I got a tattoo!

Do I love my kids that much, or am I having a mid life crisis?

Rachael Flanery
7 min readFeb 8, 2017


And if you throw your back out while getting said tattoo , is that a sign you are too old to be getting a tattoo?

Getting inked has tossed me into a pool of existential reflection. Who am I? What do I stand for? Is it supposed to be so scabby? Do these scabs smell? Is that ooze normal? If I go to the doctor, my lovely family physician who went to med school at my alma mater and reminds me of my big brother, will he be mad at me? Roll his eyes at my new act of rebellion?

Allow me to go back to the beginning. I’ve wanted a tattoo for a long time. Like forever. Thank goodness it took me 38 years to be okay with making my parents mad before committing. I would for sure have a tramp stamp of a clover or a lizard on my foot (not that those aren’t totally awesome choices).

Then of course I was going to do song lyrics. But in Hebrew! Or maybe “This too shall pass” in hieroglyphics.

I’ve always wanted to be totally alternative but have stayed Old Navy and Gap’s customer of the year into my adulthood. So what tat goes with clearance chambray? Fear of getting grounded and indecisiveness kept me ink free for decades.

A few months ago it hit me like a lightning bolt. Birds! Birds on my forearm representing my babies. A friend asked me what kind of bird and I responded maybe the twitter one?

Her reaction made me think I needed to think about this more. In my tattoo google searches I learned it’s a big open wound that takes a month to heal and gets scabby and gross. Well that was a turn off. So now fearing blood poisoning and indecisive once again life went on with virgin skin.

For Christmas my husband surprised me with a gift card…to a tattoo shop! It was such a thoughtful and kick ass gift. A very Sons of Anarchy merry Christmas. I dove into design research like it was my second job.

After an exhausting few days on Pinterest I learned the Chickadee was my spirit animal.

They are small but fierce. Social and known for using their voice. Since I do nothing halfway, this of course was going to cost hundreds of dollars and take up my whole arm.

Luckily I had a few days after my consultation to fine tune my permanent statement. A mamma bird and two babies sitting on a broken arrow. My husband has a broken arrow on his back (though much smaller and not nearly as kick ass as his now motorcycle mamma). It stands for peace and is the name of Neil Young’s ranch.

On the day of I prepped by chugging La Croix and had an extra Luna Bar on the drive over.

The shop was super hip and clean. Like a dentist’s office with steam punk clutter.

I settled in as my arm was shaved.

Can we pause for a sec to talk about this:

So….does my initial reaction of wanting to call my tattoo artist’s mother to share my concerns further indicate I am too old to get a tattoo? How gross! And just what the F is going on there?! I wanted to get into an authentic dialog about what this image means to the young man about to repeatedly put a needle in my arm, but I thought better of it. I studied this piece of art trying to make sense of it.

The way she’s grabbing her very circular boob and facial expression suggest that she enjoys being eating out by a skull. Perhaps this is her thing…it’s empowering…how dare I find it super gross. But then what to make of all the blood? Is she being murdered by oral sex? Maybe she has her period. Like she really gets off on skulls going down on her when she can shed her uterus all over their boney face. Yes. That’s the narrative I chose to go with.

Back to the needle going in and out of my arm for an hour. The pain wasn’t all that bad. When I’m nervous I want to talk. I was relieved when my friend Jen arrived with snacks. We chatted about the systemic issues within the public school system and I didn’t feel so out of place anymore.

It went by pretty quick and I’m so so happy I went through with it. Drum roll please…..

I don’t know about you, but these have been some pretty soul searching days for me. The whole world has gone crazy and I’m desperate to make a difference without being an asshole. All of 2016 has been a bit of a shit show for me mentally.

Uncertainty has always bred uncertainty. As I’m questioning the sturdiness of our democracy I’m lamenting all my failed creative endeavors. If I had just…shouldn’t I be doing this…what if I….

I’m convinced I suck as a writer. I don’t even try to act anymore. I half ass the parenting/wife thing and I’m lucky no one at my job has found out what a fraud I am. Now I’m embarking on a life as an activist surly doing it wrong and further oppressing the people I’m trying to support.

Who am I at my center? What really matters through all the noise on my news feed?

I am a mother fucking chickadee. I stand for peace and ferociously love my baby birds. Every time I look down at my arm I smile knowing I have proclaimed my center in black ink for the world to see.

I am reminded that on my most confusing days when my brain is running laps around fear and self doubt, that the thing I wanted to be most in this world, the thing that matters most, is to be my two kids’ mother. Fortune and fame and pats on the back at work will come and go. Ushering these two lives into the world and having the privilege to see them grow is the joy of my life.

My big birdie, Thomas. I will always worry about his sensitive, shy heart. He is wise beyond anyone’s years. His pre-k teacher told me she seeks him out for advice. He is literally the smartest five year old I have ever known and literally uses the word literally in context more correct than I do. The other night at bedtime he told me when he thinks about how much he loves his family he cries the “good” tears. He will change the world one day. Maybe by inventing a motor that runs on salt water. Maybe by just being kind.

My baby bird, Bettejane. Where to start with that one. She will have a face tattoo by the time she is 12. She is the Mother of Dragons. She is the most assertive, entertaining, engaging, terrifying human being I have ever met. Tom says he has imaginary friends and Betty has imaginary enemies. From the second she entered this world she has taught me that I am much tougher than I think I am. The Mother of Dragons had to get it from somewhere. I cannot wait to see how she defies all convention and blazes her own trail.

I finally had the most permanent of reasons to get a beautiful permanent tattoo. I love you Tom and Betty.

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Rachael Flanery

Hi! I'm a mom, teacher, writer, and wife. I don’t know what order to put those in. Let's connect! https://m.facebook.com/Rachwrites/