Rosie to the Rescue: I’m a Mom With a Tattoo. So?!

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I was playing with my son this morning, drawing and naming different spring flowers. We decided we’d buy some tulips after school. It was a lovely few minutes, just the two of us talking. I had just come off the red-eye from Seattle and I was so glad to have a few moments together before the hustle and bustle of the day.

We had arrived early at school and were waiting inside just outside the classroom. My son’s school is attached to a church, and a few of the church elders came by and greeted us with their warm smiling faces. Usually they fill me with such comfort as they finish nibbling their coffee and cookies and head on their way. Through their usual smiles, one suddenly looked down and noticed the tattoo on my foot. We were sitting on the floor as they had laid their coats on all the available benches, so my foot was exposed. (I make it a point not to hide my tattoo. It is not a regret of mine.) One of them asked, “What’s that pattern?” and I thought he was referring to the drawings my son and I were having so much fun doing. I started talking with pride about my son’s new interest in spring flowers and nature, when I realized he was referring to my tattoo. I simply explained it was a rose, from much younger days, and smiled. Another gentleman responded, “Oh yes, my son made a mistake like that”. To which the other chimed in: “I suppose you’ll have to do that laser thing to have it removed”. And to just go that extra bit further a third added, “Well, at least you don’t have them all up and down your arms, as bad as those basketball players.” All this was while my son watched and listened.

I can’t quite describe how hurt and angered I was at this and it didn’t even occur to them for one second how judgmental and inappropriate they were being. To my great shame, I started babbling excuses about my earlier choices in life, rather than standing my ground with pride. As they walked away, my thoughts started to clarify (isn’t that always the way?), and my blood started to boil. First, these were Christian men. Second, they decided to attack a personal choice of mine in front of my son with complete disregard for my or his feelings. And third, they decided to paint such a negative picture of me and my choices in front of the person whose opinion matters the most to me–not to mention the offensive reference to basketball stars, who of course my son looks up to.

I should have stood up for myself. It was a different time in my life and I want to teach my children to be proud of their evolution as people, and to know that even their parents have a past but it has shaped who they are, that they are proud of who they have become, and that they should love themselves. When the church elders finally left, my son said, “Good thing you have a rose on your foot mommy, so we’ll never forget how to draw one.” If only everyone could have the purity and non-judgmental honesty of a child. Just as in parenting, there is no one size fits all. We are all individuals, so let’s teach our children to embrace those differences and to stand up for themselves, to love themselves but loving ourselves, and our differences with pride.

I am so ashamed I didn’t say anything. For my kids, I will always speak up from now on–definitely one very important lesson learned by this mom. So thank goodness for my tattoo, thank goodness for my differences, and thank goodness that it is I who will teach my children how to treat others, and not the gentlemen passing us by.

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  1. by Meg

    On March 9, 2013 at 6:00 pm

    What an awesome article. I explain the meaning to my tattoos to my children, and I love how you go a step further with the creativity, individuality, and strength of our choices.

    I do want to share my thoughts on your feelings of shame. It is one thing to be ashamed of your response in front of your son, but another thing to carry that shame with you. I hope that you find the strength to move on and grow from the experience, because he will see that, too. And even say to your son, “I did not like how those men were using their words with me, but I was so suprised by their words that I didn’t have enough time think of a good way to respond.” And you know what? Sometimes the better choice is to move forward with the situation, and I think THAT is something important to teach your son as well.

    We are all caught off guard every now and then. Sometimes alone, sometimes in front of strangers, sometimes in front of the little people we hold so dear. But who says your response wasn’t the one needed at the time? Who knows where the conversation would have led if you did say all of the things you wished you had. Sometimes I say to myself, “well I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to get into an argument over it!” No one likes being belittled over choices they’ve made, or the feeling of helplessness in how to respond, but I think you had more power in your choice to move on than you give yourself credit for!


  2. by Erin

    On March 9, 2013 at 6:26 pm

    I have a tattoo on my inner arm. I am not ashamed. I find people’s puritanical, judgmental attitudes ridiculous. I once walked into an office discussion of how only sailors and loose women have tattoos (ironically, my Naval Officer husband is un-tattooed). I told them that being judgmental was much less flattering than my awesome tattoo. If I were in the same situation at church, this is what I would say. Much better to be kind and love one another, than worry about someone’s personal body art, eh?

  3. by Marie

    On March 9, 2013 at 11:04 pm

    It’s offensive to say that the tattoos that some basketball players have are ugly and tacky? Really? I think you’re being WAY oversensitive about this.

  4. by Smarter Mom

    On March 10, 2013 at 7:04 pm

    I don’t care what percentage of the population gets a tattoos, they are trashy and low class…and always will be.

  5. by Sam

    On March 11, 2013 at 11:08 am

    Perhaps this is an opportunity for an even more unique (and often more difficult to teach) lesson. As Meg pointed out, explaining that your immediate reaction was one of surprise and therefore you were unable to formulate the “right” reaction immediately, could then open the door for another discussion. One: you can teach your son that though it’s important to always be self-confident, in some situations you can’t immediately think of the best response/ reaction and that’s ok! Let’s be honest – no one is really that on top of it all of the time. And people have a knack for catching us completely off-guard, like these men. Or a boss asks you a question that you weren’t expecting (who can anticipate everything?) and you only have an ok answer initially, but later you could come back with a more thorough response. In essence – don’t feel pressured to always react immediately. Often we are the most emotional when something is fresh and raw, which does not always lead to the best reactions. What if you had stood up to the men, but perhaps got more heated than you would have liked in your response? Sometimes a delay is helpful – step back, take a breath, regroup, and try again. Also – if this is genuinely important (some it is, others it isn’t) – perhaps you have the opportunity to take your son with you and speak to the men again and rationally explain your POV. They may have genuinely not realized that they could have been offensive and it is indeed possible that they would reconsider their opinions. At worst, they’re likely to be more aware of the things they say in front of your son and reserve opinions like that for adult conversation.

    Love that you’re proud of your tattoos! Everyone has their own ways of expressing themselves, and tattoos are that way for some of us.

  6. by Sue

    On March 11, 2013 at 5:30 pm

    While you have every right to get a tattoo, I feel I have the right to look at it and assume you are trying to tell me something with that tattoo. Unfortunately, I will usually assume you are telling me that at some point in your life, you were unable or unwilling to think about what the consequences of that tattoo might be.

    I have told my children that my expectations are that they will never, ever, ever, get one.

  7. by adrienne

    On March 14, 2013 at 11:52 am

    Maybe the most important message here is that judging the surface is a pretty wretched way to interpret the world.

    Think of that when you see the woman whose hair is unapologetically growing gray or when a non-gym type is at the health club.

    For some of us, our ideologies make us look different. Take the amazing college student Balpreet Kaur ( for instance. She took what most of us would view as humiliation and gently turned it into a gracious lesson on her faith and character.

    Ugly incidents on physical appearance should remind us of the courage it takes to live differently (by choice or circumstance) and the respect we should offer to every person because they are human.