Currently, I have one tattoo and I’m considering getting a second. My children are not impressed. I know many parents worry about their kids and tattoos but not me. Frankly, I don’t think they’ll get one because tattoos are traditionally about rebellion and since their mother already has one, I’ve robbed them of the chance to rebel against me by rebelling against them first.
I got my tattoo on the day of my 30th birthday at 11 o’clock on a Wednesday morning. I was completely sober because I’m pretty much always completely sober but also because when I booked in the week before (there’s a time and a place for spontenaity and getting a tattoo is not it), I’d signed paperwork promising not to consume alcohol beforehand. So no tequila shots on the way to the tattoo parlour with my tattooed friend Nicky, despite her helpful suggestion. I was eager to follow the tattooing rules as they were laid out for me. How’s that rebellion going so far?
You can see where this is going: nowhere dangerous.
It seemed like a good time in my life to get a tattoo. I was separated from my husband; celebrating a milestone birthday as a single mother and a magazine editor. I was living in the first apartment I had ever decorated myself – shabby chic with the kind of decor that would make a grown man vomit but who cared because there were no grown men living there, just my three-year-old son who thought everything I did was magical. Three-year-old boys are the best.
I’d been thinking about getting a tattoo for a while. I figured that the biggest risk involved was regret and my chances of that were low. I was not young and stupid. Not on schoolies. I was also not in the early infatuation stages of a new romance where you are dangerously vulnerable to the idea of trying on new personas before your true colours calcify around your long-term relationship. I had no plans to get anyone’s name tattooed on my body or even written in a pencil alongside mine in a rental application.
As I closed out my twenties, I was, in fact, resolutely single. After several years of emotional upheaval which included losing a baby and a marriage, I was finally emerging from a long funk thanks to time, girlfriends and weekly therapy.
Turning 30 was significant for me in a good way. My twenties had been difficult for the most part. I’d struggled through them, banging into walls and doing all manner of self-inflicted damage to my life through a series of bad decisions triggered by having no clue who I was.
Now I knew myself better. It felt like I was at an inflection point in my life and I wanted to mark this moment on my skin, permanently. A celebration of sorts. A way to reclaim the body I’d battled in different ways for much of my life.
My 20s was a difficult decade in my life. My 30 was a new beginning.
Nicky had a couple of tattoos already so she became my spirit guide, deciding where I would go and making the appointment.
I designed my tattoo myself. It was wildly original: an Aztec-inspired swirly shape and I chose the sexiest place I could think of: my lower back. Yeah, I have a tramp stamp. A scrag-tag. Like Amy Schumer, I’m the girl with the lower back tattoo.
If you have no tattoos you'll be wondering this: yes, it bloody hurt. I can’t compare it to anything. It’s a very specific type of hurt. Maybe like it might feel to have a thousand tiny hot knives cutting into your flesh, I don’t know; that’s the description I use when my kids ask me about the pain.
I lay on my stomach with my pants pulled down past my bum crack as the tattoo artist - a bloke - went to work and my friend tried to distract me by cracking jokes. I winced but I did not cry. I don’t cry during medical procedures and it felt like one of those.
Then it was over and I was smeared with antiseptic cream and a bandage was applied with cling-wrap taped over it so I could shower without it getting wet. That night, I had a party in a bar for my birthday and throughout the evening (less sober by now) I dragged various male and female guests into the bathroom so I could pull up my dress and show them my tattoo, whether they wanted to see it or not. I was insistent. “Come and see my new tatt!” I shout-whispered to unsuspecting friends before grabbing their arm and yanking them towards the toilets. I was a great host.
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Wearing a dress and earnestly trying to show someone your lower back tattoo is a move involving a high degree of technical difficulty, best done drunk. I would repeat it in the future under similar conditions several years in the future, at the Logies after-party, on a dance floor at 2am.
A week or so later, my three-year-old son was in the shower with me and noticed my tatt. I was now calling it a tatt because I felt so street and very much down with the homies. “I want your tattoo to go away,” he said quietly, turning away from me. He’d been on board when I’d first shown him on the day I got it but he was dismayed that it seemed to be sticking around in much the same way a toddler is delighted when a new baby sibling comes home from the hospital until they realise this situation is not temporary and shit’s suddenly real.
The last time he’d reacted this badly was when he was two and I came home with very long hair extensions. “Hair AWAY!” he shouted angrily before bursting into tears. He flatly refused to come near me and I spent three hours getting them removed the following day. A tattoo wouldn’t be so easy to dispense of and besides, I bloody loved it.
Truth is, I forgot about it almost immediately because I couldn’t see it. My son (and then my husband when we got back together and the two more children we would have) saw it way more than me. We are a nude house.
These days I can go years without even remembering it’s there. I like the idea of it, though. It makes me feel a little bit young and edgy. Now I want another one.
At 20, Luca is old enough to get his own tattoo now but I very much doubt he ever will. For one thing, his mum has one. Also our old nanny had a few on her foot, wrist and ankle. Suffice to say the demographic with which my kids most associate tattoos are middle-aged women. Rock and roll. Getting a tattoo for them would be about as effective an act of rebellion as wearing mum jeans or driving a station wagon.
But in this way like many others, I understand my situation is not necessarily the norm. There are lots of parents who genuinely want to discourage their kids from inking themselves and for you guys, I have a couple of tips.
- Reverse psychology is good. Nothing is so alluring to a young person as the prospect of freaking out their parents. Take that power away from them as early as possible. Since my children were very small, every time we walk past the famous tattoo parlour, Sharkeys in Byron Bay, I try to drag them inside. “Come on! You just turned six! You’re old enough to get a proper tattoo now! None of that fake tatt nonsense anymore! It will only hurt like slicing into your skin with a thousand hot knives! And the pain only lasts a few weeks! Totally worth it, right?” Watch their little faces contort and their eyes go wide and try not to feel smug
- . So is unbridled enthusiasm. If your child wants a tattoo or even speaks of them wistfully, get on the front foot. “I tell you what,” you must gush, “If you ever get a tattoo, whatever, wherever it is. I’m going to get the exact same one in the exact same place on my body. We can be tatt twins!” The threat of mum having a matching shoulder blade tattoo of a rose in the shape of a skull should be enough to prevent you from ever having to follow through. If they call your bluff however, I reckon just have the shot or three of tequila prior to going under the needle. It doesn’t hurt for long.
Mia Freedman is the co-founder of Mamamia Women's Media Company. She is a proud patron for Rize Up, the charity supporting women and children fleeing from domestic violence, an ambassador for Share The Dignity, the charity which provides sanitary products to vulnerable women who are homeless, disadvantaged or the victims of domestic violence and an ambassador for Sydney Dogs and Cats home, a no-kill shelter where thousands of animals are rehomed with forever families. She is also a proud supporter of Ladystartups, an initiative she began to support women who have started their own business.
She is the author of the best-selling book Work Strife Balance for every woman who feel like she's the only one not coping (you're not) and the host and co-host of three podcasts: No Filter, Mamamia Outloud and Tell Me It's Going To Be OK (even though Trump is President).
If you want to read more from Mia about her life, she's written a book called Work Strife Balance. You can grab your copy here.
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