But What If You Hate It

So, I did a thing. I have been thinking about it forever, but I finally decided it was time to woman up. I mean, how can I claim I am ready to take back my power from people who would keep me caged if I don’t take concrete steps to stand up for what I know in my heart to be the right decision for me?

Today, Joe and I got our first tattoos. Before he came home from college in May, Joe gave me the list of things he wanted to do this summer, which included riding his bike over Vail Pass and hiking five 14ers. I asked him when we were going to get tattoos. He has been talking since his sophomore year of high school about it and has had his design picked out since that time. Back then, we told him it would be better if he waited until he was at least 18 before making what is a fairly permanent decision. And then, as the ubiquitous story goes, Covid hit. The tattoo idea got shelved. I think I brought it back up because I was looking for a partner in crime. Someone who I knew would be be wholeheartedly supportive while making sure I didn’t chicken out.

Joe being brave and being first

Joe’s biggest anxiety about the tattoo process was pain. My biggest anxiety about the process was quieting the echoing voices in my head, the voices of those who for years told me it would be a mistake. I could hear them. But what if you hate it? This is the question I have repeated to myself every time I thought I might at last be brave enough to speak for myself. After some recent therapy sessions, I flipped the script on those voices. I asked them some questions for once. But what if I love it? What if every day that little bit of ink reminds me of what a badass I am? What if that small tattoo becomes an outer representation of the spirit inside me? Damn. My inner voice is good when I let her speak up.

After doing some research and talking to a lot of people, we ended up going with a tattoo establishment about 20 minutes away from our home. The artist we booked with had recently done a tattoo for my friend’s daughter, and the tattoo she got was similar to the ones Joe and I were interested in. We needed someone we were confident could do a great job on clean lines, simple lines. Kevin at Clean Slate was exactly who we were looking for. His personal artwork and skill level go way beyond what we asked of him, so I felt a little guilty taking up his time with such simple work.

Joe went first. His tattoo is a compass rose, which symbolizes his love of travel, geography, and adventuring. When Joe’s was finished, Kevin showed me what he had worked up for mine. It was definitely bigger than I was imagining, but after Kevin explained the reason for the size I knew he was right. The detail would get lost if it was much smaller. I looked tentatively at Joe, and he of course told me to go for it. I texted my husband whose response was “Go big or go home.” I was doing this thing.

Selfie of me getting inked

My tattoo is a spiral sun. I’ve had this image with me for about 30 years. I went into a rock shop in Estes Park decades ago and saw a small basket filled with stones etched with Native American symbols. There were bears and arrowheads, healing hands and turtles. None of those spoke to me. I chose a small rock with the spiral sun image because I read that the spiral sun represents power, and I needed more of that in my life. Over the years, I carried that rock with me through multitudes of moves. I called it my Power Jus rock. When I was four months pregnant, I held that rock in my hand during the defense of my master’s thesis. That image on that little rock has reminded me for decades that I am strong, powerful, capable, and ever evolving. Now that image is on my inner forearm where every day it will remind me that I am on my own journey and I have got this.

As for those who will give me crap about it (and there will be those), let them. Maybe it’s bigger than a tattoo you would get. Maybe you think a spiral sun tattoo on a woman of eastern European descent is cultural appropriation. Maybe you think a tattoo in such an obvious place is a bit much for a 53 year old mother of two grown sons. Maybe you have a point.

Then again, maybe I just don’t care what you think anymore. Maybe I can handle my own life and you should just mind your own damn business.


  1. Beautiful art, both your sun and your son’s rose. When my daughter was your son’s age, she became interested in body mod and favored piercings. After her first couple, she chose one that frightened me a little and I suggested a tattoo, instead. She would have none of it, saying “Ewwww.” To which I replied ‘Ewwww holes in your body ” She got the piercing. All concerns about possible impact on her career. vanished. She is now 33 and a doctor at a Level 1 Trauma Center. “Go big or go home” indeed! Great post and photos. Best, Babsje

    1. Attitudes have changed with regard to tattoos and piercings. Thirty years ago they were a strike against people’s opinions of you. But that was thirty years ago, and they are much less of a deal breaker these days. I ultimately decided that it was more about the meaning behind the tattoo than the tattoo itself. Joe’s tattoo completely fits with his personality and life view and it’s universal and clean. He says his next tattoo will be a dinosaur. Still struggling with that notion. 😉

    2. PS…Congrats to you in raising a daughter who knew herself young and tirelessly pursued her dreams and passions. It’s hard to turn out persistent, fearless human beings like that.

      1. Many thanks for your kind thoughts. She has a laser focus and determination. I mean this is a kid who majored in Information Technology and took NO science courses as an undergrad. A year after graduating she decided on medical school but had to do a 2 year posr-bac to get science credits. Then 4 years of med school and 3 years of residency. That’s a long haul that neither her father nor I could .have weathered. Our children .have such freedom to follow their dreams. Your Joe can take his Dinosaur tattoo anywhere he wants if he wants it badly enough!

  2. Congrats to the three of you. Joe for his vision, your husband (Steve?) for unwavering support, and you for your courage.
    I second the motion for people to mind their own business.
    Great job, Rocky Mountain Butterfly.
    I’m not sure what a butterfly grows into after that stage…
    Perhaps a woman superhero with a badass tattoo that tells the world she knows who she is, and needs no external validations.
    (p.s.: Joe’s tattoo is pretty boss, too, though it’s easier at that age, I think.)

    Best regards,


  3. I love that you allowed your inner positive voice to speak over the negative self talk.  I hope you continue to  embrace your grown ass wise woman. Lovely tattoo, may it provide you with joy and positive direction every time you look at it. 

  4. Very Cool! I wasn’t familiar with a spiral sun so I looked it up to read about it. What a great symbol for a tattoo! My nephew is a tattoo artist at Revolt Tattoos in Las Vegas, Nevada. It’s all he’s ever wanted to do since he was in high school and he has done very well at it and truly loves what he does. His senior year he wrote a research paper on tattoos and the stereotypes people place on them and people who have them. His English teacher told me it was quite a paper and it sure made her think! I love to talk to him and hear his very interesting tattoo stories! I think it’s great that you and Joe did this together. One question….. just how painful was it?????

    1. My tattoo artist (a man) told me that he never worries about women being able to handle the pain because it is always the men who seem to suffer the most during the process. Because my tattoo is not in a bony area, I’d say the pain was about a 1-3 depending on if he was outlining or filling in at the time. I didn’t find it to be a big deal at all.

      1. I guess people have different levels of pain tolerance. I had a mammogram tech tell me once that she despises doing mammograms on men as they are such weenies. I told her I would think it would be extremely difficult to do on a man.

      2. As a woman with a small chest and dense breast tissue, I find mammograms barely tolerable, so I can imagine how hard that might be on someone with even less to squish than I have. I do have pity on x-ray techs who have to administer mammograms on men and on women like me whose physical attributes make performing their job difficult.

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