Written in Ink

A month before I left for college, I got my first tattoo. My mom didn’t talk to me for three days after she found out but I was 18 and I had been wanting a tattoo for so long. It was a Jesus fish with blue ombre ink on my lower left back to represent my faith because even though I was young, I figured I’d never outgrow that. I went to Sioux Falls, SD with a friend from high school who also got his first ink the same afternoon, also on his back. To be honest, though, I forget it is there because I never see the thing.

A few years later I added to that original tattoo after my semester in Africa, adding the Swahili word for compassion, “imani,” above the fish. It felt like a logical addition in terms of theme and I wanted very much to document such an important and impactful trip. Even though I went to a different artist, I went with the same color fade in the letters, this time traveling with my brother who got his first tattoo that same day. Again, I hardly remember that it’s back there. 

My next tattoo, a few years down the line, was far more visible which turned out to be unfortunate because it also turned out botched. Due to sheer laziness on behalf of the artist and naïveté on behalf of me, it wasn’t the exact design I wanted. However, I signed off on the thing because I was in Lincoln with girlfriends for a getaway weekend (HD was a toddler at the time) and was desperate to get the ink done. For this tattoo, I wanted an “Om” symbol on my left wrist (with purple ombre this time, because apparently that was still a thing for me at the time) and while I technically got an “Om,” it wasn’t the beautiful script-y version I had emailed the shop (see above about lazy/naïve mistakes). It was basic and I ended up not loving it. And that’s not great when you CAN see the darn thing!

After that experience, I became MUCH pickier on selecting my tattoos and the artist to do them. Thankfully Joel, the good friend of a good friend of mine, is a stellar tattooist and he quickly became my go-to guy for the several next rounds of tattoos, which I seem to need every 4-5 years. 

The first round on me that Joel did came in 2014, just before I left for my one-month intensive yoga teacher training in Omaha, and we went big, but in actual small ways, via not one but three little tattoos at once. The first was a cover up of the lame Om with a colored mandala/flower/wheel design. He did a great job of making something unique out of that mess. On my right wrist, he did the actual, correct Om that I wanted (so much prettier than the first). And on my right foot he did a symbol for “karios” to represent the idea of looking for those glimmer moments in the long days of motherhood/the moments of God’s timing in the midst of all the chaos of day-to-day life where very little feels divine. They healed up just in time for me to do the wild ride of 5-days a week for 4 weeks that was my YTT.

In 2016, Ben and I went for a tattoo date night at Joel’s shop for our 10th anniversary. We got coordinating crown tattoos (Ben’s first and probably last ink) to represent our marriage and our respect for each other in a less obvious way than some other symbols out there. We embraced the whole masculine/feminine sides of the body with his being placed on his inner right upper arm and mine going on my inner left upper arm. As a side note, that was a stupid-sensitive part of the body to tattoo – almost worse than the top of my foot, so I don’t blame Ben for being one and done after that!

My most recent project was also by far my largest and most intensive. I always knew I wanted a mother’s tattoo, and while Joel and I started discussing ideas at one point over the years, we had to put that on hold because I ended up getting pregnant again; this meant we had to wait until a) that was no longer the case because tattooing and pregnancy don’t mix, and b) I knew exactly who this fifth little person would be so I could represent all five of them in one piece. Thankfully I landed on the best representation that also tied in one of my favorite Tom Petty songs “Wildflowers.” In the song, TP sings, “You belong among the wildflowers. You belong on a boat out at sea. You belong with your love on your arm. You belong somewhere you feel free.” And so, I put my love on my arm in the form of five different wildflowers, each with a special meaning to me (although not specifically assigned to a certain kid): a rose, lilacs, a sunflower, a peony, and a ranunculus. Because of the sheer size to fit five flowers on my forearm, it took two sessions that were both close to two hours long. The first was line work that we had to let heal for a couple weeks and then I went back in for the black and gray-scale fill (which I always prefer because I find it to be less painful). I adore how it turned out and I get compliments on it all the time. But yowzers – word to the wise: the elbow is in fact the worst place to tattoo – there’s nothing there but skin and bone!!

Based on my history and timeline, I’m due for another tattoo any day now but haven’t been able to settle on what or where to put something, and if I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that (duh), you want to be really, really careful about those decisions!

*Post 47/52.

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