A couple of years ago I put together a list of 101 things I wanted to do in 1001 days – things like “see the Northern Lights” and “join a book club” and “dye my hair a mad colour”. There was one thing missing from the list though – but it’s something I’ve wanted to do for over 10 years. Get a tattoo. This is the story of why it wasn’t on the list … and why it is now.
OK let’s get something straight right away. I used to hate tattoos – for years I hated them. When a friend got caught by the tattooing bug and my partner at the time went with him and came back with a tiny heart tat my heart sunk and I was deeply shocked. (Luckily it was a temporary one!) But now – and in some people’s eyes, all of a sudden – I am desperate for a tattoo of my own. I have the design, I have the contact details of a recommended artist, I just have to make that call. So how did I get from there to here? The change of heart is tied in with a lot of stuff that’s happened in my life, so to answer that question I need to go back to the beginning. Apologies in advance for the long and rambling story …
I come from a nice middle class family who are straighter than straight. My parents listen to jazz and Radio 4 and no one in my family has ever had a tattoo. Well actually Uncle Doug did, but he wasn’t a real uncle but a friend of my grandma’s, and he’d been in the Navy anyway so that didn’t count.
When I hit my teenage years I was quite rebellious – but never really went too far. I craved my parents’ acceptance and always felt that if I did anything really extreme – like dye my hair blue (!) – I’d upset my parents and they might reject me. So I did dye my hair, but only fairly sensible shades, and I did wear some mad clothes but nothing too extreme. I was fairly badly behaved in some ways – I drank a lot, and got drunk a lot, and went through a brief phase of truanting from school – but at the same time I had a nice safe group of friends and I worked hard at school and did pretty well. My mum says I was a handful and a real rebel but when I look at the stuff today’s teenagers do that seems to be readily accepted, I was very tame.
At 18 I left home to live with my then boyfriend (who did have a tattoo, funnily enough) and that was pretty shocking to my parents, I guess. So I didn’t dare do anything else to upset them – because I needed that acceptance still. After a couple of years we outgrew each other and eventually I met the man I’d go on to have children with. It was a torrid relationship, controlling and sometimes violent and I accepted this was the way life was to be – and started a family. (Crazy, I know, but we all make crazy decisions – and my kids are absolutely the best people on earth and I would never ever change anything about them!)
After many years of being controlled I finally broke away, moved out and started afresh as a single parent. My confidence had been shattered and I had to work hard to rebuild my personality, which had become lost along the way. It’s at this point that I started to think about having a tattoo. The idea came from nowhere really but soon became something of an obsession. Partly it was because my ex hated tattoos and I wanted to do something that would have shocked him; partly it was because I felt a whole new chapter of my life was starting and I wanted to mark that in some way; but mostly I wanted a tattoo to show that I was in control of my life now, not him.
So I knew I wanted a tattoo … but it never happened.
Fast forward a few years and I met a man I loved, moved to be with him and got married. Sadly the relationship didn’t work out and I found myself alone with my kids again – and with my confidence in pieces again. I had the worst year if my life and during that time I realised that though there had been no element of control in the relationship I had felt that I was living my life trying to please everyone but me … so once again the idea of a tattoo raised its head. I was in control, I could do whatever I wanted. It was my body, my life and if I wanted to adorn it with ink, so be it.
I knew what I wanted. In fact, I had two ideas. I wanted a poppy with two butterflies, to signify me and my kids and the freedom that I wanted to be theirs. I also wanted a phoenix – because I seem to have a knack of rising from the ashes of a bad situation. I did research, read reviews and looked at designs. I was all set to finally get that tattoo.
Except I didn’t.
And do you know why? Because through all the problems my parents – especially my mum – have been there for me. Mum has supported me emotionally and financially. She’s been the shoulder for me to cry on, the sounding board for my frustration and the only one who believed in me when everything was going wrong. And she hates tattoos – she would be so disappointed in me if I had one, wouldn’t she? So I’ll do the right thing and not let her down.
So how has that changed? Well my daughter turned 18 at the weekend. In the days leading up to her birthday I began to realise that I was about to become the parent of an adult … and yet I still seem to be living a life that aims to win acceptance from my parents by not disappointing them. That’s crazy, huh? And anyway, my parents love me – are they really going to reject me just because I do something that they wouldn’t do themselves, something that they don’t approve of and don’t like? I hope not!
So over the weekend the tattoo thing came back to mind, in fact it’s suddenly become something of an obsession again. It’s not like it’s a snap decision – I’ve wanted one for over a decade now. At first I thought I’d go for the poppy and butterflies on my shoulder – where it can be hidden away. That way I could probably get away with it – without my mum finding out.
But then I realised that if I choose some beautiful artwork to go on my body – something that signifies important events in my life – I don’t want it hidden away, I want it somewhere I can see it every day. I thought about the phoenix again and realised it has even more significance now. Not only have I risen from the ashes on more than one occasion, I’ve overcome my worst fear – fire – by doing a firewalk. If I can walk on fire I can literally do anything – and I want something to signify that and to remind me of that every day, so I never start to doubt myself again. And anyway, I shouldn’t be ashamed of what I want just because other people might not approve … I’m 41 – a middle aged woman, some would say – old enough to know my own mind. And I think I’m far more likely to be on my deathbed and regret never having a tattoo than regret having one.
So with that in mind I have decided to have a tattoo on my inner wrist. Yes, it’ll be there for everyone to see, and some people are not going to be happy about it – but this is my life, my body and for once I’m going to take control of it and do what I want, purely for me, not anyone else. I’ve found a design I love that signifies so much to me; I’ve got the details of a recommended tattoo artist who I hope can bring it to life for me. All I need to do now is make that phone call.
It’s also on the list … #95 Dye my hair a mad colour has now been replaced with #95 Get a tattoo.
I’m sorry, Mum and Dad, if you’re disappointed in me. I hope you’ll accept my decision. But I’m a big girl now …