02/21/2014 09:11 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Why Mommy Has a Tattoo

My 3-year-old daughter had never asked me about my tattoo until last week. It came up while I was changing. She asked me what the picture on my back was and where it came from.


I paused. Should I tell her it's a tattoo or just a picture? Should I mention that it hurt? Should I say I regret it or subtly discourage her from getting a tattoo one day?

Instead, I replied as honestly as I could without adding any information.

"It's a tattoo, and I got it at a tattoo shop."

Because kids like cold, hard facts with no sugar-coating, right? Then she asked how they made the tattoo stick to me. That was harder to explain. On one hand, I wanted to honest with my daughter. On the other hand, I didn't exactly want to reveal that tattoos come from needles that force ink into your skin by poking you repeatedly until it looks like the picture you imagined. Or at least sort of like it.

So I compromised.

"They stuck it to me with sticky stuff so it will never come off." Because needles are kind of like "sticky stuff," right? They stick you, and stuff. And the part about it never coming off is totally true, so I didn't have to feel bad about that. Until she responded.

"It doesn't hurt? I want a tattoo. When can I get a tattoo?"

I paused again. I'm sure she was getting suspicious about all my pausing and attempts to carefully explain this compared to my normal, nonstop talking and speaking-as-I-think-it approach. So I tried to make this pause especially short while I figured out a way to explain somewhat truthfully why she couldn't get a tattoo.

"Oh, it hurts a little. Sometimes a lot, depending on where you get the tattoo on your body or if you're getting it done in some basement by a man who insists on being called Bull Dog (even though you know, for a fact, his name is Jim). And they cost a lot of money, tons of money, money that is probably better spent on toys or clothes anyway."

I don't know if it was the basement, Bull Dog or the fact that they cost a lot of money, but something made her lose interest in the idea of getting a tattoo. She moved on to something else and I was free from the intense interrogation (for then).

But I couldn't stop thinking about what this new curiosity meant.

First, she's curious about my tattoo, which is understandable. What will she ask about next? My credit score? How many boyfriends I've had? My current weight?

For the first time, I'm seeing that part of her growing up is that my life will now be on full display for her to see, and she's looking to me for cues on what to do. That makes what I do very, very important (or maybe I'm just an egomaniac). I'm glad I'm finishing my degree and brushing my teeth twice a day.

Maybe somehow, despite all my shortcomings and habit of forgetting to put the toothpaste lid back on, I will manage to be a good example for her. If that means never getting a basement tattoo from Bull Dog, that's absolutely fine by me.

Debra Carpenter is a novice mother, wife, and college student. She writes about the parts of parenthood you didn't expect when you were expecting in her weekly newspaper column, Mother, Interrupted.

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