Young son ready to hang out in the parlor

September 22, 2003

A green-eyed leopard with red dots wraps around his arm. His chest is plastered with another pair of fierce animal eyes and yet, for him, it is not enough. My 5-year-old pleaded for a third tattoo, the last one from the assortment his dad had given him.

His sister, the resident tattoo artist at our house, patiently applied a wet cloth and held it to the sticker. I'm not sure who applied the pattern between her shoulder blades. Sure, the 8-year-old likes them, too, and her teenage sister has been coveting a belly ring, but their grandmother thwarted her with threatening not to speak to her if she got one. Who knows whether she'll get in on the piercing action when she gets older and doesn't need anyone's permission.

I'm not really worried about a belly button ring that can be taken out when a grandmother's sharp eye is turned upon it. It's the permanent markings that my son wants that bother me.


I forecast the future where he appears on some TV show with every inch of his body covered in art, even his eyelids. (Oh, that's gotta hurt.)

I have nothing against this fad that won't go away. Evidently, my son is hip at a young age. He knows what's in vogue. Two or three tattoo parlors have blossomed in a small town like Danville, and we're nowhere near a port where such places indulge the fantasies of drunken sailors.

Nothing against all the nice young ladies with their roses or small creatures or Greek signs on their shoulders or ankles. I know you need these symbols of self-expression grafted onto your bodies. And most of the time, you can conceal them or it's cute when someone sees it and squeals, "Oh, you have a tattoo. Let me see it."

But with my son, judging by his enthusiasm for body art, I think he's going to go overboard. Oh, I admit that I've resorted to a little bit of bribery in the form of a stick-on tattoo in exchange for good behavior. I've passed the machines at the bowling alley or the skating rink and pocketed a couple to stock up for when I need them. I just didn't realize I was creating monster.

He has such a fascination with them. He asks a cousin to look at his "body art" over and over. He's charmed by my husband's uncles who can make the girls on their arms do a dance.

Tommy knows how to get the most out of a tattoo. If there's one on his chest, that area has no dealings with a bar of soap. He can stretch out the life of a fake tattoo for weeks, but that's just not good enough anymore. He's no longer content with his temporary marks.

His fetish for a real tattoo feeds on itself to the point that Tommy is begging to be taken to a place where they use needles. If it involved a splinter in his foot, he wouldn't want to go anywhere near a needle, but with tattoos, it's a different story. He just wants to look at some of the choices in the books. My husband doesn't think he can go in a shop until he's 18, but dad has promised he will ask. Every day, Tommy wants to know when they'll be going.

Who knows what will happen if this scenario plays out. Tommy has been challenging his dad. "Why don't you have a real tattoo, Daddy? The needle kind. Are you scared?"

Will my husband's buried machismo surface? Will he feel the need to impress his son? Is he ready to join the club and support this local industry?

Well, maybe a nice heart with our names on it would be OK.

Emily Toadvine is features editor

at The Advocate.|9/21/03***

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