African Parenting: My Mother’s Reaction to My Tattoo.
In anticipation of my 28th birthday and how much has changed for me in the last year or so, I decided to get two tattoos done — one on the wrist that says ‘I’m worthy’ and another on the hip that quotes Isaiah 60:3( Nations are drawn to my light and kings to the brightness of my dawn). It’s been four days and they seem to be healing nicely.
I initially thought I’d hide the one on my wrist with my watch and the other with long or knee-length apparel but then again, I love to wear bum shorts while I’m at home and I am not about to inconvenience myself or live in constant shame and repression because I want to protect someone’s emotions. I have done that for twenty eight years and I have made the decision to stop it before it becomes permanently seared into my DNA.
Anyway, my mother was away on a trip when I got the tattoos- I live at home, long story. She got back yesterday and I tried, I really tried to hide it but this morning, I thought to myself, “What’s the absolute worst thing that can happen if I disclosed this instead of hiding?”. That is when I made the decision to tell her just to have peace of mind which is increasingly becoming important to me as the years go by.
The conversation went thus:
Me: Mummy, I have something important to tell you but I need you not to freak out.
Mum: Oh sure, I won’t I promise.
Me: I am pregnant!
Mum: *covers mouth* For who?
Me: *Burst out laughing* Mummy, I don’t even go out so how would I have sex or even be pregnant? Anyway, for the sake of full-disclosure and honesty I wanted to let you know that I got tattoos.
Mum: *Sadness and disappointment written all over her face* Why? Why would you do that? Why would you hurt me on purpose? You could have used the money for something else — given it to the orphanage, paid someone’s school fees, anything else but you chose to do this without even caring how it’d make me feel.
Me: Mummy, I give to charity on my birthday almost every year. I am sorry that you feel sad but I did because I wanted to and it had nothing to do with you and everything to do with me.
She started searching for something and throwing clothes everywhere to show that she was upset. So, I said “Uhm, okay mummy. Buh-bye” and left her room to go and resume work in my room which is next door to hers. A few minutes later, she came into my room and asked to see the tattoos. I obviously could not show her the hip/thigh one for fear of her collapsing so I showed her the little inscription on my wrist and that’s when she went OFF!! Like, off in the calmest, most passive-aggressive way you can think of.
Mum: Why would you do this when I have always taught you that this is a scar and scarification of the body is a sin in the eyes of God? You are a child of God so why would you even need an affirmation to remind yourself that you are worthy? That means you do not know God.
At this point, I think she realized that the ‘God’ or religious argument was not having the desired impact so she decided to switch gears and continued:
Mum: I value and respect you and the woman that you are, I see your future but why would you choose to do this to your body? Don’t you know that tattoos are for low lives and you are much more than that? Don’t you know that people will judge you based on this? Are you saying that you have low self-esteem and need to remind yourself that you are worthy? Don’t you know that anybody who sees that would see you as such? Why have you chosen to be so westernized? Why are you too opinionated? In our culture, we do things with the interest of others in mind.
Me: Yes, mummy. It is important for me to remind myself that I’m worthy. I did this for me because I wanted to. I am tired of thinking about how someone else would feel about my actions when it’s not like I’m hurting or killing anyone. You think tattoos are a part of western culture? You really believe that? Anyway, I don’t wish to argue with you today. I have always been this way for as long as I can remember and anyone from primary or secondary school can confirm this- I have always had strong opinions and ideologies. Also, everyone in this so-called “culture” is sad, angry, unhappy and repressed because they care what others think about them. I do not want to care about that anymore.
Mum: You have greatness in you and I am very very disappointed in you right now, please, I beg you in the name of God, don’t get any more. I am just very disappointed. I can see the devil is at work here and I will deal with that devil at all cost * She starts to walk out*.
Me: Mummy, it’s not about any devil o. You are stressing yourself out.
It was already 10am and I had a software demo with my colleague and honestly, that’s all I cared about in that moment. That, and the fact that I felt free of any crippling emotional baggage that comes with hiding. I’d rather have my parents be disappointed in me for getting tattoos than being disappointed in myself for not doing what I really want to do, be who I really want to be. If that is too westernized, then so be it. A few moments later, I overheard her praying and speaking in tongues at the top of her voice which on a normal day would not have had me in stitches the way it did. I called my younger brother to give him the latest tea because I know I’m about to become the subject of a few extended family discussions once my mother calls them all to cry and spread the news of her daughter’s demonic possession which likely led me to get a tattoo.
Being a firstborn in a Nigerian household is hard enough to deal with, living in Nigeria and trying to get by and live life to a certain standard- decent standard- is so fucking difficult. Living unapologetically in a hyper-judgmental society such as this that is bound by religious extremism is the absolute piss-take. So, sorry I am not sorry that I will take any opportunity I get to be true to myself, live by my own rules- uninhibited and without fear- without being cruel to my neighbour or being an absolute nuisance to the general public. If my tattoos offend you, as little as they are just waka pass (keep moving). Thank you :)