An ode to my mother, in tattoos

Saturday, May 11, 2013

By Paloma Ibañez

I spent the other night on Pinterest making a list of all the tattoos that I would consider getting. Before I knew it I had a list of 37 possible ideas, and without realizing it as I was making the list, 22 of them turned out to have a direct tie to or to be inspired by my mom.

This is my mom as told by my future tattoos:

1. Birds – swallows & seagulls
My first and so far only tattoo (but not for long) is a dove, my namesake—Paloma. Though I am really named after popcorn. My mom expected a boy and wasn’t prepared to name a little girl, so she went with her favorite food, palomitas. When I was a child, she read to me The Happy Prince about an altruistic swallow and as teen gave me a copy of Jonathan Livingston Seagull; both books shaped who I am today. At the very core, my mom has always been a protective mother hen, but when she knows the wind is right, she has always nudged me out of the nest to spread my wings and fly.

2. Classic Pooh, Robin, Piglet and Crew

3. Bears In Pairs

4. Where The Wild Things Are
One of the greatest gifts my mom ever gave me is the love of reading. She’s a prolific reader and at different moments in my life she has pulled a book off her shelf and handed it to me, and it has always been what I needed and said what she couldn’t.

5. Swordfish

6. Not all those who wander are lost
There are so many great books that she gave me—Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea and the brilliance that is J.R.R. Tolkien. These stories have been my sources of strength when I have needed them the most.

7. Sea Turtles
She doesn’t know it, but my favorite animal is the sea turtle because I thought it was hers first – turned out it wasn’t.

8. Elephants – a mom & calf
The love that elephants have reminds me so much of the love my mom and I have, and we always seem to get excited together when we talk about elephants.

9. Butterflies
During some recent late-20s angstful growth, my mom told me one of her favorite kid stories of me – singing about butterflies and beauty. She reminded me that it is in my nature to pursue happiness.

10. My mom's one line cat
My mom doesn’t seem to have a lot of stuff from her life before she had me. I still feel like there is pain in the past that we haven’t talked about yet. But one thing that was always around is a picture of a cat that she drew in one fluid unbroken line. The expression on the cat’s face is one that I have caught glimpses of on my mom’s.

11. Katsushika Hokusai’s – Mount Fuji Seen Below a Wave at Kanagawa
One of my favorite things I love saying in my personal story is that my mom is a fiery redhead, who was born in Kansas, ran wild and free in Arizona, and grew up in Japan and traveled the world. Without ever thinking about it my mom brought Japanese culture into our home. It was in the food I ate, the stories she told, the philosophy I grew up with, and the art that I love.

12. Sequoia tree
We took a trip to Northern California the summer after my junior year of high school. It wasn’t a good year for either of us. Her sister had passed away—the only family member she really had left—and a skeleton came out of her closet. We weren’t getting along or doing so well and then I was raped. I didn’t tell her what happened because I was so angry and hurt from the preceding incident. We were both in pain, more than either of us was willing to admit or show. But somehow we managed to go on this trip to see the winding streets of San Francisco where she had been one of the first girls on a skateboarded and to see the red woods that she camped under as kid. The giants of Kings Canyon in all their glory also told stories of fragility and vulnerability; in that trip we began to make our peace.

13. Pine trees

14. Sunrise sunrise
These are the lyrics of a Norah Jones song from her 2004 album, the year I graduated high school and set out to be the first college graduate in my family. It was the CD we listened to as she drove me up the mountain (only 4 hours) to my new home in the pine trees. It was when I asked her to turn the car around and when we stopped. And as much as she wanted me to go to the university in my home town, she asked me what I wanted. She gave me the saddest, yet reassuring look that made me feel brave again, brave enough to follow through with one of the best decisions I have ever made. I chose NAU and Flagstaff and a life in the same pine trees and meadows that she ran wild in as a child.

15. Que sera sera – in my mom’s handwriting This is what she says, or even better when she sings it to me, when I’m in a worried or anxious. And everything always feels better.

16. World map

17. Sail boat & waves

18. Compass – nautical sign

19. North Star
My mom is a sailor and an explorer. I don’t say “was” even though it’s been 27 years since she was at home traveling on the sea, because it’s in all her stories, far away looks, and the spirit that comes alive when she is by the ocean. She’s inspired in me a love for travel and adventure, challenged me to meet what’s at my horizon, to follow my dreams, passions, and gut, and most importantly taught me that I am my own best navigator.

20. The road less traveled
She re-sent me Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken.” Frost’s words gave me strength to end a 4.5-year relationship and an engagement, and it has made all the difference.

21. Oscar and the Red Balloon
Oscar is who I would have been named after if I had been a boy. I am just now beginning to understand her love of the boy in the film The Red Balloon. And I am so thankful for how our relationship has changed and is changing, and that my mom will always be my mom, but also my best friend.

22. Coordinates of my home in Tucson, AZ
My mom didn’t grow up with roots. As a kid she moved around, and as an adult she continued to move around on her own. I always thought I would be the same. Actually I wanted to be just like her, an adventurer who could go anywhere that the current took me. Ties and roots to a place were something I wouldn’t have. But because she is who she is, she built a home like she never had, and I got to benefit from it. When I left home to make my way in D.C. it was a life-changing experience, and the most profound part is that I found out I do have roots and ties to a place because of my mom’s love.

I should also note that my mom strongly dislikes my tattoo, and quite literally panicked the first time she saw it. I sent her my list of tattoos without any of these stories and unprompted she wrote back to say if I get a compass, she’ll get an anchor. Turns out there is some Sailor Jerry in my mom, too.

Paloma Ibañez is the Advanced Leadership & Alumni Program Manager at Young People For (YP4).

This blog post is part of the Strong Families Mama’s Day Our Way celebration. You can read more posts in the series on the Strong Families blogStrong Families is a national initiative led by Forward Together. Our goal is to change the way people think, act and talk about families.

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