Raffaello Sanzio Raphael, Two Cherubs (detail of the Sistine Madonna), (c.1512 -1514), Oil on panel.

“My mom will talk me out of it for sure,” I said with confidence. “She just about flipped out when I got a second piercing in my ears.”

“It sounds like you almost want her to talk you out of it” Katie said.

I thought about that and shrugged. I certainly was indecisive about it.

I was 20-something and had already lived in Europe for several years. I was looking forward to my first visit back home where I would indulge in all the things I missed about being in the states — shopping malls (this was before the days of ubiquitous online shopping), American bookstores, my favorite chain restaurants. And I’d gotten it into my head that I might want to get a tattoo while I was back home. At the time tattoos were not that popular, especially among preppy girls like me.
I waffled daily about whether or not this was something I wanted to do. It was permanent after all and I didn’t want to regret it later.

I decided I would toss the idea out in the next phone conversation with my mother before the trip rather than shock her with it in person. I fully expected her to rant on about the dangers and how nice girls didn’t do such things. I expected her to put an end to the discussion with the ominous warning that I would regret such an irreversible action.

During the call we chatted about the fun things we had planned and then I casually dropped my bombshell. Contrary to my expectations she didn’t say much in response. I imagined her so horrified that she didn’t know what to say. I pictured her giving me the mom look that could instantly quell any thoughts of rebellious behavior. I let the subject drop taking her silence for an extreme form of disapproval and resigned myself to abandoning the tattoo plan.

Finally, the time came for the trip. My mother and I spent our days catching up and reconnecting, indulging in plenty of retail therapy. One night after a dinner out, mom turned to me and said, “I have a surprise for you.”

I expected we would be heading to our favorite ice cream parlor or maybe renting a shared favorite movie to bask in the nostalgia of each other’s company. We got into the car and she started driving without revealing where we were going. I kept trying to guess, but nothing looked familiar and there were no clues to help me out.

Finally, we parked in front of some shops on a side street and she excitedly proclaimed, “Here we are!”

I looked around but still could not figure out what the big surprise was. She waited a moment to build the suspense and then blurted out, “l made appointments for both of us to get tattoos!”

I could only stare at her, speechless. Was my conservative mother really not only permitting me to get a tattoo but getting one herself? She took my shocked silence for surprise and hurriedly shuffled me to the shop before I could confess my doubts.

The rest of the evening moved along like a dream running on its own momentum, dragging me along. Mom picked out a hot air balloon design and settled into the chair grinning. I requested one of the angels from Raphael’s great masterpiece ‘The Sistine Madonna’, thinking the tattoo guy wouldn’t have a clue what I meant and would never be able to execute such an intricate design. But Bruce pulled out a sample sheet of the famous artwork and asked which angel I wanted. Stunned, I picked the one resting his head on his folded arms and the next thing I knew needles of ink were piercing my shoulder.

As we left the shop with our new body art mom said, “Well that was fun” and asked me if I wanted to go for ice cream.

Writer and university professor researching media psych, generational studies, human and animal rights, and the intersection of art and psychology

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