As of two days ago, I now have three tattoos. The first one is on my shoulder. The last one is on my chest. The middle one is the only one that’s visible with short sleeves — it’s on the inside of my left arm.
I remember when I got that one. Someone said to me, “What happens when you have kids?”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Well, they’ll see them and want to write and draw on themselves, or they’ll want to get tattoos when they’re very young.”
At the time, I think I said something like, “We’ll worry about that when it happens.”
Looking back, I can think of lots more things I would have liked to say.
Kids want to write on themselves anyway. I used to draw all over my arms with ballpoint pen, and then spend a heck of a lot of time washing it all off in case I was going to get in trouble. I was probably seven.
My kid will also see me driving a car. She’ll probably want to do that early, too, but we won’t let her. And if your counterargument is that she might just go get a tattoo without permission, that’s true. Children misbehave. My goal is to limit the misbehavior, not to turn her into a perfectly obedient mindslave.
I hope someday she asks about my tattoos. They all have stories. They all mean a lot to me. They are all related to things and people that I love. I plan to get more, but only when it matters enough to me to make it permanent.
And also: a genuine thank you for assuming that my child will see the way I am and wish to emulate it. I’d like to think that I will mean so much to her that she wants to be like me; and I’d like to think that the reason will be because I’m being a good role model. I strive to be. I hope to be.
I know the implication was “getting tattoos is bad/foolish/careless,” but obviously I don’t see it that way. I put a lot of thought into this. In fact, I have been very fortunate in that my tattoos — each of them — have brought others to joy, or to deeper reflection, or to laughter. I really put them there for me, but if they bring those wonderful things to others, so much the better.
My latest tattoo comes from the improv philosophy of “Yes, And” — which is also, when you get deeper into it, a really good way to live your life. Many people think “Yes” means that you agree with everything that happens; it’s actually more that you accept it. You don’t have to like it, necessarily, but don’t waste your time wishing that it had happened differently, or imagining how things would have gone if you had only been in complete control. Just live as if this is the first moment and this is the hand you’ve been dealt — because in many ways, that is exactly the truth. Then, “And” — decide what you’re going to do with the control you do have — yourself. Add yourself to it. Contribute. Work to move things in the way you’d like them to go, based on this moment you’ve found yourself in now. It doesn’t make things perfect, but it gives you a lot more feeling of contentment when you stop fighting reality (the real one or the one on the stage) and look forward.
I got the tattoo by choosing people who have meant something to me personally and who have positively influenced my improv skills (even if I have trouble expressing the tangible ways in which they have done so), and getting them to write the letters out for me without knowing why they were doing it. These are some of the people who have made a mark on me figuratively, and now they have done so literally.
So maybe someday Sage will ask me about the tattoo that looks like a jumbled mess of different fonts and why I got it. And I will get to tell her about my friends Glenn, Ed, Betse, Bill, Micah, Theresa, and Jessica. And I will get to tell her about improv and how it helped me be a happier person. And I will get to tell her about various little epiphanies that this phrase, “Yes, And,” has meant to me.
So what happens when I have kids?
Nothing. Everything. We’ll see. Out of all the decisions I could make in my life that could seriously influence the way she grows up, this is not one that I am worried about.