Getting Inked in My 60s

tattoo artist in black gloves drawing a tattoo on a person s arm

Photo by Isabella Mendes on

Inked, getting a tat, body art, whatever you call it, getting a tattoo is not usually a spur-of-moment decision (unless perhaps you have had too much to drink). I had never been a big fan of tattoos. Whenever I thought of tattoos I thought of skulls and daggers, prison inmates, motorcycle gangs, and counter-culture rebels.

Even though both of my sisters AND my mom have had tattoos forever, I did not. As they reached their teens, I tried very hard to dissuade my children from permanently disfiguring their bodies with ink. My thought was that tattoos are so permanent that I did not want my kids to regret doing something so irreversible without the maturity to accept the consequences. As I secretly hoped that the ‘wanting a tattoo’ phase would fade, I told them that at 18 (because we all know that is definitely the age of reason, actually it is the age that they no longer needed my permission) they could decide for themselves.

Promptly at age 18, one of my sons told me that he wanted a Michael Jordan quote tattooed onto his side. My son worked hard in school, he ran cross country and track, and he wasn’t asking my permission, just my blessing. How could I be upset with that?

Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it. ~Michael Jordan

A few years after that, my younger son, also a runner and not quite 18, said that all he wanted for Christmas was a tattoo to commemorate his running. Across his shoulders he wanted the initials A.R.L.I.A.I.K. which stands for “a runner’s life is all I know”. Underneath those initials he wanted a quote from Steve Prefontaine inked too.

 To give anything less than your best, is to sacrifice the gift. ~Steve Prefontaine

I let him get it.

My daughter, a Maths teacher (and no I did not misspell Maths, she teaches in England), opted for mathematical equation tattoos. My son-in-law and daughter-in-law too have brilliant designs inked onto their bodies. I realized that I was outnumbered, but I also became inspired. I began to see that a tattoo could be much more than a gang symbol or a prison insignia.

Getting My Ink

And so it is that at 60+, I joined every other adult woman in my family and got inked.

It took me a couple of years to land upon a design for my first tattoo. I had to find something that was meaningful and that I would enjoy looking at for the rest of my life. Thus, my first tattoo has three parts to it, my personal maxim, a symbol of my heritage, and a tribute to my family.

I started with the words bí cineálta (pronounced b- kin-alta). Bí cineálta is Irish for ‘be kind’. I am not proud to admit that I can be a little snarky and judgmental from time to time, so I thought it fitting to inscribe a permanent reminder of how I want to feel and behave. Now, whenever I’m feeling critical, I rub my left arm to remind myself to bí cineálta.


My First Ink

Part two of my tattoo is the celtic knots that frame my maxim. Both the Irish words and the intricate celtic knots are a nod to my love of Ireland where some of my ancestors came from. The third and most important part are the shamrocks which represent my family, my kids, their spouses, and my grandkids. I even left room for growth.

About a year later, my sisters (who were inked way before I was even interested) and I decided to get sister tats. We chose a design with three components to it, for the three of us, each spiral slightly different from the other.


My Sister Tat

I am not done getting tattoos. I have at least two more designs in mind. If I were 30 years younger, I would probably have them all over my body. Rather than something grotesque or obscene, I view my tats as personal art. When I look in the mirror, when my ink peaks out from under a sleeve, I marvel at my skin as a canvas and the beauty that I get to carry with me forever.

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