Tattoo, Part Two

by Sherri Caldwell

Did it hurt?

Well...getting a tattoo is nothing compared to natural childbirth. I figured I wouldn't have any problem with the short-term pain of a little tattoo needle, having been through labor and delivery three times--big babies, no drugs! I was confident in my fairly high tolerance for pain; somewhat over-confident, as it turned out...

Yes, it hurts!

Being tattooed feels like something between a constant tickle and torture by needle. I've never had acupuncture, but now I can kind of understand it: Rob would put the ink needle in my lower back, but I would feel it somewhere else: in my neck, or down my leg. Involuntary reflexes and muscle spasms kept me dancing and squirming. It wasn't terribly painful. It wasn't anything close to the pain of having a baby, or an appendectomy...neither was it a nice, relaxing massage or any kind of touch therapy.

The hardest part was sitting still on a table, hunched over with my shirt up--next time I'll take a book! I was fine, although after three hours and a few short breaks, we had to stop with just the line design in black because I was feeling a little nauseous (hadn't eaten anything all day), tolerance was low, and I couldn't sit still any longer. Rob and I both agreed it would be good to schedule the "coloring in" (another three hours) for another time. (This was six months ago. I am still working myself up to it!)

My biggest fear of getting a tattoo was infection...and pain...and finding a design I could live with forever. I was very particular about the procedure and researching the details. At Rob's invitation, I attended the 2002 Atlanta TATTOO Arts Festival on a Press Pass (reporting for The Rebel Housewife, of course!). I was almost overwhelmed by the scene when I first walked in: most people much younger than myself, all in leather and studded denim, lots of tattoos and multiple body piercings. I was very self-conscious of the fact that I was the freak at the freak show! I was also surprised at the number of babies and toddlers running around. There was a whole lot of tattooing going on (not on the babies and toddlers--have to be 18).

At the convention, I hung out with Rob and his wife and watched him work, and I toured the other artist's booths for design ideas. I interviewed everyone I wasn't too afraid to talk to. I was on the watch for blood, people passing out, or other evidence of unbearable pain, but I didn't find any scenes of horror. No actual blood, anyway--there was plenty of blood and vivid, colorful gore in the designs; lots of skulls and daggers and cartoon characters doing really bad things (like Thomas the Tank engine, in full color, on one guy's arm...running over a little cartoon girl). I was fascinated by the people and the art, but I was somewhat relieved to leave the convention. Back to the Real World. My real world, anyway, where people put pierced earrings in their ears and safety pins in fabric, not flesh.

Not many days later, I was hunched over on the table with my shirt up, getting tattooed for life. I like it now. I really love it, actually, and Russ does too. But I must admit to some degree of tattoo remorse the night of the event, when I had to shuffle carefully into the house, gingerly remove the bandage and show Russ and the kids what I had done. It was startling--it ended up much larger than anyone, including me, expected.

What is it?'s an original work of art, a collaboration between me and my tattoo guy and his wife, who is also a tattoo artist. I didn't want anything as wimpy as a butterfly or a little, tiny rose, but I also didn't want skulls or spiderwebs or cartoon characters. We designed something one-of-a-kind, that would be somewhat abstract, but would incorporate my children into the design--the tiger face for Tiger Scott, and Zach and Haleigh are woven into it too, with their initials in the "ribbons" on either side of the Tiger face.

It was sore and tender like a sunburn for a week or so. It takes about a month for a tattoo to "cure", before you expose that tender skin to the sun, sea or swimming pool. There is a whole after-tattoo regimen, but it all comes down to keeping it well-moisturized--and keeping everybody's hands off! (WHY must people always TOUCH something like that? It hurts!)

Reactions to my tattoo have run the gamut, from my own initial remorse to Russ's shock at the size and scope of my art. He quickly recovered with the philosophy of "you got it now, we might as well love it!" My oldest son (age 8) refused to look at it, but then a few days later was trying to get me to "show it off" at school. My daughter (age 5) thought it was "cool" from the start, loves to show and tell Mommy's tattoo to anyone and everyone, which can be embarrassing. My youngest son (age 2) just wanted to touch it (ouch). He likes the Tiger face.

My (age 67) mother's response, when I was brave enough to show her: "That is NOT a REAL tattoo! WHY would you do something like that?!" To her credit, she apologized and asked to see it again later. She still hasn't quite gotten over it, but she's trying.

© 2003 Sherri Caldwell and The Rebel Housewife, LLC.
All Rights Reserved. 

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