Right before my daughter turned eighteen, she told me she wanted to get a tattoo on her birthday. I was surprised, to say the least. We've talked about tattoos, and I'm a no tattoo kind of person. I don't judge people who have them. I just never felt the need to get one. I think the human body is a work of art in itself. But, I've seen and appreciated the beauty of the art of tattoos. It dawned on me that when we had these conversations, she was always doing the listening to my opinion on the matter, but not expressing her view.
My first reaction was to remind her that she always tells me that the frontal lobe of the brain, where the decision-making takes place, doesn't fully develop until the age of twenty-five. So, making a permanent decision at her age isn't a good idea based on that alone. But, since she was adamant about it, I went on a quest to talk to women who have tattoos to find out how they feel about them.
It was all over the map. One friend said she regretted her first four tattoos, but loves the fifth one and is having the others removed. Obviously, getting a "tramp stamp" is regrettable for sure. And, there is the boyfriend's name. Again, regrettable. Also, something cheesy from a temporary craze or phase is not a smart idea. I also became aware that this is a generational thing. Most young people I talked to didn't know anyone who didn't have a tattoo.
The conversation would always move to what does she want and why? And that is where the tide turned for me.
A year before, she came across a video game called Night in the Woods, a character-driven platformer with a lot of messages about personal problems and overcoming them. While the game itself resonated with her, Castys, a mythological figure who appears in the form of a constellation, particularly struck a chord. She was an architect who tried to build a tower to heaven, and it angered the Gods, so they decided to drown her as punishment. But when they tried to drown her, she refused to die.
"That particular character, her design, and the way her story was told really got to me. It reminded me of how I think when I'm in a deep depressive state. Because while I do get bad sometimes I know I can't stay there. I can't let myself drown in all of that. Because I have a lot to do." This figure would go on to be prominently featured towards the top of her left arm.
That brought our conversation to the character Edna from The Awakening, by Kate Chopin, which my daughter read in tenth grade English. Edna was in an unhappy marriage and felt trapped by society. The book told the story of her general progression into depression because of her seemingly unchangeable fate of being that good wife and mother and having no way out. The book ended with her walking out into the ocean until she knew she didn't have the strength to make it back to shore. She committed suicide by drowning herself.
After finishing reading it, the class discussed the ending, what their feelings were on it, and what it meant symbolically to the story.
The majority of the class seemed to agree that Edna's committing suicide was an act of independence and symbolized her taking control of her own fate, which was a particularly concerning thing to hear from a class of high school sophomores. My daughter had the opposite opinion on the matter, arguing that suicide hardly matters as a measure of taking control of one's life when it results in the loss of that life.
You can imagine how happy I am to know my daughter feels this way. We have always talked about everything, including depression. Mine and hers. Grateful that neither of us is clinical, nor suicidal. I have shared with her on numerous occasions about the highs and lows of my life. And, that it is something that is normal and should be openly discussed.
For artists, there are tremendous creative highs and hopeless lows. When the song is done and perfectly crafted, the drawing is complete, the book is written, the project is over, or the show is done, there is a let-down. When there is a rejection of our work or something seems impossible to figure out or, just out of reach, a dream squashed, trusted people let us down, there is disappointment. And that's just professional stuff.
The personal stuff with friendships, love life and family, including social media drama has been far more searing. We talk about all of it. And yes, we talk about suicide. I've told her numerous times that even when I feel at my lowest, it has never been a thought for me.
So, how do I reconcile writing a book espousing raising a confident, courageous, and compassionate daughter when some days she feels she is none of those things? Some days I am none of those things. That is why. I need the reminder. We all do because the world can be a very harsh place, especially when your dreams are really big and even when they're not.
We have the conversation. We help each other remember that we are seen and loved for who we are. Creativity was born in our hearts, minds, and souls for a reason, and there is a place for us. And the right people will show up at the perfect time if we keep doing our thing and stay the course. Mostly, we have each other. Always. And I won’t let her quit. She won’t let me quit either.
I drove her to get that tattoo for her birthday. I got judged as a mom for that. But when your daughter is eighteen, she can do it on her own whether I take her or not.
Tattoos? They can now be removed. I hear it's expensive and painful. But they’re no longer permanent.
So many decisions she will make in the adventure that is her life. It's her life, not mine.
I did joke with her on the way to get the tattoo that I was disappointed that she wasn't getting a tattoo of my face. She promised that her next tattoo would be "your face…on my butt."
Death is permanent. I don't care if you think your loved one is going to some "better place." They aren't here. They may be "there." But, they are dead.
I still have her here with me. And I plan on being here for her for as long as I can.
I love that she refuses to die, no matter what life throws at her.
I love that she knows she has big things to do no matter how difficult the path ahead looks.
I love her.
And so, I love her tattoo.