Tuesday, October 2, 2018

He made me a mother

I gave birth to this edgy, kinetic child twenty-seven years ago this week. From the time he was young, he knew he would never work in an office. He loved going to work with dad, roaming through collections of fish skeletons, identifying new specimens in the lab, watching the beetle colony process bones, exploring all the strange and magical wonders back stage at the museum of natural history. When he came to work with me at the magazine, however, he was bored to tears. The rustling of papers, the tap-tap of keyboards, conversations about adjectives, dangling modifiers, attribution. "I'm going to work outside when I grow up," he declared. "I'm never going to sit at a desk."

And now he is a paramedic, in and out of an ambulance all day. He has chosen a profession in which it matters not one bit if he covers his body in tattoos, and I am beginning to wonder just how far he will go with that. For his birthday this week, he sat for his fifth tattoo, this one the largest yet, a sailing ship and a rose on his forearm, the beginning of a planned sleeve. It's quite beautiful, though still a little red and raw, and the inked lines darker than they will ultimately be. But I'm still, after five tattoos, trying to get my head around the fact that my child's once untouched canvas of a body now bears these markings without my counsel or consent.

If there's any stronger evidence that our children belong only to themselves, the choice to tattoo the body is right up there. He approaches it like he's acquiring art. He researched this artist's pieces for months, and when he saw that he would be visiting New York from his home in Germany, he immediately made the appointment. All I can do in the face of his attraction to tats is hope I like his choices, and suck it up if I don't. I had to learn that lesson one summer when he had a friend who claimed to be a tattoo artist attempt a piece on his ribcage. It went awry, and is unfinished to this day. I mourned for months. I finally had to come to terms with the fact that I have no control over the decisions he makes about his physical person. Meanwhile he learned that just because someone is a friend doesn't mean you put the canvas of your body in their hands. You have to live with that ink forever. He has a plan to rescue and finish that tattoo next year, when he's replenished his coffers from this one. He's done the research and identified the artist he believes can fix it. His preferred style, he tells me, is grayscale neo-traditional.

Happy twenty-seventh turn around the sun, my beautiful boy. Your unfolding continues to be a wonder. We love you so.


  1. That is a gorgeous tattoo. Being 65, it always amazes me how accepted they are these days. I got a tiny one when I was 23 and my mother was just horrified.

  2. People like to say "oh, those kids will regret when they get old and have all those tattoos" but you know what? I'm over sixty and my skin is just as unwonderful bare as it would be if I had tattoos all over. So I don't believe that most of them will regret it. I think it's a generational movement kind of thing that actually supports them, identifies them, and sustains them in some way that our generation mostly doesn't understand.

    Still, as a mother of a daughter who has several tattoos, I hear you :)

    Happy Birthday, and many more, to your handsome and selfless son.

  3. I join in celebration of your son's 27th birthday this week and his passion for helping people and for his artist's eye and his love of the outdoors from an early age. As the saying goes, he has been given roots and wings.

  4. Happy birthday to your son. The tattoo is beautiful.

    I have three tattoos myself. I got the first when I was eighteen and the last one when I was in my forties. I wouldn't mind getting more but they hurt so damn much:)

    Hope you all have a wonderful day!

  5. Some people are tattoo people and some people are not.
    I remember when Lily got her first tattoo in someone's kitchen. Her then-boyfriend gave it to her.
    I have blocked what it was.
    Lily and Hank have tattoos. May and Jessie do not. I admire them on others but cannot think of a damn thing I'd want on my body for the rest of my life but when I look at all of the horrible age spots I have, I realize that perhaps choosing something that I found pleasant would be a far better option than having to live with what I can't but one can't just make that trade, can one?
    Your son's sleeve is going to be beautiful. It already is. And so is he.

  6. Happy birthday to your very beautiful son. I am not a tattoo person, but my step-daughters are and they have some lovely art on their bodies. Your son's newest, that ship and rose, is quite beautiful. I know his birthday will be a day of joyous, loving celebration!

  7. both my kids have tats., my son just the one. when he got called to go to Iraq the second time and for a year during the worst of the worst he had the hebrew word for 'life' tattooed his upper arm and when he returned safe he had it covered with a compass rose. my daughter has 4 or 5. she's married to a guy who has at least that many, maybe more and their son has several. the twins (their daughters) and I each have one, all the same, that we went and got together though one of them has just gotten another small one. the only one in that family that does not have a tat is the youngest. she's 17 and I expect when she turns 18 she will probably get one too.

    your son looks like a fine young man and I totally agree with not sitting at a desk all day.

  8. I don't like tattoos at all but I am all for personal choice. As long as a person is old enough to make those choices with all the information and knowledge that age brings. He is a beautiful young man and looks like that beauty is inside as well as outside. So, happy birthday, kid!

  9. Tattoos on our beautiful babies' bodies, gotcha. We still love them.

  10. Happy Birthday to your Handsome Son, I Love his Tattoo, but then again, in our Family it is the Females that got Inked and The Man and The Son have not... smiles. My Native American Grandmother had many Tribal Tattoos back in a generation when Women rarely had them outside of a Carnival Freak Show and I remember being fascinated by hers. It is True, our Children do belong to themselves and their Life's Journey may take different Paths from our own.

  11. Happy birthday to your son! I like the ship tattoo -- it's beautiful -- but I must say, although I flirted with getting a tattoo when I was younger (and ultimately got a very tiny one), I'm glad I didn't get anything larger.

  12. Happy birthday to your amazing son! The tattoo is magnificent! I remember discovering in the Emergency Room that my very conservative mother had one on her thigh, a single rose.

  13. What an adorable baby he was. I just want to hug him.

    Doesn’t becoming a mother take all our love and just expand and expand and expand it to places we didn’t even know existed? And then, it just keeps going. I wonder if that love ever stops? No. It doesn’t. I am in awe of it.

  14. Happy mommyversary to you and happy birthday to your beautiful manchild. I absolutely love the ink. I tattooed my right wrist last year in a visible area and decided I was okay with it. It has meaning so I made up my mind to simply explain it when I see people looking. Definitely approve of his choice and the artist did a great job. I wish I could have more. Sending love to you and yours.