As we headed up the stairs, my glance rested on my daughter's ankle and I gasped. Did I really see what I thought I saw? It couldn't be - not a tattoo - on my child!
But there it was - an orange tiger paw, symbol of the university she attended and loved.
I hoped against hope that it was a temporary tattoo and waited for her reassurance that everything was OK. But the reassurance didn't come. The tattoo wasn't temporary; it was the real thing.
It took me two days to calm down. All I could think about were sailors with bulging arms like Popeye and his nemesis, Bluto, emblazoned with tattoos. Tattoos that announced messages such as "I love Mom" or that had their girlfriends' names entwined with roses.
How could this happen in my family, I wondered. What had I done wrong?
In between these thoughts were images of my beautiful daughter in a wedding gown with the wind blowing, the dress lifting, and the tattoo there for all to see. Oh the humiliation and shame. I felt as though my world had fallen apart. (My kids often tease me about how melodramatic I can be!)
Interestingly, for several months before this happened, I had been giving a lot of thought to young people and how their frame of reference is so different from that of adults, and how often we fail to take this into account in our dealings with them. We proceed on the assumption that the world is the way we see it and expect our kids to be functioning in that same arena when, in fact, the world they operate in is totally different from ours, even though we are on the same planet and in the same country.
Following this line of reasoning, I thought about my daughter's explanation and tried to see things from her perspective. She said that tattoos are commonplace and accepted in her world. In fact, she noted, probably three-quarters of her sorority sisters have one or more tattoos. And, she continued, "I decided that it was my way of expressing the way I feel about a place that has come to mean so much to me. It's all about celebrating this amazing time in my life."
Putting myself in her shoes and those of her generation cast things in a different light for me. I began to distinguish between those standards that will never change (the Ten Commandments, for example) and cultural mores of the moment, which do change, like fashion, with the times.
The challenge for me is to be able to distinguish between the two and let the latter roll off my back, while refusing to compromise on issues of ethics and morality.
So, I have accepted my daughter's tattoo and all it stands for in her life. And when it peeks out from under a long skirt or I get a glimpse of it above her sock, it serves as a gentle reminder that there are other perspectives in this world besides mine.