I am pleased to report that we have entered negotiations around a tattoo. No, not for me – I am 44 this month, and the last thing my old skin needs is some ludicrous adornment to draw attention to how saggy and pasty it is. It is my eldest child who is considering getting inked. This is quite the escalation of her demands, given that it was only last Christmas she wanted a puppy, and now she apparently wants to join the Yakuza. It’s hard to know if she is just leveraging her way to the puppy by telling me she is going to get some ironic hipster watercolour of a Capri Sun or a misspelled Arabic word, and is then going to settle for the puppy. Either way, it’s a flat no, because tattoos are a timestamp from another you, one that is passing even as the artist is drilling the ink into your skin. I told her that when I was her age, I desperately wanted to get a Guns N Roses tattoo. Who are they, she asked? Exactly, I replied. Whatever she is thinking of getting, in a decade it will be completely out of date; in two decades it will be embarrassing, and in thirty or forty years you will have to spend some time explaining a blurry skull/mushy celtic knot/sagging wizard to your kids.
I spent some time trying to tell my daughter that the version of herself she is now will be gone in 12 months, but her tattoo will be forever, so maybe she should wait until she is safely out of the age of terrible ideas – ie, past the age 25 – and see if she still wants one then. No, she wants one now, and the more I resist, the more ludicrous the proposed tattoo became – concepts like ‘thug life’ across the knuckles, or an ice cream cone on her face, like Gucci Mane.
Eventually we stumbled across a perfect resolution to our negotiations – the fact she is on blood thinners means that rather than being a common-or-garden bad decision, for her getting a tatt could just end up in an ED, covered in blood, with a half finished ice-cream cone tattooed across her forehead. While I might be secretly relieved she can’t get thug life across her knuckles, it is just another thing we have to add to the ever growing list of things she can’t do that other teenagers can. She wanted to get a summer job, medical advice was that she shouldn’t; she wants to go to the beach with her friends, but she isn’t meant to go out in the sun. She is advised towards foods she doesn’t like (‘eat more red meat’, they tell a girl who is going vegan to save the world) and has to take an inordinate amount of medications each day. Even the meds don’t work as they should, so the latest attempt to get better results from the pharmaceutical bombardment is that she gets infusions. No, not infusions of lemongrass and peppermint, as one might expect for an eco warrior like her, but of immunosuppressants and steroids.
There is something so sad about seeing our child lying in a hospital bed for six hours, cannulated and being drip fed drugs to stop her body from attacking itself. I try to put things in perspective, reminding myself that things could be worse – I grew up watching my sister’s losing battle with epilepsy, and the list of things that she could not do was far longer and more cruel than ‘avoid sun and tattoos’. But it is still cruel. Her condition is one of those which you are reassured won’t stop you from living a normal life – but normal life is sometimes about crap tatts and sunburn, rather than having to be more mature than your years and actually try to grasp the concept of a future you who needs to be cared for in the present.
But we still argue about tattoos and school and all the other things other families argue about, because the world keeps turning. Her illness is her cross to bear, while my wife and I are really a sort of tag team version of Simon of Cyrene, occasionally jumping in to try and carry the weight, and reassure her that she has plenty time to make terrible choices, and that if we can’t rely on her to wear factor 50 when out and about, then puppy ownership and dragon tattoos are both a long way off.