“Want to come visit for a few days and have some fun? Your father is out of town, and I haven’t seen you in ages,” my 76-year-old mother wrote in an email earlier this year—just in time for Mother’s Day.
How could a daughter say “no” when her retired county commissioner, aging beauty queen, fussy, and perfectionistic mother was casting about for a partner in crime.
Sensing an opening, I jumped up and grabbed her hand. “Let’s do it!
My week was fairly free, so I flew from Bozeman, Montana, to Austin on a Wednesday. “What do you have in store for us? What’s the plan?” I asked when I arrived.
She responded by asking me what I wanted to do. “Honestly, I’ve had this idea for a tattoo,” I told her, “but I never have time to get it. What do you think about the two of us getting a tattoo?” I thought she would protest and roll her eyes.
“Well I don’t know. I mean I guess I could. It feels so exciting and wild! What would I get?” she asked.
The Mother Daughter Tattoos Adventure Begins
Sensing an opening, I jumped up and grabbed her hand. “Let’s do it! Let’s get tattoos together, just for fun! It doesn’t have to be huge, and it will be an adventure.” She laughed and agreed, and I started pulling up images of lotus flowers and mandalas on my phone.
Mom fired up her MacBook, sipped her chardonnay, and researched the highest-rated tattoo parlor in Austin. She didn’t want to go to a seedy, scary place that wasn’t safe. She wanted top notch. She’s a classy woman.
But then she remembered a shop in town that would meet her standards. You see, this wasn’t the first time she and I had gotten a wild hair together. About 20 years ago, she visited me in Seattle to help me take care of one of my new babies, and we were restless. We ended up having our belly buttons pierced. My piercing immediately got infected, so I took the belly ring out. She kept hers in. For 20 years.
The Belly Ring Incident
A couple years ago she needed an MRI and the doctor laughed out loud when he saw her belly ring. “That’s going to have to come out, I’m sorry to report,” he said. She laughed too, removed it, but couldn’t get it back in.
That’s when she found a shop called Electric 13 in Austin that does piercings as well as tattoos. She stopped by and asked them to help her re-insert her belly jewelry. “They were so nice. They encouraged me to pick out something new and more contemporary,” she said, “and did a wonderful job getting it in place.”
This wasn’t the first time she and I had gotten a wild hair together.
So we headed to Electric 13. You know, her old stomping grounds. Like an insider, she knew we should slip in the back door. “They do the piercings in the front rooms, and back here are the tattoo artists,” she said, pushing past me.
A man named Patrick was available. He was tattooed all up his arms and all over his hands, and he had a wonderful smile and an easy laugh. He quickly stenciled the lotus flower my mom picked out, and before she could ask too many questions, she was on the table with the buzzing ink machine. It took about 12 minutes. She did have some moments of pain, but mostly she laughed and hooted. “Oh I love it! This is exactly what I had in mind,” she said.“And it didn’t hurt at all, by the way,” she added, winking at Patrick.
Sweet Family of Misfits
My tattoo was a bit more detailed and took about an hour. Mom stood by the table and read corny jokes off her phone, laughing and sharing the space with everyone. The young assistant who helps clean and makes appointments came over and listened to the jokes. For a moment, it felt like we were a sweet little family of tender misfits.
“What do you think about this adventure, Mom?” I asked.
“Well, getting a tattoo is an intimate experience. It requires trust, willingness, discomfort, time, and a bit of financial investment. It’s not just for sailors anymore. It can be a meaningful ritual, decorating the canvas of the body. As my body ages and changes, I worry less and less about What will others think? and I care more and more about What do I want? How do I want to express myself?”
I’m her wild child, there is no doubt. And Mom’s inner wild child emerges when we reunite. I know it makes my more conservative siblings nervous and my straight-laced father anxious. But we love it. And that’s all that matters.
Afterward, Mom and I went to the market to get some wine and we spent an hour looking at the art on the wine labels. “This bird on this malbec would look so good on your shoulder…and look!” she said. “Look at this tree on this bottle of syrah. It’s so beautiful; I would put that on my calf, and have the branches wind around up the front.”
Half the fun is dreaming, but the other half is doing. I’m so grateful to have a mom who wants to experience life, not just watch from the sidelines. Life’s for living out loud, not playing it safe.
Hey, that line would make a great tattoo.
A version of this article was originally published in May 2017.