Sammy Nickalls
August 06, 2015 9:51 am

My parents have always been the “cool” parents. Growing up, my friends always begged to have sleepovers at my house; after a period of time, it just went without saying that we’d hang out at my place. They were always so much more relaxed than all the other parents, buying us pizza and letting us take over the family TV to watch cartoons.

As I grew older and started high school, my parents sat me down. “We know kids your age drink,” they said. “If you ever find yourself in the situation where you can’t get home and are tempted to get into a car with a drunk driver — please, call us. We promise we won’t be mad.”

Those three sentences sum up my parents in a nutshell, really. They’ve always been super down-to-earth, knowing my brother and I will make our own mistakes in some way or another. They never smothered us or participated in “helicopter parenting” — they would let us fall because they knew that was a part of life, but they’d make sure we had a safety net to lessen the blow.

As a result, as I grew older, I never wanted to disappoint them, because I was so appreciative of their open and honest parenting.

And that’s where the whole “tattoo” thing got tricky.

My parents have only ever had one real, steadfast rule: no tattoos. Tattoos are stupid, ugly, and completely rash, in their opinion, and that was the one thing they wouldn’t stand. I adore body art of all kinds, always have and always will, but it seemed entirely cruel to break the one singular law my parents had set for me. They’ve been so supportive and understanding, so seems only fair, right?

Except for one tiny problem: with every passing year, I fell harder and harder for tattoos.

In college, I found myself admiring ink on passing students, daydreaming about getting a tattoo myself. In fact, I knew exactly which one I wanted: a one-of-a-kind wave designed by a skilled tattoo artist to represent a quote from one of my favorite writers that’s helped me deal with my anxiety. I decided that the best way to deal with my predicament is to just be open and honest with them, as they’ve always been with me. I told them about my desire to get a wave tattoo, explaining my reasoning and assuring them that it will be on my foot, easily covered up.

My dad warmed up to the idea surprisingly quickly. My mom? Not so much. When I got the tattoo three months later and posted a picture on Facebook, she called me, near tears. “You did it,” she whispered. “You really did it. The one thing I asked you not to do, after all these years.”

My guilt was crippling. For the first time, I had disappointed my mother. I loved my new tattoo, but every time I looked at it, peeling and itchy as it healed, I was reminded of my betrayal.

But as the months went on, I started dreaming of new tattoos. I got three more (involving Sherlock, Harry Potter, and John Green, because I’m a widespread fangirl), but this time, I did something I’ve never done before.

I kept a secret from my parents.

My second tattoo was in September of 2013, and that one was on my ribs. For about two years, I managed to keep that one covered up, hidden beneath one-pieces and tankinis on our family vacations. But the other two were on my arms, and as I got them in the spring of this year, I knew I only had so many weeks left until I couldn’t bear to wear long sleeves any longer.

So I came clean. I told my dad first, about two weeks earlier, and he was surprisingly chill. But I knew my mother was the real challenge. Sitting at the patio table in our backyard, my eyes filling with tears and my voice shaking, I absolved myself of all secrets.

“Please don’t hate me,” I said pathetically, a lump forming in my throat.

She sighed and leaned back in her chair. “I’d love you if you were tattooed from head to toe, dumbass,” she said.

The view of tattoos changes vastly between the generations, something that’s becoming increasingly clear as tattoos are becoming accepted and even normal in the workplace. But that didn’t change the fact that even in my 20s, I was so afraid of disappointing my parents after decades of trust and mutual honesty. My fear caused me to do something the exact opposite of trust and honesty: I lied. For two years.

Sure, they were upset after my first tattoo, but that wouldn’t and couldn’t change their feelings about their children. I should have realized that some ink in my skin won’t change a thing, because they raised me to be my own individual.

And above all, that’s the thing my tattooed self will love them for the most.

(Image via author’s Instagram)

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