Saturday, July 7, 2012

To Tattoo or Not Tattoo, that is the question....

I'm reposting this account of my reaction of my son's tattoo. Yes, I'm ashamed of how I reacted. Maybe when you read this- you'll see what a poor choice I made handling this situation  and will avoid the same behavior should something similar happen to you.

I'm a survivor. I survived the parenting of three teen-aged sons!

I have battle wounds, lifelong scars and some great stories to pass down to my grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

My sons are three very unique personalities so "something new" was always coming up or going down in the Murphy house.

Some of my parenting skills were adopted by others who thought I was doing a great job rearing three boys (blind leading the blind) but as you will see, my most shining moments as a parent, were usually preceeded by a blundering attempt controlled by knee-jerk reactions. (Now I know where the word JERK originated)

There were times, though, I would feel very passionate about an issue and there was no moving this Momma! Some of those things I don't regret, but other things I did not handle properly at all, and later, I would find the need to apologize to my sons. Sometimes the apology would come immediately, other times it has come years after the fact when it just dawned on me that I hurt them.

I am happy to report that my sons are very merciful!

One particular incident that I handled all wrong was the tattoo debate.Once the boys hit about 13-years-old, they would start asking, "In a few years can I get a tattoo?"

"No." I would reply ,very matter-of-factly. End of discussion.
The issue would arise again and again. In fact, some foreshadowing took place when #2 was in the 6th grade. He wrote an essay on what he wanted to be when he grew up.

"I want to be an architect," he declared.

I was so proud. He was already a great artist and had such an eye for detail. I knew architects were paid well so he wouldn't have to struggle financially like his father and and did for so many years. I began instantly dreaming of the pride that would come by being able to say, "My son is an ARCHITECT."

Have you ever heard the scripture, "Pride comes before a fall"?

Well, it was like I fell out of a 10-story building and landed belly down on some pointed sharp object when I read the rest of the sentence in his essay...

"Or own a tattoo parlor."


What the...?

Whose kid in the 6th grade wants to be an architect by day and work in his tattoo parlor at night?

Did I mention my kids were weird? No member of our family has ever been like the majority around us. Yep. We're all weird.

I let that one go, thinking he was just speaking nonsense, although he did get put in time out once for drawing tattoos on kids in the classroom that very same year.
I guess I was in denial or something.

Anyway, when the boys would start asking about getting a tattoo, I would always say ,"Sure. So long as your very first is a picture of me and it says "I love my MOMMY on it!" That would usually end the discussion for the day.

I would find sketches he had drawn of possible tattoos laying around the house.
(More foreshadowing). I would then sketch my "I love my MOMMY!" design and leave it with his artwork.

When he was a senior, many of his friends had already had a tattoo, and his begging was driving me up the wall! (and you all KNOW what a great driver I am!)

I would explain for the 57,987,210th time, my many reasons he should NOT go ahead with such a silly idea.

1. I know him.

He changes his mind every time he blinks, and although he thinks it sounds like a great idea right now, he'll change his mind later and be stuck. (Did I mention that his mind had actually "stuck" with this desire for 6 years?!)

2. He could catch Hepatitis, Aids, or a bad infection from a dirty needle used by the heroin addicted tattoo artist.

Yeah, I've seen some of the parlors around here.

3. He may not land the perfect job as an architect when they either saw his tattoo or asked him if had had any during the job interview.

( I know this would be an illegal question to be asked in an interview, but he was only 17. He had no idea).
I know that was not a great parenting skill demonstrated right there, but Hey, do as I say, not as I do--Or did.

4. He has a beautiful back and that would just "mess it up"!

5. You shouldn't mess with what God gave you.

It's just not right.
(Did I mention that I have double pierced ears and get my hair colored and highlighted every month? Yeah, well that's WAY different.)

Anyway, the debate continued for what seemed like an eternity. But I always felt that at the end of our one-sided "discussion", he would agree- it was not a good idea after all.

On  a cold, blistery day in  January, the day after his 18th birthday during his senior year, I went to awaken him for school. There he lay, on his belly, muscular arms wrapped around a pillow, his beautiful back all cut and...what is that? His beautiful back had GRAFFITI on it!

"Oh #2, HOW COULD YOU!" I asked. Okay, I asked loudly. Okay, I YELLED at the top of my lungs! (I'm not proud of my reaction, but I'm trying to be transparent here.)
My reaction even surprised me. We then had a big yelling match, right before school.
I was going over all the reasons he shouldn't have, he was telling me all the reasons why I was crazy! Then he left for school, with a slam of the door and a screech of his tires.

Alone with my thoughts, I realized that my biggest issue was I felt he had defied me. That my reason and logic and parental influence was no longer a powerful factor in my son's life as it had been when he was younger.

Those are actually valid reasons to be upset, however, never valid reasons to react like a crazed woman! I was hurt. I was angry.

I called my sister and started ranting, "You will NOT believe what #2 did!". I went on and on, now giving her the reasons why he should not have done this.

She allowed me to rant for a bit, then she answered me. Her answer was very sobering (not that I was drunk or anything. (although at that moment, had booze been in the house...).

She calmly said, "Sher, I'd give anything to see Sean lying in his bed with a tattoo on HIS back."

Her son had been killed in a Jeep accident when he was 16.

That was a defining moment in my life. The day that these insignificant differences that I had made HUGE deals about just all fell into perspective.

I could not wait till he returned from school so I could kiss his beautiful back, tell him I was sorry for my reaction and let him know how much I love him.

As soon as he entered the door, I rushed to him to apologize, kiss and love him. We both just cried, holding each other. Lucky for me he has a heart of gold and is very merciful.

He then said , "Mom, did you even see it?"

"No." (my eyes were more blurred than normal with rage!)

He proudly lifted his shirt and explained the tattoo's significance.

It was a four leaf clover ( proudly representing his Irish heritage). Boxing gloves were inside the clover. One with his late Grandpa's name on it, "Chick" who was a golden glove boxer in the army who he never got to meet. The other glove had Sean's name on it. Sean had just started boxing a few months before his death.

I cried some more.

I was so ashamed of my reaction, especially when this meant so much to him and the meaningful symbols he chose just made what had offended me earlier, become something very beautiful in my eyes.

This was the beginning of my trying to find out the back story when people act in ways in which I don't approve . To dismiss a person entirely, due to an outward sign, or behavior is missing out on the VALUE of that person.
I know of people who have quit speaking to their children because they have done things that have "disrespected the family" or church. I'm sorry, but my children are MY CHILDREN who will always receive my love and guidance. I don't have to agree with their choices, but I am required to love them. (And not flip out when I disagree with choices they have made that do not please me.)

I'm counting on the same from God. Regardless of how bad I mess things up, I still feel His love, and I can take these things before Him for forgiveness, cleansing and guidance. Always. And forever.

Now my son has another tattoo. You can see it in the above photo. It is a scripture within a cross that has special meaning to him.

I kiss it when I see it.

This was originally written three years ago. Son #2 is getting ready to be a father in a few months. As you can see by the photo below, he now has MANY tattoos--all very meaningful to him--the "sleeves" are actually illustrated bible stories (that he designed) that hold particular meaning to him. He recently purchased his own tattoo gun and has begun tattooing others on the side. No tattoo "parlor", just fulfilling his dream.  His lovely wife Sol has a brother who is an Architect. :)


Anita J. said...

This should be required reading for all parents, especially those with teens. :)

Rebecca on The Homefront said...

As the owner of a gratuitous-yet-satisfying tattoo, I know how your son felt. I was scared to show my mom when I got home, but her reaction was better than the one my dad would have given if he had the chance.

The kids already know that they'll be waiting till they're adults before that decision is even on the table, but that's only because my own experience softened me quite a bit toward the idea.

The reaction from your sister brought tears to my eyes. I can't imagine. And then to learn the significance of your son's choice...what a beautiful tribute.

You weren't silly, Sherri. It was an honest reaction. At least you were open to seeing his perspective, which is better than a lot of parents. We all make mistakes, because we're not perfect. Admitting to them is the harder part, and you've done that. Amazing, thanks for posting.

Gabrielle Eden said...

That's a great story. I like this idea of bringing out these old stories. You give me good ideas for my blog.

blognut said...

This is a great post - and a reminder to rememer what's important when it comes to your kids.

Candace Jean July 16 said...

This was me all over again. I reacted the exact same way, but when I realized he had worked for a long time to get the exact replica of the cross that hangs above the altar at our church, it took away from the pain and anger. We all live with their decisions.We can only pray we will accept their decisions in the way we lovingly accepted our kids as God's gifts to us.

Billy Coffey said...

I gotta say that I've always wanted a tattoo. I know, I know...but I still want one. And strictly from a guy's standpoint, his is awesome.

Deanna said...

Thank you for the story. Recently my 29 year old daughter decided to get her nose pierced. What mother of four young boys does such a thing? I guess the answer is many. I chose to ignore it and say nothing, rather than say the wrong thing. It has been months now, and I'll have to admit that I hardly even notice it. It just turned out to be not all that important. You have great insight into things. Hugs.

Amy M. Fry said...

Oh Sherry.
This SO made me cry. You share so beautifully and it not only fully engages me, it deeply touches my heart. And this one REALLY DEEPLY touched my heart.

Yes, I too have reacted very 'wrongly' to things my sons have done,and for the VERY same reasons, but they are my sons, my children, as I am God's child, and hope from HIM what I know my boys hope from ME. Acceptance, forgiveness, love, cleansing, and guidance. I am SO thankful to have such a Loving Father who will always be there to catch me, and guide me. Would that I have passed that thankfulness for the Father on to my sons, so when I am no longer here, they will know Where to turn.

On a lighter note, I got my tattoo when I was 25, I'd always wanted one, why? don't know, but it wasn't fashionable yet, except among sailors and bikers. Yes, I was afraid to tell my mom. :) My husband got his first one about a year after we married. Small and tasteful on his upper arm. (mines on my ankle). Like yours, son #1 said he wanted a tattoo when he turned 18. Richard said No. I told my darling husband it was just a tad hypocritical to tell a legal adult child he couldn't get a tattoo when both of his parents had one. So we all went together and made a day of it. Had a blast. And no, Richard and I did not get another one. Tho I have to admit, for a minute I was tempted.

Amy M. Fry said...

And FYI... I just read "Update" and went back and read "Today I Will.." and just wanted you to know, I'm printing them and hanging them in my office, and MAYBE next to my chair in the kitchen nook! You're so wise.

candytroutman said...

Sherri ~

I just love reading your words. I remember a similar parenting moment when our kids were about 11 and 13. I flew into a rage (fortunately for them, they weren't home at the time) about how they always left their dishes and wrappers and food all over every flat surface of the house. But then I remembered a recent news story about a teenager who had died suddenly of meningitis. I believe he was 17.

I fell silent.

Not to say that was the end of my parental rants over eternally insignificant things, but it was, as you said, a defining moment.

I have many parental regrets and wish for do-overs. But the Lord keeps reminding me to access a different app.

Sherri Murphy said...

Yes, Candy--the different App choosing makes ALL the difference!

Nicky Jett said...

I just came over here because your spot had an image that I used for my facebook post - I provided a link to send folks back to you...I'm staying (subscribing) because "To tattoo or not tattoo..." is similar to the hurdles I had to go through raising my three daughters - one of who shaved off her beautiful eyebrows to be a goth for a moment lol...Yep they are out of their teens now but when I think back - whew! Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful yet bittersweet story!

Sherri Murphy said...

NIcky- I'm glad this was a relatable article for you. And I can loudly proclaim, "THANK YOU, GOD that they are no longer teenagers!" ;) Those teenaged years taught me alot. About myself, actually. Oddly, though struggles, with GOd's guidance, made me a better person.