One day, my kids came downstairs, ready to go to dinner, and they’ve drawn all over their faces. Like every parent I know, my first instinct is to roll my eyes and grab a wash cloth, and like most 4 year olds I know, they protest.
“STOP! Those are my tattoos!” they tell me. “Just like you.”
I think of the looks we will receive at the restaurant, and I just want them to wash their faces.
But then I think of all the looks I received as a kid, maybe not at 4, but at 14, when I had a face full of piercings and a head of purple hair.
I was hurt and offended by the looks I got. It must have been hard for my parents — that’s where the judging eyes always fall. But they let me choose, even when it was uncomfortable for everyone.
The first time I dyed my hair I was in fifth grade. I proudly wore Manic Panic’s Electric Blue in my once-blonde locks … and on my forehead, neck and fingers. By sixth Grade I convinced my parents to let me get my nose pierced, and then my naval and my tongue. With some India ink and a safety pin, I gave myself a totally botched “tattoo” at the age of 15.
Later that year, someone with a real tattoo machine inked a dot on my face, that much to my embarrassment, my mom tried to wipe off. A year later, I persuaded my parents into signing a consent form to let me get a real tattoo, and more holes in my face.
My mom wasn’t always thrilled with these choices, but I was incredibly persuasive, and ultimately she always conceded that they were choices that pertained to my body, and only affected me first hand. If there was going to be an embarrassing blue forehead, it wouldn’t be her sporting it. If there was going to a swollen tongue, or infected belly button, well, she already paid for my health insurance, and she wasn’t the one who was going to be in pain. If I was going to get a tattoo that I was absolutely sure about, half about Jesus, half about a drummer … then she could laugh about it when I grew up, broke up with Jesus and the drummer, and realized what a silly mistake it was.
I take a second look at my kids, with their magic marker, and peel and stick tattoos, with their mismatched outfits that they picked out themselves, and I fight the parental instincts to wash their faces and change their clothes.
With a quick warning that someone somewhere might look at them cockeyed, I tell them not to worry about it, as long as they’re happy with the way that they look, and we go to dinner.
I’ve smiled and nodded many a time as someone told me about how my ink would look in 60 years. I guess I could teach my kids to blend in, and not cause a stir, or that self-expression has to wait until 18, but I think I’d rather teach them to do what makes them happy and not worry about what other people think.
I won’t be signing any tattoo consent forms — I learned that lesson the hard way — but for everything else, as long as they are healthy and happy, it’s their bodies and their choices.