Sunday, January 13, 2008

New Year’s Ink

I started an otherwise uneventful New Year’s Eve by getting inked with my best friend. It was an uncharacteristic, sorority-like thing for me to do, and when I showed my wife the design and told her we were both getting it on our left ankle, she looked at me as if a Stepford Wife had popped up in my place, her expression clearly, “Who are you, and what have you done with my wife?”
Her surprise was not only that I was getting a matching tattoo with my friend since high school, but that ankle tattoos are discreet, subtle and socially acceptable, whereas I’ve always had the attitude “why get a tattoo if no one can see it?” and put mine in more public places. That, I assured her, was part of the fun—it was so cliché it was cool—plus I was getting another one in plain sight.
Hours later, I walked out of Infinity Tattoo with three new tats, and a respect for the pain tolerance I used to have. Not that it was that bad (ankles hurt!) but by the third I hardly noticed what was going on with my arm amidst the chatter.
The kids were old enough this time (it’s been two-plus years since the last, and twenty before that) to appreciate what I was doing during this rare absence from the domestic landscape. The older two had gotten over their earlier abhorrence of the idea of a needle dipping in and out of the epidermis, and were chuffed at their mom’s latest semi-respectable exploit, and our youngest for whom change is anathema, surprisingly ignored any differences he might have noticed on his main security object--me.
For years I only got as far as considering another tattoo. First because life was so speedy with two kids I didn’t have time to consider design or enough alone time to get one done, second because I wasn’t through having kids and didn’t want anything to stretch out of recognition during that desired additional pregnancy, and third, because our friends were so darned respectable I thought I should try to minimize any evidence of bad behavior.
Lesbian mothers are so clean-cut these days. While I’m sure there are plenty of queer counterculture moms out there tattooed up the whazoo, I don’t seem to run into them at the grocery store or preschool. The lesbian moms we know are hybrid-driving professionals with work travel, coaching soccer games and teaching Sunday school, fundraising for schools when they have a moment to spare, and excellent parents.
Some days they make me feel like a loser.
Not for my tattoos from twenty years ago especially, but for my lack of ambition or adherence to a rigorous standard of behavior. It’s not that I booze it up, smoke like a chimney or advocate extramarital sex--I just don’t have the selflessness or energy to jump right in and model the standards they’ve managed to not only dangle in front of their offspring, but actually live.
I’ve liked to think of myself as a cross-breed of cautionary tale/liberal arts career path. Sure, I have no highly paid skills, but I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for sixteen years and everyone’s survived so far; that’s gotta be worth something? I may have danced in my skivvies in my youth, but I gave all our three kids rhythm. And surely knowing how to get by on rice, potatoes, and ramen noodles is a valuable skill to pass on to any future college student?
Sometimes I’ve felt like I should melt into the background while other parents are lecturing on the sins of sex before marriage, drug use, body art and suggestive attire, their kids lapping up every word and creating judgments of their own based on the intermingling of parental opinion and popular culture. Let those shining examples shine, even while my wife and I go for the gray areas when addressing all of the above and much more with our kids, a simple “yes” or “no” not seeming to cut it as an answer.
And those gray areas are popping up like daisies now that most of our (and our friends’) kids are becoming teenagers. While sporting a Leave it to Beaver lifestyle can’t hurt, when you aren’t looking the Beav’ is watching Miami Inked and losing his fear of needles. While you’re talking about the disaster of teenage pregnancy, Gidget can’t help but see Britney Spear’s kid sister popping up pregnant in the tabloids and seeming just fine, though her squeaky clean image is tarnished and her mom won’t get Mother-of-the-Year.
Not that I wouldn’t choose squeaky clean for my kids over Britney (poor lass) any day—but they’re doing it for themselves now. Raising discerning, media-aware kids is as important as role-modeling perfection, though being a hypocrite is always a bad idea.
Which is why I can’t pretend to want to ban The Pussycat Dolls, boycott tattoo parlors (though I would recommend waiting until after twenty-one to go under the needle), or swear off lipstick, even after the lead scares. I’m just a big ol’ gray area for all to see, which, when you come to think of it, we all are, even Prius-driving Gortex dykes, and those who love them.

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