When I told my tattoo artist I wanted a tattoo this last time around, I kind of mumbled and stuttered. I wanted a mandala that looked earthy, not bling-blingy; stained-glass, but not showy; colorful for once, but not too bright. Several of the color themes we discussed were no-gos for me. Finally, we settled on the colors of a sunrise. Or a sunset. I was so confused.
And this confusion is reflective of the rest of my life right now. Because just a week ago I was so angry at my oldest that I wanted to strangle her, almost driving off a cliff in Olympic National Park, while driving on vacation, due to words that were shared between she and I, that could’ve caused World War III, right there, in our rental car.
But then two days ago, after dropping her off at college, I shed tears all the way home, then sobbed uncontrollably at the silence and emptiness of the house once I walked in the door. I was mourning that a phase of my life had come to an end, while another was yet beginning.
This was what I had raised her to do. The last 19 years of our entwined, deeply engaged lives, have been preparing her for this moment, when she would step from the nest, spread her wings, and fly. That’s what was SUPPOSED to happen.
So why is this mama bird feeling so bipolar, one minute thrilled to have the TV recording space free of the usual 100 episodes of Spongebob, REPEATEDLY recorded by her, while in the next breath, catching my breath, because this will be the first year ever that we have to watch our favorite shows separately; in one breath rejoicing that I don’t have to feed a picky eater every night, while in the next breath hoping she eats enough to keep herself alive while working two jobs and going to school full-time; and simultaneously feeling ecstatic that my oldest child can now experience adulthood for herself, rather than through her rose-colored YouTube vlogs, while always worrying incessantly about whether she’s safe driving mountain roads by herself.
So I don’t know what this tattoo means. In some moments it’s a sunset, one chapter of life closing; while another moment it’s a sunrise, with the new, next chapter beginning.
I’m not sure whether it’s the stained-glass seen from the outside, our experiences blending in with millions of other families with young adult children; or whether the glass is seen from inside the darkened room, the light shining through, illuminating this moment in time as our time, our moment, where the grief and joy meet, in mesmerizing patterns of sentimentality and novelty.
And I’m not sure whether the tattoo reflects the bling-bling of my daughters “bougie mountain” style, or whether it’s the organic, homespun natural style of me.
But you know what? I don’t have to choose. It can be all, or in parts, and anywhere in between. Because the symmetry holds it together. The patterns deeply outlined and etched, inked into my skin, are constant reminders that in a world of hellos and goodbyes, of joy and pain, of gift and loss, that the fabric of our lives can’t be woven without both; to have only one and not the other, would be like Van Gogh only painting with one color, or Michaelangelo simply drawing doodles on binder paper, or Beethoven simply plucking out chopsticks.
Ecclesiastes says that there is a time for every activity under heaven; and sometimes those moments happen in cadence, together, clinging to each other, in balance.
And so I’m learning to value the silence while I grieve the quiet, appreciating easier menus while being ok with longing for the empty seat to be filled, and resting in the fact that I’ve more than prepared her to make her mark in this world, even while I worry sick that she’s safe while doing so.
So this tattoo represents all of this experience, from full nest, to a restless nest. His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me. And her.
And thank God I have two more years before I have a fully EMPTY nest. I will need a whole tattoo SLEEVE to express that moment in time.