I recently had the opportunity to work with photographer extraordinaire, and dear friend, Kelly Koelle. The photos she shared afterward blew me away. It is incredible to see what can be created with strategic lighting and posing. As I continue to admire her work, my eyes are constantly drawn to the birds tattooed on my shoulder. This is partially a function of the shear size and boldness of the shapes, but more-so for me because of the way they are showcased. They are prominent and significant.
Yes, I realize if you google “basic white girl tattoos” you’re going to see images of birds flying away, but my feelings about this are the same as using clichés in writing. The expert advice is to avoid them and be unique, but I appreciate the power of a well-placed, widely known phrase or image. Consensus about meaning offers an opportunity for understanding without explanation. Excluding feelings about tattoos in general, I believe that when the average observer sees my tattoo they understand it to be positive in nature and representative of freedom. I’m good with that. But, for those who want to dig deeper, here’s the full story:
This is not a basic bird tattoo, pulled from clipart and slapped on haphazardly. The night before having the work done, I sent the artist pictures and requests for size, orientation, and arrangement so she could work up a sketch. She commented that it’s not often she receives such detailed explanations. I am so grateful she took the time to make sure it was done right because, again, these are not just birds.
Each of the ten silhouettes is a different species, symbolic of people, qualities, or phases. Together, they represent the vision I have for my life’s journey – a permanent commitment to manifestation through imagery.
The First Three
It begins with a hummingbird, which possesses the unique ability to fly backwards. And so with it, I go back, not to dwell, lament, or indulge in nostalgia, but to pay homage to its significance. It is the whole of my life up to this very moment. Just as the hummingbird draws nectar from the flower, I draw sweetness from my past and I am grateful for every second of it. This little guy also represents accomplishing the impossible – a great place to begin any journey.
Next is my dove. Known to most as a symbol of peace and love, no other bird could better represent what my first child brought to my life. Becoming a mother gave me a sense of certainty that, amongst all the variables of living, I had an immutable purpose. It was my little pocket of serenity in the world. Motherhood also opened my heart to a type of love I’d not known before – a selfless, sometimes heart-wrenching kind, where you’re unconditionally committed to this other soul simply because they exist; your greatest joy is seeing their light shine and your greatest sorrow is seeing them suffer. Each day my little dove continues to teach me how to be vulnerable, wearing his heart on his sleeve and feeling ALL the feelings.
Immediately following (in both time and space) is my second child – my bluebird. She is confident and free. She laughs at the word no. She is pure joy. She reminds me to breath in the sweet air and sing it back out. It is very appropriate that her name was inspired by her great-grandma, a woman who shares all of the same qualities. It is also no coincidence that she came into our lives when she did. To begin with, I must state my opinion that 17 months is not an ideal age gap between two children. Eventually it will have its benefits, but a 17 month old cannot look forward to those days. He only knows that he’s now in competition with this tiny creature for Mommy and Daddy’s time and attention, and will spend the next month vocalizing his disdain with such fervor that he will have no voice left. But this sweet baby girl that joined our family was ok with sharing; she was just happy to be here. She ate like a champ, she slept a champ, and quite enjoyed being worn and tagging along wherever Brother went. She embodied contentment. That would become especially helpful when, at 6 months postpartum, I started experiencing the first symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis. My personal struggles pulled me away from my singular focus on motherhood, and that was ok. I started medication right away and had to abruptly stop nursing. That was ok too. Her ability to go with the flow and remain joyful helped me to do the same. [To be clear – her easygoing nature must not be mistaken for passivity. She is FIERCELY independent and will not be coerced into anything.]
These first three birds are my foundation. As strange as it sounds for animals that are built to fly, they keep me grounded. They remind me that just because you can fly wherever, whenever doesn’t mean you should; even the freest of creatures began life in a nest and will someday build their own.