Teaching With Permanent Grace
- 2006 18 Sep
My daughter Zoe was about to turn six. For her, this was an endlessly interesting topic, turning six, and she peppered me with questions about the privileges associated with six: Could she wear makeup? Could she go on a sleepover? Have a boyfriend? We talked about "how old" for weeks: how old she had to be to get her ears pierced (twelve), that she had to be fifteen to drive a car, sixteen to drive by herself, and thirty-four to go on a date. She was disappointed to learn that six didn't sound much more interesting than five. Then one day, as we were driving home from town, she asked, "How old do I have to be when I get my tattoo?"
Tattoo? I suffered mild shock, I'm pretty sure. I almost pulled over the car. Did she actually say that? She knows that word?
Then it occurred to me that I have a tattoo on my left shoulder blade, left over from the teenager years. I realized the kids have had plenty of opportunity to see it this summer at the pool. We hadn't really talked about it. I'd actually forgotten it. It's not like I see it on a regular basis, and it certainly doesn't factor into my identity these days.
What shocked me was how Zoe seemed to perceive getting a tattoo as just another bloom in the garden of growing up, like high heels or a visit to the beauty salon. She had no idea how few mothers of six-year-olds (especially Christian ones) bore tattoos. She thought it was (gasp) normal.
Eight years after I accepted Christ, nine years after I got a rose tattooed on my shoulder, I found this verse in the Bible: "Do not . . . put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord." Leviticus 19: 28 (NIV). I was appalled. I had only meant to be countercultural, not sinful.
This flashed through my head in a nanosecond. But before I could formulate a response to Zoe, my sons, then 11 and 8 years old, began speculating about the tattoos they would one day get. An eagle. A sword. A light saber.
Like slogging through a swamp, my memory served up Rusty Savage's Tattoo Parlor. My husband (boyfriend, back then) Andy and I, in our infinite adolescent wisdom and whim, decided to commemorate our second date--no joke--by getting tattoos. It was precisely because my parents would hate it that I was so enthusiastic. It would last forever? So what!
Rusty had a beard like the guys from ZZ Top. He said he never made much money at tattooing, but it was "enough to keep his Harley habit going." A cat litter box was under the table of needles and ink. No way did I want one of my children setting foot in a tattoo parlor. The kids and I deliver meals to elderly folks downtown and we drive past a parlor that advertises scar art, branding, piercings and tattoos. These days, tattoos are just one of an array of things one can do to one's body in the name of individuality. But I don't want them to be searching for individuality. I want them to know without a doubt that they are the beloved children of the living God. . .
My mind then hurtled through the thirteen years since the day I came home with Saran Wrap (state of the art hygiene) taped over my new rose. The thrill quickly wore off. But there have been years since of trying to keep my shoulders back when wearing a sleeveless shirt so my tattoo wouldn't show, being horrified that it appeared through the lace of my wedding gown, having my feelings hurt when someone noticed my tattoo and grew instantly cool toward me.
Do I want my daughter to have one? No. Would I love her even if she tattooed every inch of her body? Of course. But I hope she won't.
I prayed for wisdom as I drove. I despise hypocrisy, and there I was, doing five miles an hour through our subdivision, hoping for the right words and feeling like the biggest hypocrite on earth. But we learn things as we go through life, and for better or for worse, it's our job as parents to pass on what we've learned as best we can.
I said, "You know your favorite shirt? The red one? You know how you put it on and it makes you feel happy when you wear it?"
"Well, you're growing every day. Someday that shirt won't feel quite as good as it does now. The sides will get tight and the arms will get too short."
Zoe agreed with that. We'd talked a lot lately about how big she was getting.
"What if you had to keep wearing that old shirt even after it didn't fit you anymore? The color gets faded and it's stained and it has holes because it's wearing out. What if you still had to wear it?"
Zoe said, "I wouldn't like that at all."
"For me, having my tattoo is like having a too-small shirt--it fit me fine for a while, and I liked it, but then I grew and changed and it didn't fit me anymore. Trouble is, now I can't take it off."
"Oh, that's bad," Zoe said.
"Well, then," said Eli. "I won't get that kind."
"I know!" crowed Brady. "Let's get those wash-off tattoos! An eagle."
"A light saber."
"Do they make wash-off roses?"
I breathed a sigh of relief. I hope they'll remember this conversation down the road, when decisions to be careful and prudent aren't always so easily made. I didn't say so out loud, but my tattoo is a good reminder: of how God has changed me, how He sees me, and how He guides me through this tricky business of parenting, even when I've made things difficult on myself. I'm glad for grace. And I'm thankful for God's mercies, which are indeed new every morning. And for wash-off tattoos.
Jennifer Morris has been homeschooling for six years. She lives with her husband and three children in rural Alaska. She can be reached at email@example.com.