Rachel Charlene Lewis
Updated May 23, 2016 @ 11:30 am

When I went home to see my mom last month, she asked me what it really felt like to get a tattoo. I looked at her, surprised. I couldn’t figure out why she was asking. I answered her, hesitantly telling her that, to me, it felt like needles scratching and picking at my skin, and that when it hit bone it just felt like being stabbed, but in a swift sort of way. It didn’t make me cry, but it did make me sweat.

My mom nodded as I told her what I thought, and listened, too, as my girlfriend gave her own response. We waited for her to explain.

Finally, she said she wanted to get a tattoo of her own. Or, actually, three of them. I couldn’t have been more surprised.

I got my first tattoo my sophomore year of college, a matching one with my younger sister. I got my second and third a year later. My sister has two, and our younger brother wants one as soon as he’s eighteen. My mom has always been nervous about tattoos. She stresses out about infections, and bad artists, and if we’ll regret them.

So I was beyond excited when my mom said she wanted three of her own.

We sat around the kitchen table and my mom showed us the tattoos she wanted, some small, and some pretty huge. I talked to her about the process, the stencils, choosing fonts, and finding an artist who you’re comfortable with. My girlfriend helped her figure out placement, and we pointed at our tattoos and explained which hurt most, which places are better for words, which for images.

It was pretty incredible to sit and talk to my mom so openly about tattoos. She’s not conservative by most standards. My sister has around 15 piercings, and I have a few of my own. She’s never tried to stop us, but we knew about her concerns and what worried her about altering our bodies. As tattoos get more common and less taboo (especially in the workplace), her stress has lessened.

Whenever I talk about my love for tattoos, I talk about how important it is to own my body. To know it’s mine, and no one else’s. Only I can define how I decorate my skin. There’s so much empowerment and beauty behind the decision to get a tattoo, as well as a willingness to say, this is who I am right now, and maybe another version of me wouldn’t do this, but she’ll remember that this one existed. And she won’t feel ashamed. I’m about all of that. And I’m so proud of my mom for seeing it that way, and for deciding to be confident enough to throw caution to the wind and ignore what anyone else would think. She’s getting tattoos because she can. Because her body is her own.

I’m going to visit my mom again over the summer, and we’ve spent our Skype sessions looking up local artists together and talking about their style and comparing their work with what she’s looking for. I’m going to go with her to get her first one, and are planning to get matching ones for her second.

This morning, she emailed me, “I am excited to get a tattoo with you. You have inspired me to be me more than you know.”

Whether she ends up getting tattoos or not, whether she ends up with just one or with a dozen, whether our plans work out or not, nothing means more in the world than knowing I’ve helped my mother be herself.