mean he doesn’t have full citizenship in my heart. I just mean, having watched my older kids reach adulthood, I know our shared residence is temporary. That’s what we hope for as parents, at least. And I want to savor the time I do have with him as much as I can. If I’ve gained any wisdom as a mother the first time through, that’s it–knowing to relish the moments we share with our children because those moments are swiftly, shockingly fleeting.

Perhaps part of my desire for a tattoo with my kids’ initials is a desire for some permanence in the midst of all this flux. My love for my children is permanent, of course, but now I have a physical representation of that love on my skin. A reminder that my most honored guests can always come home to me, their first home, as long as I’m walking this earth. A reminder, too, to always be open to revelation, to discovery, to those shared AHA moments that give our temporary lives their own small taste of infinity.

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Gayle BrandeisGayle Brandeis is the author of Fruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration for Women Who Write, The Book of Dead Birds, Self Storage, Delta Girls, and My Life with the Lincolns, which won a Silver Nautilus Award for Middle Grade/Teen Fiction. The Book of Live Wires, sequel to The Book of Dead Birds, is available as an ebook. Gayle lives in Riverside, CA, where she is currently serving a two year appointment as the Inlandia Literary Laureate and is mom to two adult kids and a toddler.

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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