"Mommy, how come this paint doesn’t wash off?” my three-year-old daughter inquired the other day trying desperately to rub the tattoo off my ankle.
“This is a tattoo. See the moon, the stars and the heart with wings? It's something mommy painted on herself with permanent ink many years ago,” I replied, bracing for the ambush of questions.
A look of confusion rippled across her little face.
“PERMANENT? But how will you get it off?”
“Will it hurt?”
“Why did you do it if it doesn’t come off?”
I paused before answering, gathering my thoughts. Why did I do it? Do I regret having done it? Would I allow my kids to mark themselves with images of their (fleeting) infatuations?
I chose my words carefully.
“Mommy marked her body with these symbols a long time ago, before marrying Papi and before all of you were born. Just like you guys go through ‘phases,’ I was also going through one. And I never wanted to forget, no matter how much my life changed as I got older, what made me feel the happiest.”
I didn’t know if she captured the message. And, at the time I spoke the words, I, too, was unclear as to precisely what that message was.
Moments later it dawned on me. I achieved clarity.
After college graduation, I moved to Costa Rica and spent a great deal of time in the rainforest; this humbled me, intrigued me and put fire in my heart. The less I needed to “survive,” I more empowered and alive I felt. As I lay under my mosquito net on the river banks listening to the cacophony of nocturnal species, I needed nothing more than the company of the dense nighttime sky that seemed to suck me into infinity. I was "at one" with the universe.
My future was still a mystery.
Upon my return to the US, this soul-searching and subsequent awakening led me to brand myself, lest I forget what really mattered in life.
Fifteen years later I have a husband, five children and many other important “affairs.”
Those moments spent in the land that captured my heart have long passed.
(Yet, admittedly, at times my restless spirit yearns for those days when life was simple, and feeling free and connected to the environment were the priorities.)
I guess I “grew up,” got sensible, practical, responsible, and pragmatic about life. Invariably, life moves on as we coast through stages of adulthood.
As for the children, the lesson I strive to impart upon them is this:
Living by a doctrine of principles, having a keen sense of what's right and what's wrong, and acting with authenticity and integrity is what matters most.
If I cannot be honest with them about what I lived through—what experiences molded their mommy into the person she is today---how could I expect them to be open with me as they inevitably go through the stages of life, pioneering their own terrains?
I’d rather explain the behind-the-scenes logic and passions of the heart that influenced my conscious decisions. The "whys."
They must learn the tools to question, to analyze and to consider all possible consequences and outcomes of their actions.
Helping them develop their own criteria and (sound) judgment will serve them throughout their lifetime.
So your lingering question may be: Would I be happy if my kids tattooed their bodies?
I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.