These days it is nothing strange to see parents walking around with their little ones, arms covered in body art. This post was written in 2014, you know – before tattoos were cool. I am just kidding, but seriously… a lot has changed in 5-years. Back then, we could not leave our house with our kids without being openly stared at, whispered about and getting attitude at certain establishments.
Tattooing has been around for thousands of years. It is one of the oldest forms of art, laden with as many different meanings as there are global cultures.
My husband and I are both quite heavily tattooed, yet by some miracle we both have careers and live in quite an afluent suburb in Cape Town. We earn decent incomes, we pay our rent on time every month, we each have our own cars, our child goes to private school, neither of us has ever been to prison, we don’t do drugs, we support charities, we love animals and we do not beat or abduct little children.
I feel like I should have this disclaimer printed, keep it in my handbag to had out to random people who seem to thing we are the scum of the earth – purely because of our physical appearance. It’s all fun and games when you are young and carefree – society is more likely to accept your tattoos and move on with their lives, but I have found that the rules change a little when you become parents.
I grew up in a very small town called Upington, situated in the Northern Cape between nothing and nowhere. My family is open-minded yet somewhat conservative and I knew hardly anyone with a tattoo. I was always different. I liked bright coloured hair, I listened to all genres of music you can think of, I loved rock n roll, Cypress Hill was my heart music and Korn helped me go to sleep at night. I was fascinated by the extreme sports culture, I was intrigued by Goths, I wanted to marry a surfer and I couldn’t wait to move to the big city.
When I was 17 we had the annual Upington Expo, I had just broken up with the biggest loser of a boyfriend and lost a lot of weight – I was so proud of myself and on a total adrenaline high. Walking through the stalls I came across this backyard tattoo artist from Cape Town. I got my 21-year old friend to pretend she was my mom and sign a permission slip, and I got my first tattoo off a flash sheet in a truck container…and it looks like shit, but I love it. I was hooked. I collected a number of tattoos over the years, and I love every single one of them. I will probably carry on getting them until I run out of space.
My career never suffered because of my tattoos, people stared, asked questions, but no-one was ever rude. For the most part my choices were respected and people were more interested in my ability to do my job than anything else.
I will never forget the first day that my appearance attracted a negative comment- accompanied by a snarl and a look of utter disgust. I was a couple of months pregnant with my first child and you could just start to see my baby bump.
I was sitting in the waiting room at my gynaecologists’ office when the woman opposite me said to her husband “Why can someone like her have kids and I can’t, it’s not fair – her child has no chance in life.” I knew she was saying it out of hurt and anger of her own personal situation, but it cut like a knife. This woman didn’t know me, how could you possibly judge someone like that? She did not care in the slightest that I could hear her, or how her remark would make me feel.
My first pregnancy was very difficult and we had a lot of complications, we went from doctor to doctor, specialist to specialist, gynea to gynea, the first thing each and every one of them would ask was “will you be keeping the baby?” or “are you happy about the pregnancy?” I am not sure if this is something they have to ask, but I took it very personally and it offended me every single time.
I eventually got fed up with all of them and decided to give my doctor back in Upington a call. We drove 830km’s to have my baby delivered by my family GP – someone I trusted with my life and who knew me and the kind of person I was. I was booked into Upington Medi-Clinic and couldn’t help but burst out laughing when the nurse asked me whether I would like to see a priest. It wasn’t at all directed at my tattoos/age/etc., that’s just what they do in a small town. I politely declined and was taken to my room. This was the best decision I could have made. The nurses were angels, my doctor was still my hero and everyone just wanted to help and make everything as easy as possible for us. Funny how in a small, conservative town you end up receiving the least amount of judgement and the most amount of love.
After her birth things kind of went back to normal. I got a couple of more stares than usual, but I think that is just because I had the most gorgeous child in the world! I mean seriously, look at that face.
Little did I know what we were in for when she started school. We placed her in a private little daycare in meadowridge that came highly recommended. I honestly never knew that people could be so horrible. None of the other parents would talk to us or greet us, we were judged for our non-religious beliefs, I was looked at like a cat dragged me out of a trash can.
Unfortunately, my daughter got the worst of it. She was treated unfairly because of our lifestyle choices. I know every mother thinks her child is perfect and doesn’t want to hear anything bad about them – but she was made out to be a mean-spirited bully when nothing could be further from the truth. Apparently she would walk up to kids and kick/hit them for no reason at all. We received daily phonecalls about her misdemeanors and were told this must be something she is learning at home *insert judgemental, accusatory tone*. We were honestly never exposed to this alledged behaviour at home and we were absolutely baffled.
They however neglected to phone us when Mikayla came home with a gash on her cheek from being hit with a spade by a boy during break-time. When asked about it the response was “Oh, he was just playing”.
We decided to move Mikayla to a different school – one that seemed to be a bit more open-minded as they were non-denominational in terms of religious beliefs. I guess people are less inclined to judge you or care about your appearance when you are paying a small fortune in school fees. All of a sudden all Mikayla’s “behavioural problems” disappeared, the feedback was that Mikayla was a very calm, friendly child with a beautiful nature who loved making friends and painting.
I often get asked about how I think my tattoos will affect my daughter – I always wonder that myself. I hope they do. I hope they teach her to be accepting of different kinds of people and to never base her opinion on someone’s looks alone. If more kids had that lesson growing up – we’d have a lot less adults who are quick to judge solely based on appearance and stereotypes.
Next time you see someone who is a little different than you, strike up a conversation – they might just surprise you.