My nanny (lets call her Allie) wants a tattoo. Now there’s nothing inherently wrong with tattoos. I have plenty of friends who have them. But I was a bit taken aback at the news. Allie’s a smart, independent thinker. She’s a good student, politically active, overall a good choice maker. Plus she’s 21 and can do whatever she wants. Now she’s not considering something tawdry or garish, just a simple quote from Corinthians and a small heart.
“Uh huh…” I say, trying to avoid sounding either judgmental or approving. “How’s your mom with it?” I ask ultra casually so as not to show my hand.
“Well, she’d rather I not do it,” she said, “But I think she’s okay with it. I wanted to do it a few years ago and she was really against it. So I waited. Now I’m 21. I’m ready to do it.”
“Wow,” I blurt out, “That’s so cool that you cared about your mom’s feelings so much.” I wondered if, in a span of 10 years, my boys would ever put my feelings before their own needs and wants.
“Well, yeah…She’s my mom.” She answered with a lilt of obviousness as if all teenagers took their parents’ desires into account so acutely.
I thought about what to say next. Allie is like a daughter to me. She’s part of our family. But I’m really just her employer. Does that give me the right to butt into her personal life? I shake off my self-doubt and plunge ahead brashly.
“I wonder what Levi will say?” I lob a gentle soft ball her way.
“It’ll be pretty small,” she looked nervous. “I doubt he’ll even notice.”
“Levi doesn’t miss much,” I counter. “Maybe…don’t make too big a deal of it. I’m not sure I want him thinking a tattoo is an option right now.”
“Well…if you really don’t want me to get it, I can wait,” her uber-responsible self piped up.
“No. Oh, gosh…” I quickly retorted. “You’re a grown woman. You do whatever you want. My kids are gonna see people with tattoos and piercings and bad haircuts. I can’t shield them from everything. Don’t be silly.”
Then I thought about it again. Maybe I should tell her I do think it’s a bad idea. I’m not exactly sure why though. I suddenly flash forward 10 years to an 18 year old Levi, dressed in baggy, torn jeans, his underwear hanging out, a ragged Led Zeppelin T-shirt, shaved head and arms completely covered in tattooed splendor.
I owe it to her mom to say something, I determine. It’s one of those “Mommy Union” requirements. If one mom has the chance to protect another mom’s offspring from making a poor decision, she is categorically required to do so.
“The funny thing about tattoos,” I lightheartedly add, “Is how differently people feel about them as they get older. I know so many women who would give anything for a tattoo ‘mulligan,’ a ‘do-over,’ if you will. It’s hard to even imagine that you might feel differently when you’re older, when you become a mom yourself. I’m actually shocked by how much more conservative I’ve become since having children. You also have to realize that getting a tattoo will pretty much give your kids license to do it also. It falls into that ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ category. Those arguments are hard to win as kids get older.”
I stopped to assess her demeanor. Had I gone too far? Overstepped my boundaries?
“I’m really sure about this,” she smiled warmly as if to tell me my concern was touching but unnecessary.
“Oh, of course you are,” I agreed, slightly embarrassed by my prudishness. “Well, good luck with it,” I smiled and headed back to my office.
Now I realize there’s nothing inherently wrong with getting a tattoo. If it wasn’t expressly prohibited in my religion, I might even consider a rose-colored American Beauty right atop my left ankle. But it just doesn’t feel like something I want for my kids. It’s like I want to say to them, “Look, this tattoo thing, it’s okay for other people. It’s just not for us.”
Having someone so close to us, whose values we share, make the tattoo plunge, raises some challenges. Maybe it scares me because while I seem to be able to control my little ones right now, it’s a clear indicator that soon they’ll be old enough to make their own decisions. And those decisions might not always be the ones I’d like them to make. As they get older, they’ll be making bigger, life-altering choices, with little regard for my feelings and beliefs, this freaks me out a bit.
I guess this is one of those “bigger kids, bigger problems” issues that every now and again faces off with parents of young children and reminds them to appreciate what little control they do have over their offspring while they’re young.
So, Allie, go for it. Do what makes you happy. But do you think it would be okay to tell the boys you painted it on, just for fun?