Our daughter and her husband live in New York and mingle with the tragically hip from time to time. You don’t have to have been living under a rock to know that tattoos have been a big thing with the tragically hip of all ages for some time now. When we used to attend their street hockey league games on the Lower East Side, you’d see young artists, writers, musicians and stockbrokers covered in everything from discreet little tattoos of hearts and fishes to full “sleeves” of body art running from their wrists to their shoulders, across their backs and chests and all up and down their legs.
If you’re a parent of a young person who came of age over the last fifteen years, you’ve probably had a skirmish or two over piercings and tattoos. A friend wisely advised us early on to pick our battles carefully when dealing with a teenage child. I like to think we did just that, giving our daughter enough space to be experimental (e.g. blue hair) and enough independence to learn how to spend time on her own so that we could save our chips for the really serious stuff.
The summer she turned 18, it seemed important to our daughter that she do something to signal this first step into the world of formal independence. Her ears were already full of piercings. There was talk of something in the tongue. As a favor to us, I suspect, she didn’t do anything until the fall when, about ten minutes after we’d dropped her off in New York for her freshmen year of college, she went looking for a place to get her tongue pierced. By the time we saw her again a month later, we didn’t even notice the little stud in her tongue until she pointed it out. If she’d had swelling or infection, she’d endured it without any nagging from us. We didn’t say much about it and eventually the stud disappeared when the impracticality of a tongue stud became clear to her, too.
Our daughter still expresses some interest in getting a little tattoo every now and then. She’s an adult, so we stay out of such affairs, hoping that now that she’s in her late 20s and giving serious thought to having her own children she might be doubly cautious about inking something really obnoxious across her body.
One of my daughter’s friends is the wife of a famous indie rock musician. When they were together recently our daughter noticed for the first time that the woman has extensive “sleeve” tattoos up and down both of her arms. When she observed that she’d only seen the woman before in long-sleeved shirts and wondered why the woman didn’t show the tattoos more, the woman explained:
“You wouldn’t want to live for the rest of your life in the room you decorated when you were 16, would you? It’s the same way with tattoos.”
That same thought occurred to me recently when I came across the self-portrait shown above. I think I was somewhere around fifteen when I stood in front of the camera for this picture. Later on I would realize that at that age I looked like some kind of adolescent creep meant to be played on stage by Andy Kaufman or Crispin Glover. No wonder I had such a feeble social life!
I never had any piercings or tattoos. But I sure hope I never have to explain this picture to a grandchild.