what do i want to tell my son about tattoos?

arty unconsciously dressed to match my latest tatt.

i want to preface this discussion with some general principles before going into specifics.

we believe very strongly in giving arty age appropriate bodily autonomy. to the extent that he is able to manage and understand the care of his body, it’s his to do with what he wishes.
right now that means things like: he gets to wear nail polish if he wants, try whatever clothes appeal to him (regardless of their assigned gender), have his ‘no’ unquestioningly respected when we’re playing rough and tumble or other physical games, et cetera.

as he gets older i imagine the ways in which he’ll want to use and embody his body might get more challenging for us. maybe he’ll love wearing clothes we hate. maybe he’ll want to get piercings that we think don’t suit him at all. maybe he’ll take risks in sport that scare us a little.

respecting his autonomy means letting go of a lot of this.
yes, it’s our job to keep him safe, but apart from that, he gets to make his own choices, and we have to be ok with them.

that applies when it comes to tattoos as well.
both sj and i have tattoos. both of arty’s oddparents have them too. in fact, i’d go so far as to say more of the adults in his life are inked than not.
even if we wanted to, we’d be pretty massive hypocrites if we tried to ban him from getting any of his own, or got preachy about what he was allowed to get.

he knows my ink so well. 
his cheek is pressed against it when he needs comfort or affection.

as his tattooed mama, i see it as my role not to dictate, but to offer advice based on my experience. he can take it or leave it, but hopefully, if i do my job properly between now and then, he’ll feel that i’m wise and trustworthy enough that my advice is worth factoring into his decision making processes.

so, arthur, here is my advice to you about tattoos…

1. wait.
wait until you’re at least 25 before you get your first tattoo.
your teens and 20s are about finding out who you are, and who you want to be. your identity is so very much in a state of flux at this time, that i think committing to something as permanent as a tattoo is unwise.
you will feel your loves and your passions so deeply as a teen and young adult, and that may result in a desire to have them etched on your skin, but trust your old mama when i say that i know for a fact that i would now regret anything i thought was an awesome idea for a tattoo when i was 21.

2. wait some more.
when you do have a great idea, sit with it. then talk about it a lot with people whose judgement and taste you trust.
if after a year it still seems like a great idea, then you’re probably onto a winner.
i love all of my eight tattoos, but the ones i don’t love as much as the others are the ones that i didn’t sit with and plan over long periods.

3. think about your career
yes, tattoos are everywhere. i can only assume they’ll be even more common by the time you’re old enough to get one. their social meaning is changing by their sheer ubiquity – you can no longer assume the things you used to about a person by the fact that they have words or pictures on their skin.
that said, it’s likely there will always be some professions where visible tattoos are frowned on. if you want to keep your options open, just be cautious about placement. for example, your mummy is making sure that she gets her tattoos in places that are easily covered by clothes. she wants to keep her options open when it comes to the kinds of schools she’d like to teach in. i, on the other hand, am pretty sure i only want to teach in public schools. they’re more lenient, so i don’t have to be as careful.

sj’s work clothes cover her tattoo
4. meaning matters

your body is an ever changing organism. your skin will age, and your tattoos will change with it. they will not be as beautiful when they are 20, 40, 60 years old as they were on the day you got them.
for this reason, choose images and words that mean something to you. that way, even when they’re not as crisp and bright as they were, they will still be lovely to you.

this tattoo will always be precious to me because it symbolises the two men arty was named after:
a finch for atticus finch, with a crown for king arthur.

5. if in doubt, go classic
by which i mean, if you want to get ‘mummy’ and ‘mama’ inside a heart on each bicep, that’s totally fine with me.

the take home message, is: do what you like with your body, my love. beautify it in whatever way you see fit. but, as with anything else, exercise your common sense.