My two year old daughter likes to ask me if she can get a tattoo. Obviously I’m not going to take her to get one, but she asks me every day anyway.
What the heck kind of toddler wants a tattoo? Children want to imitate their parents. Adi wants to imitate me. I have tattoos. A couple of them are rather large. One of my larger tattoos is a peacock on my right arm that goes from my shoulder to my elbow. Adi will talk to it sometimes. She’ll name all of the different parts of the bird (beak, eyes, feathers, etc), and if she sees a peacock at the zoo she’ll try to introduce it to my arm.
Two year olds are very visual kids, so one of the big ways Adi can imitate me is by painting her arms and legs to look like me. And she does. Whenever we’re painting together at home, Adi will start painting herself. I think it’s sweet that she wants to be like me.
I have enough tattoos in enough places that hiding them from Adi is impossible. I also plan on getting more, so if I want Adi to develop a sane and healthy attitude towards body modification I have to be open about it with her, and be a good example on how to do it properly and safely.
I let Adi sit in the room with me while I’m getting tattoos. She never stays for long (after a while it gets kind of boring) and she isn’t disruptive. Adi has seen my peacock tattoo in every stage, from start to finish. Adi saw the peacock when it was just a sketch on paper. She saw the sketches I traded back and forth with my tattoo artist (his name is Babiery Hernandez, and he’s fantastic by the way). She knew where the peacock was going to go on my arm (right under another tattoo), and how big it would be. Tattoo design and implementation takes a long time (for me anyway) and I want Adi to appreciate that. Large tattoos like that also take a long time to physically apply and are rough on the skin, so for the first month of the bird’s existence it was just the outline and shading. Adi also sees that they hurt. I’m not screaming or anything, but tattoos hurt (more in some places) and you can see it in my face. Adi sees the artist ask if I’m okay and she always hears me say that I’m fine. Since seeing my peacock get done, I’m finding that Adi has either a higher tolerance for pain, or is otherwise less dramatic about it.
I also make sure that Adi sees me doing my aftercare routine. She sees me clean it, put on ointment, and look at it to make sure nothing gets infected. That’s hugely important. Tattoos aren’t just a “set it and forget it” kind of thing. You have to take care of them after you get them. Adi needs to see that too.
Adi can also see that I have a friendly relationship with tattoo artists, and she sees that they’re respectful to our family. She sees that the parlor is clean. She sees that I take it seriously. If, when Adi gets older, she wants tattoos, I want her to take it seriously too.
Adi will tell people about my tattoos too. That “the man drew the bird” on my arm with “arm paint” and she’ll point to it. Then she’ll turn to me, point to her arm and ask me where her bird is. I’ll smile and tell her that one day, when she’s a grown up she can get one if she wants. It’s cute. Some people think it’s a little creepy for a toddler to talk to a picture of a bird on her mother’s arm, but I think it’s cute.
Adi might not get any tattoos at all (her father doesn’t have any… maybe she’ll want to be like him), but if she does, I want to make sure she does it safely, happily, and regret free.
Rachel Figueroa-Levin is a soapmaker, cofounder and educator at Urban Babywearing, a hyperlocal Inwood blogger and organizer, a political/life/religion/parenting satirist, and all around trouble maker. She is also the creator of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Spanish-speaking alter ego @elbloombito. You can reach her via twitter @Jewyorican.