I am lying on my back, with my midsection (plus a few inches south of it) uncovered in front of a stranger who is wielding a needle. My daughter is standing nearby. Both she and the needle-packing woman hovering over me remind me to breathe.
I am not in labor, thank you very much. Way past that stage: I’m over sixty and a grandmother of four. So naturally, I am getting a tattoo. My first. Maybe my only. The verdict isn’t in on that yet.
How did this come to pass, and why did I submit myself to an hour of “needlework” on my tender, exposed skin? These are legitimate questions. It all started when I jokingly proposed getting some ink to my husband. He was intrigued with the idea, or, more accurately, kind of excited by the prospect of some added art. For the next few months, we would casually touch on the subject, but I scoffed and dismissed it. Little did he know that my daughter and I had booked appointments at a studio near where she lives in Syracuse, NY. When I flew back last month (to help with childcare while my son-in-law was out of town), she booked a sitter so we could both go under the needle on the same trip. I kept the appointment a secret, even though I think half of Syracuse knew that Caitlin’s mom was coming to town for a tattoo.
If I only planned to do this once, choosing the right image was key. I played around with a number of ideas: a Hawaiian sunset, a fancy initial “R” with flowers entwined, a complicated landscape. This was harder than doing one of those six-word memoirs: how do you choose an image that says what you want it to say and have it mean something significant that won’t be an embarrassment in later life? What am I saying? Embarrassment? At this age, who gives a damn? (And I can’t wait to see my gyno’s face next time he lifts the paper dress during my exam!) But as my daughter (five tattoos and counting) noted, getting a tattoo is kind of like childbirth: you go through all this pain to get something that you are stuck with for life. (Does it hurt? Hell yeah, it hurts.) So, the choice had to be made carefully. Which is why we sat down with our laptops and looked for images of bluebirds. Pinterest to the rescue! She found a whimsical, cheery little image of a bluebird which we emailed to the studio artist. She was ready to roll when I got there and gave me just the bird I wanted.
What’s with the bluebird? Some history: when my husband and I were high school sweethearts back in the day, I made him a bluebird of happiness in art class. I glued wood scraps together into a bird shape, painted it lovely shades of blue, and wrote the word “happy” on its wing. He kept that thing for years until we lost our home in a terrible fire. Once we started putting our lives back together, I found another bluebird for him.
And this: The last few months have been tough. My sister is going through chemotherapy for lung cancer, and I wake up worried about her every day. What I wanted and needed was something uplifting that I could see each day, something that would make me smile. But you can’t always count on finding something to smile about, so I decided to take matters into my own hands and get a bluebird of happiness tattoo. Like you do.
My little bird (about three inches from beak to tail feather) is front and a little left of center (counterbalancing the fading but still unattractive scar from my childhood appendectomy), and I smile at it in the mirror on my way into the shower every morning.
So far, the bluebird has not let me down. Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah, I have a tattoo!