It is Saturday morning at 7:15am and I’m eating breakfast with my daughter Alice. She is six and half years old. We are eating French toast that I made from scratch. On the table is fresh squeezed orange juice, real maple syrup and a bowl of blueberries. I’m a newly divorced father. I’m proud of myself.
We are discussing what we are going to do that day — farmers market, a play date with a friend in the park, lunch at our favorite diner, and then maybe a movie.
She holds up a small white square of cardboard. She unfolds it.
“It’s a tattoo!” she declares.
“That’s good. Where did you get it?”
“At Lily’s birthday party.”
She coquettishly lifts her shirt and positions it in the middle of her naked chest.
“Should I put it here?”
“That would be fine.”
I’m struggling. The tattoo is of an ornate gold Gothic cross festooned with curling snakes. At the center of the cross is a large black heart. The heart is also festooned with writhing snakes.
Should I take it away? Tell her I’m calling Lily’s parents? Lecture her on the danger of birthday parties? Or do I let her tattoo herself and thereby encourage her first steps towards what will inevitably lead to nipple piercing in her teenage years (“But Dad you let me wear that Goth tattoo when I was six.”).
How do I overwhelm a threatening object? I reach for my best weapon.
“I want to tell you a story about my friend Mark,” I say.
Alice eyes me suspiciously.
“One day he was feeling sad because of a girl. He decided get a tattoo.”
There is a flicker of interest.
“So he asked me to help him. Together we found a store underneath a railway bridge. It was raining. Inside the store was a man with a needle. The store was dirty and dark and the man was short and he walked with a limp. He asked Mark what kind of tattoo he wanted. Mark said he wanted a Native American symbol called the Medicine Wheel. He drew a picture for the man and colored it in and handed the picture to him. The man told Mark to lie down in an old dentist’s chair. Then the man then took the needle and burned the shape into Mark’s skin.”
“Did it hurt?.”
“Oh yes. It was bleeding.”
“And what did Mark do?”
“He passed out.”
“What do you mean, ‘passed out.’ ”
“Did he wake up?”
“Yes, he woke up after the man gave him some water with sugar in it. The glass had dead flies in it.”
“And then what happened?”
“The man wrapped his arm up in a bandage.”
“And then Mark and I went to a bar and then we went home.”
“What happened next?”
“A few days later Mark unwrapped the bandage. It had scabs on it but Mark thought it looked really cool.”
“What happened next?”
“He was playing sports and another friend looked at his arm and said ‘why do you have a pie chart on your arm?’”
“What is a pie chart?”
“It’s a math thing.”
What happened next?
“Mark was embarrassed.”
“And then what?”
“A few months later Mark got a new girlfriend. He wasn’t sad anymore. But there was a problem.”
“What was that?”
“His girlfriend hated the pie chart.”
“What happened next?
“Mark wore long sleeves.”
“Did the he take the tattoo off?”
“No. That’s the problem with tattoos. They don’t come off. They last forever and ever.”