We all have a story. My story is written on my body. And I’m not talking about the wrinkles earned in my four decades, my increasing number of gray hairs, or even my zebra stripes of stretch marks from carrying my son. I’m talking about my tattoos.
Compared to some folks, I hardly have any. I have four, and three of them are quite small. But all are in visible places. I want to see them daily to remember what they symbolize.
I got my first tattoo, a small purple flower on the inside of my left ankle, on my 18th birthday in 1996. Back then, I was a new college freshman and away from home for the first time. I was blooming and learning who I was as a woman. I remember walking into the Laughing Leprechaun tattoo shop with my three friends on a Friday night in November and paying $40 for 10 minutes of work. My friend drew the design. I picked the colors, and it was done before I even had a chance to be nervous. It felt good making my first permanent choice as a new adult.
My next tattoo came on my 30th birthday. In the years since my tiny flower was inked, I’d graduated college, gotten a job, gotten married, had a miscarriage, welcomed a son, and gone through a divorce. I was not the same girl as I had been. I was different, changed and trying to emerge from the ashes of my 20’s. Two simple butterflies now decorated on my right ankle, one for me and one for my son, to show that there was rebirth taking place. I always want to remember that I did indeed survive my 20’s and am better for it.
Surviving and healing from a divorce is no picnic. It took me seven years to heal, forgive and move on. When the time felt right, I got the simple message “Look Up” printed on my right wrist. I need the daily reminder to look up from the past, look ahead and look up to the stars. I got that very important tattoo in February 2014. Every time I look at it, I remember how I strive to live my life: moving forward.
And now to my 40th birthday tattoo. How did these four decades already pass me by? How can my sweet, chubby, bald baby be in middle school? And how have I been married to the best man for three years already? How can I be coming to the age of having aging parents? How is all of this possible, and what did I learn through the joy that was my 30’s?
My 30’s were a wonderful decade. They were full of raising my beautiful, remarkable son. His life has brought me more joy and purpose than anything else in the entire world. My 30’s were full of hard work at my job and on my house. They were full of me paying off debt and becoming completely self-sufficient. Plus, I met my amazing husband and married him in our home surrounded by our family members. So much happiness in those years. I learned that in each of these events, there is so much joy. Even in the hard years of a single mom, there was so much joy. Even in the advancing of my career, there was so much joy. And meeting and loving my husband has given me so much joy.
More than anything, I learned to experience and embrace joy in all circumstances. I borrowed an idea from Jason Mraz’s “Freedom Song,” lyrics where he sings that “We’ve got some joy in this thing.” I picked something that brings me great joy, the fragrant pink crab apple blossoms of spring, and added some words. And I stuck it on my left arm. I never want to forget for even one second that no matter what I’m going through, there is joy in that thing.
Some may look down on me for getting tattoos. Some people think that it’s wrong or unladylike or foolish. They are permanent, after all. I mean, what will they look like when I’m 80? They are going to look like the lessons of a life well lived, reflected on and embraced. That’s what.