Tattooing Family Part 2

I know. I left you hanging and the lamb-shaped butter shaking in its dish on Easter. I, too, was waiting to see what happened when my niece, Em, showed off her tattoo to my Mom. I asked my spy to write down Mom’s reactions and words. We’ll call this spy, Katerina. (Not her civilian name.) Don’t miss a word, I demanded.

Here’s how it shook out.

Niece waited until after everyone had breakfast. Good call. Who gets mad during dessert and coffee? No one in my family. That’s when all the jokes and oh I have the funniest story moments start rolling in. Whoever can make Dad laugh to the point that all sound is drained from him and he clutches at his chest in mercy, wins. This is also the time when people have delivered news: We’re getting married. We’re having a baby. I’m going to Paris by myself. (Can you tell which one was mine?)

Em told my Mom she had something to show her. My brother, Adam, put his hand on Mom’s shoulder and Em lifted up her hair, revealing her Rodzina tattoo.

“Why did you do that?” my Dad calmly offered.

“I gonna punch you in the puchkis.” Mom said. I pictured her raising her fist in a jokey way.

Then instead of punching her in the cheeks, she kissed her neck.

She kissed her neck!

A relief! I think my brothers and sister-in-law noticed that she might not have registered what the word actually was and told her to look at it again.

Then it sort of stunned her.

My other brother texted me, She didn’t take it so bad. Once the coast was clear, I called.

“So Ma, what do you think of the tattoo?”

“You know I hate’dem.”

“Ya but don’t you think of all the tattoos she could have gotten that it’s kinda significant that she chose a word in Polish and that word means family? That’s pretty deep for such a young girl.”

“Hm,” Mom said, getting quiet. “Yah. You right, that says something. Thoughtful. Hm.” She paused again. “I’m gonna tell her after talking to you I understand her better.”

Now I was the one stunned. Really, I thought? How come it’s so easy for her to understand my 18 year old niece in a two sentence dialogue, but when it comes to conflict with me we have conversations that don’t end in Mom’s enlightenment?

Grandchildren can really do no wrong.

Later, I followed up with Mom.

“What did you end up saying to Emily?”

“She think I gonna take so badly. I ask her don’t do it. I tell her, I not upset. I tell her, after I talk to Jannett, what she say, it make me very warm. Usually I hate ‘dem tattoos, but somekinda make me happy.”

(Niece, when I am decrepit, I hope you remember to lift a spoon to my mouth!)

“Did you give more thought to the actual tattoo, the word, rodzina?” I asked.

“To me if someone cherish the family, to me, that is like Number 1. It feels good. To me, family means everything.”


Tattooing Family


Em Getting Tattooed

Em Getting Tattooed on Saturday

My niece, Emily, is planning to reveal her new tattoo to Babcia, my mother, this morning at Easter breakfast. Dad and Ciocia will be there too of course, but they are silent knowing trees, to Mom’s active frontline.  I sense the butter lamb on the table already trembling.

I’m trying to picture how Mom will react. Sign of the Cross?  Yell at niece but kill brother before the eggs and kielbasa are passed around?  Repeat the word tattoo like she might not understand its meaning? Maybe just maybe, go with the flow? Sometimes Mom can surprise me.

If she faints from shock, Ciocia can use the freshly grated horseradish to make her come to.

Several things will be working in my niece’s favor:

1.) It’s a holiday

2.) The whole family (except me) will be there

3.) Mom will naturally lay blame on her parents

4) The Tattoo is of the word “rodzina” which means family in Polish.

With or without ink, Family is tattooed on all of us.

With or without ink, Family is tattooed on all of us.

That ought to bring on pause and surprise.  Just like it did for me when my niece told me of her plan for her 18th Birthday and asked me to verify the spelling. It’s pronounced with a slight roll of the “R”. Roh-gee-nah.

See, we are not a tattoo nuclear family.  Maybe it is truer to say, we have never been a family to believe in permanence. We could never even get Dad to put a bumper sticker on his car, no matter how hard we tried.

In college, when I came home with two extra piercings on only one ear on my already pierced ears, Dad said, “You just had to get another hole in your head.”  That’s about as brazen as it got at home with body art.

Maybe this is why I collect antiques the way other people get tattoos, to find an anchor of permanence in an impermanent world. Give ourselves reminders that we’re living.

Two of my young male cousins got tattoos, and I don’t think Mom flinched. But what will she think of her young granddaughter, the girl who loves animals so much, she took a broom and snapped all of the mouse traps in the basement when she was 10, the Captain of the Cheerleading Squad, with the word rodzina written in cursive script on the back of her neck?

I can’t wait to get the phone call. Will Mom blow a gasket or simply say, “She crazy.”

Em was about 12 years old when my aunt and uncle from Poland visited us for an extended time. So eager was she to communicate with them, she asked me to buy her a Polish Language cd. She memorized vocabulary. Not knowing whole sentences didn’t stop her from enjoying a quiz or recitation. Among the many words she knows, Lotnisko airport, trawa  grass and lody ice cream. Plus proszęPlease and dziękuję  –Thank You, which she knew even before she knew she was studying Polish.

This plan really got me thinking. Of all the tattoos Em could have gotten: hearts, stars, designs, quotes, etc. She chose the word family and in Polish. Since I’m working on a memoir about our Polish family and have been compelled at a very early age to investigate ancestry and heritage– not necessarily a conscious choice but like following a magnetic pull through a maze, her tattoo choice warms my heart.

It made me wonder, do we tattoo the next generation with family legacies? For better, for worse. In presence or absence our family is a sum of what extended before us.

I asked her what inspired her.

She said, “I’ve been wanting to get a tattoo since freshman year. I didn’t want something random or something I’d regret.  And I thought, I don’t regret my family.  Then I thought what can I do to make it different and I chose to make it in Polish, cause that’s what I mostly am.”

Will this be a secret?

“I’m getting it in cursive and I’m putting it on the back of my neck. I’ll be able to hide it for job interviews if I put my hair down. No, it’s not a secret. LOL. My mom is coming with me to get it. My dad is like, whatever. LOL.”

I can tell you right now, that my brother was not like, whatever.  Given her age, I’m sure he sighed. I’m sure he ran the riot act of do you know what you’re doing? I’m sure four years ago when this was brought up he was hoping it would go away. I’m sure he impressed the meaning of the word permanent.  I’m sure he thoroughly expressed his opinion and then let his daughter make her own choices.

She’s gutsy. I love that that she thought of the word family. I could never get a tattoo. I got nervous for her when my sister-in-law texted and sent me photos of the process.  In fact, it’s one of my reoccurring anxiety dreams I have.  Once after a friend recounted, in painful detail, what it was like to have laser resurfacing on her face, that night I dreamt that I got a giant purple leaf tattoo on one whole side of my face. Not even a cool-can’t-explain-it-because-it-was-so-beautiful in the dream but an ugly wall mural type leaf. Filled in solid light purple. I woke up in a sweat and was relieved when I looked in the mirror in the morning. I still shudder when I think of the leaf on my face.  Another time, I dreamt I had a snake tattooed on the entire length of my arm. Sheesh.  Panic-city when I woke up.  Real tattooing is not for me. I’ll appreciate them from afar and think about the other ways I’m tattooed by my family and write about it.

I’ll stick to collecting antiques too.

Mom is bananas about all four of her grandkids and given that I probably won’t have children of my own, they are like my own. (I was at the birth for two of them.) I wonder as generations of our family die, who of the young cousins and nieces and nephews will be interested to stay in touch with their heritage?

This tattoo gives me hope that the future is not without the root.

Seems kinda heavy to say to Emily, so I will just say it looks cool and that I loved the beautiful script, as I secretly analyze metaphors and extrapolate the largeness of this act, ponder its implications for generations and appreciate its poetic muscle.



Wesołych Świąt Wielkanocnych

Happy Easter!