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The Significance of Permanence

Just over a year ago I got my first (and only) tattoo. That really isn’t big news since seemingly everyone is getting inked today, especially with Gen X’ers and Millennials, also referred to as the tattoo generations. In fact, 36% percent of millennials and 40% of Gen X have at least one tattoo and many have multiple.

The sheer thought of having something permanently inked on my skin made me feel uneasy. In my case, I swore I would never, ever get a tattoo, except with one caveat: I would only consider getting one if there was something that had a lot of meaning to me.

Our kids all have tattoos – several tattoos in varying sizes with personal significance to them. There was always a small part of me that admired (from afar) the beauty of body art, its origination, and the symbolism.

Being a branding enthusiast, it made sense to me that if there was something that has significant meaning to you, then the ultimate expression would be to essentially “brand” yourself with it.

I recall a number of years ago I attended a large customer loyalty conference. I’ll never forget the image projected on the big screen of a bald man with a Harley-Davidson tattoo covering the entire top of his head.

The speaker used this image as an example of brand loyalty. Yes, I thought at the time, that’s loyalty, but in retrospect, that’s love. A connection felt with the brand that went far deeper than the name or logo.

In 2015, my daughter made the decision to move to Eugene, OR (where?) and start her life there. My emotions were mixed. This would be the first time in her 24 years and 10 months (who’s counting?) that she would live 2,000+ miles away from home.

It was time for her to spread her wings, but there was a part of me that left with her as she packed up her KIA Soul and headed for the Pacific Northwest.

About four months into her time there, she and her sister began talking about the three of us getting a tattoo. One day my youngest daughter got up the courage and presented me with the idea.

Without hesitation, I said, yes! I surprised myself with my emphatic consent, but I also knew that this was the moment where I would follow through while honoring my one caveat.

I found myself getting excited about figuring out what the tattoo would be. What was one thing that all three of us could connect with?

It didn’t take long to decide to use the one thing we would say to each other, whether it be in a text, on the phone, in a card, or in person for as long as I can remember – love you to the moon and back.

That was easy. Now just two things left to decide: How will that expression translate into a tattoo and where will the tattoo be placed? After looking at countless variations of moons and hearts and words we decided on one that spoke to us.

Each of us had the tattoo inked in different places. For me, I wanted it on the inside of my left wrist. If I am going to get a tattoo, then I want to be able to see it. I also wanted other people to see it. On occasion when it is noticed and I am asked, “What is the meaning of your tattoo,” I smile and gladly tell them how it came to be.

Making the decision to have something permanently inked on my skin is yet another reminder that the connection I have with my daughters is deep, unconditional, and full of expression.

As we approach another Mother’s Day, I reflect on the significance of being a mother and what it means to have children. When you’re a mother (in any sense of the word) there is a bond that has far more permanence in your soul than even ink.

So the next time you see me smile when someone asks about my one and only tattoo … you’ll know why.


Michelle Mariola is founder & managing director of ISH-Productions, a Chicago-based branding and marketing company whose mission is to help emerging to mid-market companies develop their marketing strategies and brand identities.

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