The Cool Mom Or, how I got a tattoo

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I can do this. No fears. After all, my daughter is with me for support. Typically, when we talk “mother- daughter bonding,” we picture moms and their grown daughters shopping together or sitting in a cozy corner of a café sipping coffee. Today, however, my daughter and I stand at the front door of the Chicago Tattooing Company, “Chicago’s oldest and finest tattooing and piercing studio.” And, as the business card states, they are open every day from noon until midnight. I wonder, somewhat distractedly, how many people in the Windy City, unable to fall asleep, jump out of bed and hop on down for a quick tattoo before closing time.

Our decision was made months ago. While visiting my daughter in Chicago, she and I would get identical tattoos on our forearms — nothing ostentatious, just a simple outline of a cloud.

This design was planned too. When my daughter was in preschool, I would tell her about the big white, fluffy cloud that she and I would sit in while gliding high above our village and naming familiar landmarks. This game was my version of a lullaby, and soon we would both be asleep for a long afternoon nap. Our matching clouds would officially commemorate those quiet afternoons of bonding.

And today, the time has come. Ink free, I boldly march forth into the unknown. The building, about the size of a local grocery store, is a bright beehive of activity, the electric needles at each station humming.

Unfortunately, my mind wanders to my dentist’s office and I hear the incessant, high-pitched buzzing of a drill on an all-out assault of my molars. “Snap out of it,” I tell myself. My daughter has always maintained I was the coolest mom on the block. This is not the day to let that title go.

And while the Chicago Tattooing Company is not the makeup department at Saks, where my daughter and I experimented with lipstick just the day before, it’s also far more intriguing. There are comfy, over-stuffed sofas in the waiting room. The walls are plastered with hundreds of designs — a museum of ink art. Display cases are filled with marvelous jewelry for piercing.

At the registration counter, an assistant gives us a paper to sign and return. Oh God, I think, they’ll give us blood poisoning, and our survivors won’t get a penny to bury us! (I was to later learn that every needle was one-use-only, sterilized and pre-packaged.)

“Snap out of it and get down to business,” I tell myself again. I am sure these nice folks can smell apprehension. I need to keep calm and press on.

To distract myself, I chat with the owner, Dale Grand, who tells me that when the company opened in the mid-’60s, it was the only tattoo shop in the entire city of Chicago. He arrived in 1973 and got a job with the former owner, originally as a gopher, but he then learned the trade and eventually become the sole owner of the business.

Soon, it’s our turn to talk about what my daughter and I want and to pay. We’re informed the company operates on a cash-only basis. In a lame attempt at levity, I ask the agent if they honor Medicare — not a lie since I’m in my mid-60s. She smiles but perhaps out of pity for my decision so late in life. My daughter tells the counter assistant we want a 1-inch by half-inch outline of a cloud. I point to the front of my forearm, a few inches above the hand. My daughter turns her arm over, indicating she wants hers in the same place but on the inside of her arm. When I turn my arm over, I am greeted with the familiar lines of raised, blue highways. Not over these veins! I want a tattoo, not death by bleeding out.

Later, Dale will tell me what I’ve come to know as true by seeing the arms and ankles and collarbones around me. Tattoos are mainstream now — a fashion statement and typically gotten by 20-, 30- and 40-year-olds from all walks of life. Because of their popularity, today’s inked artwork has progressed to the point of photo-realism. “If you can draw it, you can tattoo it,” he enthuses, explaining he was a watercolorist as far back as he can remember.

Hmmm, should I be a smart aleck and tell him I want Monet’s water lilies next time? My turn with the tattoo artist has come. I’m excited now and take my designated place in the procedure area, thrilled to see that David, who will ink my arm, is a gentleman about my age. Great! Lots of experience. He affixes a decal in the shape of a cloud on my forearm and tells me to check it in the mirror for proper placement.

“Let’s do this!” I tell David with the resolution of a skydiver ready to jump. I won’t lie and say I felt nothing. But for me, it was far preferable to the dentist’s drill, and it took way less time than filling a cavity. My daughter is next, and I ask David if I can pull up a chair and watch.

“We get a few 70-, even 80-year-olds in here,” David tells us. “Great,” I reply. “I’ll be back in a few years!”

As the cloud forms on her arm, my mind once again wanders back to the time when, as a child, she always wanted me beside her in the doctor’s office. I slowly begin to realize how great this is, the two of us together getting twin tattoos.

Afterward, we head out for a celebratory glass of wine and I wonder how I fared in my daughter’s eyes.

“Mom, our tattoos are so cool,” she blurts out.

Yep. No regrets here.

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