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  • The first tattoo I ever got was when I was eighteen years old and looking for a way to permanently delineate my painful childhood from my young adulthood, full as it was of fierce possibility. It was a butterfly, inked across my hipbone in vibrant blues, blacks, and shades of grey. I had hope that this tiny, little bit of ink would be a positive totem for my future. I bit my lip when a heavily-tattooed man pulled down the corners of my underwear and unapologetically dug his humming needle across my bones.

    Other tattoos followed, each one identifying new chapters in my story. A zodiac sign for my dead brother, a dandelion gone to seed for those things I was furiously wishing for, a lotus for enlightenment through pain, a quill for an enduring committment to my writing life. I felt such love for the inked narratives embedded in my skin. Just by walking around in my body I could express details about my history and serve as an artist's living canvas. I had one story missing from my skin, though, the impact of what it meant to my life (and my whole being) to be the mother of three children.

    I'd always idly considered how I might depict this transformation in tattoo form, but nothing ever settled in. Competing ideas and impulses always thwarted these ideas. That is, until well after my difficult divorce and child custody arrangement, when it was decided that my children would only be living with me for half of their lives. I'd gone from full-time, stay-at-home mama to a working one, to a single one with full shared custody. One week they live with their father, one week with me...the demanding cyclical compromise that means I will forever be in flux between having and missing my children.

    On one of my solo Saturdays, I found an old book in a library estate sale where each day was depicted with a different flower and poetic sentiment for 365 days of the year. I quickly flipped to my children's birthdays and found an Austrian rose, a cinquefoil, and a red rose bud for my three, and poetic sentiments that struck me with a deep ache to have them by my side. Immediately, I decided that their tattoo would be these flowers on my side--to have them with me, physically, no matter whose week it was. I set out to find an artist who would render my children's tattoo in all of the lush artistry they deserved.

    After I found her, we set to work--but, the size of the tattoo evolved from a small piece on my ribs to flare up over my shoulder and all the way down over my hip to the middle of my right thigh. Hour after hour, session after session, I have been sitting, feeling the burning sting of pain for each inked bloom and for every hour they are away from me. One year in, and two sessions yet to go, I know that I will never forget the ache of this transition from the lush thickets of motherhood to the quiet solitude and loneliness I so often endure now. My skin tells the story of what it means to blossom into one role and then out into another. It has beauty and thorns, both...this tattoo and this new version of life.
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