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.

Uncaged And On The Loose

“I was wild until I was tamed by shame. Until I started hiding and numbing my feelings for fear of being too much. Until I started deferring to others’ advice instead of trusting my own intuition. Until I became convinced that my imagination was ridiculous and my desires were selfish. Until I surrendered myself to the cages of others’ expectations, cultural mandates, and institutional allegiances. Until I buried who I was in order to become what I should be. I lost myself when I learned how to please.” ~Glennon Doyle, Untamed

Opening myself up to the world (or in this case stunning Positano)

You often hear that people, around the age of 50, come to a place where they run out of fucks to give. (I’d apologize for using that turn of phrase, but that would be giving a fuck and I am working on not doing that.) People who have run out of fucks have stopped worrying as much about what they look like or what the neighbor’s think of their yard or how their opinions and choices and goals and dreams might upset others. They put down the baggage others have handed them, and they pursue their interests because their life tank is dipping below half full and they don’t know when they will hit empty. For most of my life, I’ve known that getting to the end of my life only to realize I have lived someone else’s life would not be an acceptable outcome for me. Still, I was conditioned from early childhood not to be a bother, not to stand out, not to choose myself, not to believe I mattered at all. So these two ideas, to take up as little space as possible and to live my life my way, have stood in opposition. The former has been my default setting since I was 3 because my parents taught me that if I wanted to be acceptable to others, I had to capitulate and do what they wanted. I learned that to be loved, I had to leave myself behind and be the me others could tolerate.

My parents chose themselves before they hit midlife. They chose themselves by ensuring that their progeny didn’t get in the way, that we fell into line, that we behaved and developed in ways that suited their wishes and caused them as little discomfort and annoyance as possible or else suffer the consequences of their displeasure. I learned I was meant to be a good girl and a blessing to them. When I spoke out, when I tried to assert myself, I was told I was foolish and labeled a selfish, self-centered, spoiled brat. This is how I became caged. I’m estranged from my parents now so I can heal and find the inner strength to live my life out loud, as the badass, indomitable woman I am and have always been deep inside. There are days when I fall back into old patterns and feel guilty and cruel for putting space between my parents and I because I know they are confused by it and because I am reminded by others that I am breaking a societal norm by turning my back on them as they near 80. But I am learning how to be my own person and prioritize my mental well being, even if other people don’t understand or approve. It’s absolutely okay to carve out a life for myself on my own terms. No one else has to sign off on it or agree. And, oddly enough, for the first time I am feeling the rush of confidence that comes with moving along my own path. There is power in relinquishing control of the state of others’ feelings. There’s strength in allowing others to weather their disappointment because it means I am finished disappointing myself.

I am working every day to step out of my comfort zone. I’m practicing asking for what I want rather than being told what that is. I’m practicing hearing my own voice say aloud what is in my heart. I’m practicing calming my mind and letting it know it doesn’t have to protect me anymore because I am safe now; I am brave, strong, and awesome exactly as I am and no one can prove otherwise to me. I’m practicing having a choice, or many choices, about how to proceed. And, yes, I am practicing too how to be at peace knowing others are unhappy with my choices. After a lifetime of trying not to make waves, I am learning how to break them, to rise above the surface and revel in my own agency. I’m practicing not giving a fuck in situations where others would tell me how to live my best life. As Glennon has advised, I’m done asking others for directions to places they’ve never been. They don’t know what they are talking about.

Yeah. This probably sounds selfish, and I’m am okay with that too. It’s about time I began advocating for my self and acknowledging my right to do just that. I will see those who truly love and accept me in the future. As for those who would prefer I stay caged in your expectations? Hasta la vista, baby.