The Mother-Daughter Tattoo

Going under the needle was the last thing on her mind. But when her teen daughter proposed they both try it, she glimpsed a new purpose for ink everlasting

by Lynn Schnurnberger
bird tattoo image
Photograph: Illustrated by Susan Burghart

Weeks later, after Alliana left for college, I’d reach my hand back several times a day to touch my tiny tattooed heart. And I felt somehow comforted remembering what was on Alliana’s shoulder—not the violent images I’d dreaded but something more symbolic of her sweet nature: the bluebird of happiness from Snow White.

As for my mother, she died last year. She never saw our tattoos—her eyesight was too far gone—but she was still apprehensive about them. “Anybody who doesn’t want their son to marry Alliana because of her tattoo can go to hell!” she’d said, defiantly. That was my mother: quick to imagine the worst and even quicker to defend her family.

My mother’s last year was painful and infantilizing. The woman she became in illness and old age stood in sharp, tragic contrast to the lively redhead, fueled by coffee and cigarettes, who’d raised me. And I struggle now to remember her that way. As the young girl who rebelled against her parents by monogramming a slip; as the mom who helped me make dioramas and drove me to ballet class; as the activist who campaigned door to door for Adlai Stevenson and who raised more money to buy books for Brandeis University than practically anyone in the Bronx. As the woman who turned heads as she tooled around town in a two-tone Ford Fairlane, her turquoise leather jacket a bold match for the car’s flashy body. My mother was tenacious and loving and ornery and the best cheerleader that anyone who knew her ever had. Her name was Marian Rosenthal Edelman. She may have been brought up to believe that tattoos were pretty much only for sailors, but she had her own way of standing out. And she knew that the most important mark you make is on the people you love.

Best-selling author LYNN SCHNURNBERGER’s latest is The Best Laid Plans.


Click here to read what one mother learned first hand when her son entered the dating game.

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First Published October 26, 2011

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