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A Parent’s Guide to...

A Parent’s Guide to Body Art

Last week, my daughter and I were chitchatting in the hot tub when she brought up the topic of tattoos. At first, I thought I didn’t hear her correctly since the water was bubbling in my ears, so I sat up straight and said, “What? Did you say tattoos—on you?”

“Not me! Good God, Mother, I know your feelings on me getting inked!”

Yes, my daughter knows I do not approve of her getting a tattoo. In fact, it is more than a disapproval; I have a signed contract that says she can’t have a tattoo.

Yes, you read right. This legal contract was the best parental victory of my life. This is how it came to be. Picture it: a fifteen-year-old girl eyeing sparkly belly button rings in the jewelry store at the Jersey shore. She turns to me and says,

“Mom, I really want my belly button pierced. Can’t you talk to Dad and get him to say okay?”

“Well, if you would show a little more enthusiasm with school this coming year, I could probably get Daddy to go along with it, but I am talking First Honors—and no detentions. And maybe then for your sixteenth birthday, we can see.”

“I can do that,” she assured me.

“No detentions! Did you hear that part?” I reiterated.  

I had to reiterate that part because, frankly, my daughter was the queen of detentions. I can’t remember a year, including pre-k, where she did not have to sit for at least one detention. In her defense, her detentions were mostly due to her propensity to disagree vocally with school protocol. She wasn’t disrespectful, just opinionated. For the record, I have no idea where she gets this trait. It must be from her father’s side.

Anyway, when her sixteenth birthday came around, she reminded me of my promise of the belly-button piercing. I said I would check with her father, who I thought would be a stand-up guy and say no way, but he didn’t. I stood there with my mouth open in shock as he gave his approval.

“You are going to let them put a hole in my baby’s belly? Look at that belly!” I yelled as I threw her baby book in his face.

“It’s a belly button. Would you rather her get her tongue or nipple pierced?”

The thought of either of those things made me want to throw up, so I relented—not happily, but I did. What I was not prepared for was that I had to go with her and watch some stranger put a hole through her perfect little belly button. It had to be me because my husband passes out whenever any kind of needle comes near a human body. His fear of needles was part of the reason why I went drug free during childbirth. Yes, no drugs made the whole labor process difficult, but I have to admit that the mileage I have gotten from that guilt trip turned out to be better than I could have ever imagined, so the pain was well worth it.  

Anyway, I made inquiries as to the best place to get this belly-button procedure done. Another mom recommended a studio called World of Body Art. She could attest that the artists at this facility were both talented and hygienic. So, I made an appointment and there we met “Joe” who explained how he would pierce my baby’s belly—that cute little belly that I kissed and rubbed with baby lotion in an effort to keep it so soft and rash-free.

At first I didn’t like Joe. He looked like a bigger version of Willie Nelson with lots of piercings and tattoos. His office had pictures of all the body parts that one can pierce. As I stared at this walking work of inked art, I have to admit that I was comforted to see so much jewelry pinned to his body because it showed me he believed in his profession even though he did sort of look like he spent too many years hanging out with the Hell’s Angels. I am not trying to insult that fine upstanding motorcycle club in any way here, but I think that they might even admit that some of their members have a tendency to go overboard on the body painting at times. 

Anyway, once Joe started to talk, I felt more comfortable. He was actually a very well-spoken individual, and he had a degree from Dartmouth. It’s funny how an Ivy League education makes all the difference in situations like this. I was feeling really good until he told me how the ’60s and ’70s did a number on him. I wanted to ask him to explain further, but I didn’t want to upset him while he was holding a needle to my daughter’s tummy. 

Anyway, the piercing took a long time because Miss Ballerina had really tight abs which made it difficult to push the needle through. When she grimaced, I grimaced. When she started to tear, I started to tear. When she maintained a sense of calm, I did not. Finally, it was over. Joe gave us antiseptic, and we went home. Although my daughter was glad she did it, she admitted that if by any chance this piercing got infected, she would never do it again.

For three days, that stupid piercing throbbed. I thought for sure I was going to have to take her to the emergency room and admit what a lousy parent I was. I dreamed that social services was going to come and take her away because I let her get an infected belly button. In the middle of the night I would go into her room and say, “Let me see your belly button.” Finally, she could take my worrying no more, and screamed, “What would you do if I got a tattoo?”

Well, that’s when I got the legal idea. I had my friend who is an attorney make up a document that said my daughter could not get another body piercing or tattoo. I shoved it in front of my daughter’s face and said “Sign it.” I expected an argument but none came. I think she liked the idea that she had an out if there was any peer pressure to get any other body part “skewered.” I had the contract notarized, and then I framed it. Yep, and this contract was no slipshod agreement. It did not end when she turned eighteen or twenty-one. No, this contract specifically states that under no circumstances will she get any other piercings or tattoos until I am dead. Yep, D-E-A-D! After I croak she is free and clear, but until that time, her body remains ineligible for inkings and piercings.

Fast-forward six years and my daughter and I are in the hot tub and I heard the word “tattoo.” She told me how some of her friends got the Penn State paw print tattooed on their hip, and she looked at me.

“Am I dead? Do I look dead to you?” 

She just looked at me and rolled her eyes.

Well, I guess that contract did last a good, long time. I guess I could be open for some renegotiation. Maybe, I will get a tattoo first and make her go with me to see how they do it. I bet I could cry really loud if I had to. Perhaps fear might prove to be a better deterrent than any contract.   

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