The year my best friend and I turned 40, we were both living in a place you could only find by GPS coordinates. But like most small towns these days, they still managed to have a bar, a convenience store and a Chinese restaurant. To celebrate our milestone year, we trekked half an hour to the nearest tattoo parlor in Ennis, Ireland, somewhere between Feakle and Tulla. We got our noses pierced at a place called Clown Town, and I suppose the lack of options made the choice of studs pretty easy. I managed to get it infected by the time I was in Spain two weeks later, and my friend spent over a year shopping for the right nose ring to replace the Cracker Jack one installed at Clown Town.
A few years passed. I had twins. And then after what seemed like an eternity, I emerged from the gauntlet of baby rearing. There was no longer a child suckling on my teat, hanging on my leg or occupying my bed 24/7. I finally had regular help with child care and started to get out of the house. I felt what it was like to sleep again, and it felt like a rebirth.
I wanted to buy new clothes and burn all of my stretchy pants. But I had yet to lose the weight gained from carrying twins. In the absence of clothes shopping, I found a few other ways to celebrate my newfound freedom: I freshened up my hairstyle with a couple of blue and purple extensions, I booked a vacation with my best friend, and I added another piercing to my ear.
Then, one after another, family and friends starting getting sick. Admonitions to live life every day to the fullest filled my ears. I have always strove not to live with regrets, but this string of illnesses hit home the fact that I could not take for granted that I would have time to strike items off my bucket list at some undetermined point in the future. Truly, there is no time like the present.
A subliminal itch going back a quarter of a century leapt full force into my consciousness. I had always wanted a tattoo, but I was scared of its permanence. In my 20s, I resorted to body piercing instead. At least those could be removed, right? (By now, I have removed most of mine.) So I really had to make sure I got the right tattoo for me (again, not living with regrets). I must have looked at thousands of different designs online but kept coming back to one in particular. It called to me, and I answered. Next, where to make my mark? I didn’t want to put the tattoo somewhere hidden from view. For me, that would defeat the purpose. I also didn’t want to choose a spot that would grotesquely disfigure the tattooed image as my body’s shape shifts with the ravages of time. Finally, I thought of the perfect place.
I braced myself for the pain. For 15 minutes, I did not flinch as a permanent etching slowly emerged from my flesh. It hurt, but not nearly as badly as I expected. More than anything, it felt gratifying to witness reality catching up with my imagination. I knew I had made the right decision.
On the inside of my left foot now resides a branch with three birds representing my children. I look at and touch it all the time. I would have regretted getting tattooed in my youth. I had not yet lived enough to choose something of significance. Certainly nothing as treasured as my children.
My 4-year-old is very observant and noticed my tattoo right away. Not knowing how to explain what a tattoo is, I tried to tell him it was a boo-boo. He looked at me and said, “Mama, that doesn’t look like a boo-boo. It looks like a tattoo.” After I had recovered from laughing and congratulated him for being so clever, I explained to him what it meant. “Mommy, that isn’t right. You are missing two birds. You are missing you and Daddy.” Once again, it was impossible to argue with the innocent wisdom of a 4-year-old. I had doubted I would ever get a tattoo, but now I am looking forward to the next one.
This article was originally published on