Posted by: Kate | June 2, 2009


Have you taken the plunge yet, tattoo-wise, or do you consider the plunge something only taken by idiots and weirdos?

I have two tattoos, so far: a sunshine, with sunglasses and a smile, near my left hipbone, and a green gecko on my right ankle. Both are a touch more cartoonish than what one might associate with me (or, to be more accurate, than what I might associate with myself) but they both have personal meaning. The sunshine is a motif shared by myself and my mother – no matter how torqued our relationship has become, there’s a basic bond that is worth preserving – and my maternal grandmother. I know the design came from a necklace that my mother owned, and symbolizes the beach, but beyond that, I’m not entirely sure why that seemed like the best of all possible designs. Not that I dislike it, just that it seems like I could have drawn up something a little less cute. Ah, well – I was 19, enrolled in an engineering school and engaged to the wrong guy, chalk it up to one more skewed decision.

The gecko happened after my iguana, Frank, disappeared. Iguanas are lovely pets, but don’t translate so well into simple body art, so my previously-owned gecko got the honors. That ink happened shortly after I began therapy for-real for the first time, when I was finally starting to feel like I was taking some positive control over my own life instead of focusing all of my efforts on self-destructing in a million varied ways. It seemed as good a symbol as any for living life under my own responsibility and choices instead of always through the – hah – impulsive, reflexive lizard brain.

I’ll get at least one more, a Celtic knot type design incorporating all of my kids’ and husbands’ names, once I’m sure I’m done collecting them. (I’m hopeful that I’m done with the husbands, since I’ve finally gotten mine trained to my specifications, but I’d be fine with adding to the kids.) Maybe more someday, I dunno – if the muse strikes.

But why tattoos, in the first place? There’s actually a nice story behind it. Worth retelling, if I’ve already done so here. Sometimes the “search old posts” effort is just too much bother.

Anyway, before my mother and I went to get our sunshines – the first ink for us both – she was in the ER for her job, talking with an elderly woman who had been brought in. The woman needed help changing into her johnny, and thus it was that my mother discovered a very elaborate, gorgeous, flowers-and-butterflies themed tattoo covering much of her torso. You couldn’t have seen it when the woman was dressed, and the rest of her looked quite proper and anti-tattoo-ish.

My mother asked about it, and the woman said, “Well, when I was in my 70s, my husband spent weeks in a nursing home before he died. That whole time, I saw how the staff tended to treat him like he was just another piece of furniture in the room. Some people were great, but many barely bothered to learn his name and certainly never bothered to learn anything about his personality or his life. After he died, I decided that I wasn’t going to be just another old person in a home or a hospital somewhere – I wanted to stand out somehow, to remind them that I lived before I came there. So I got this tattoo just after I turned 75, and I have never regretted it for a moment. People notice me, and they sometimes realize I might have had some experiences and life before I was just another patient.”

We went out and had our first tattoos applied about a month later.



  1. wow – I love that story. Might make me rethink getting a tat.

  2. What a fantastic story! I have three: one on my upper right arm- a moon and some stars- which was my first, gotten in Israel as a reminder of who I was and who I wanted to be; one on my lower back (commonly known as a “tramp stamp”) of a Chinese dragon (it’s actually the dragon that is part of the Mulan movie credits– not MuShu but the black one under the movie title), as I was born in the year of the dragon; and one on the back of my neck- the Japanese symbols for “courage” which I got in between classes on a Monday in Keene, just when I was pretty sure ANE was going to kick me out of school.
    My mom and I would like to get one to commemorate our relationship and to link in her mother/my grandmother but she hasn’t worked up the courage yet…..

  3. Wow, I have never heard a tattoo story like that.

    But I was going to say, your MOM got a tattoo with you? My mind is blown.

    I know that tattoos are totally mainstream now, but somehow it just isn’t part of my culture. When I lived in California, I was the only one of my circle to not have one, and NOBODY in my family does. As the kids say, to each his own!

  4. I want one (or two or three) but I want them to signify something and yet be unique to me. I have designed a few for friends bt not one that meant enough to me. I want one fr my family, one for Derek’s transplant and any other “special” moments/people in my life.
    I agree that this is a wonderful story and hope that afew nursing home workers stumble on this post and rethink their profession or how they deal with their patients. You can make so many stories and simple things so meaningful.

  5. I love the story of the woman with the tattoo. I have 3 and want at least one more. I just need a design – which I’ve been hounding my graphic designer husband for over 2 years now!

  6. I got my first tattoo with my biological mom, it was her 36th birthday, so we decided to get our astro/birth signs on our ankles, I’ve never regreted it because over the years, when we’ve lost contact for months (or even years) I could look down and feel connected. I have 2 others, and plans for more πŸ™‚ they can be very addictive…

  7. Funny you should write about this. I just told Shane this evening that since we are putting off the conscious attempts at baby making for another 18 months, I want a tattoo. Haven’t seen him laugh that hard in a while. What he doesn’t realize is that I have wanted a tattoo since I was 19. I just have never been able to come up with a design that I want to have on my body forever. I love tattoos. I would be covered in them if I had any creativity. I definitely need to start playing around with different ideas and come up with something suitable soon.

  8. I have three. The ‘tramp stamp’ on the lower back is a tribal swirl with an oriental lily and a few other little flowers n stuff around it. The second is on the r/h side of my belly and is just a heap of flowers going from about 1.5″ under my belly button up round to my bottom rib. Those were ‘just cos’ ones.
    The third is four franipani’s on my right forearm? (the inside bit) starting from my wrist and heading up. That has a little story to it, mainly about personal growth.
    I love that story you told. So true, and so sweet.
    I want more but I’m trying to work out a design/placement. And probably something without flowers!
    Some people will always be anti-tatt, or anti-visible tatt or whatever. I figure it’s my body, they don’t have to look at it and mine are all easily covered.
    Of course, now that I actually want to have kids and we’re TTC, i’m starting to regret the one on my belly! (well I was 18 when I got it and was very against me having kids.)

  9. Great story. I promise to be one of the healthcare team to treat all patients with dignity. My pet peeve~nurses who don’t care anymore.

    I can imagine your gecko. πŸ™‚

  10. I’m a chicken. It hurts!

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