While tattoos today are more widely accepted than they used to be, I know that there are still some who find them tacky and pointless. My own parents believe that marking your body permanently in that way is ridiculous and stupid. For that reason, I’ve always fared on the side of caution and carefully placed my tattoos where they would remain out of sight. That way, there was never an argument or the inevitable eye rolling that would ultimately commence once my parents saw them. In fact, most people are shocked to discover that I have them at all. Apparently, I don’t look like the kind of person with tattoos.
I often laugh at this statement because, let’s face it, you can’t judge a book by its cover.
This past weekend I received some new ink. This one, however, is clearly visible. It was a deliberate and deeply personal choice to place it prominently on my forearm. It will not only be visible to others but, more importantly, it will also be visible to me.
It’s just one word – ceaseless. It’s a simple, innocuous word that rarely gets used in today’s conversations. Merriam-Webster defines it as “continuing without cease: seeming to never stop: continuous or constant”.
But it’s a word that has far greater meaning to me than just its definition.
It all began some months back when 2 of my daughters decided that it would be fun to come up with song titles that best described each other. They laughed and had fun with it, coming up with silly songs that emphasized personality traits, humorous shortcomings and unrequited loves. But when my youngest asked her older sister what song best represented “mom”, her answer was “Keep On Keeping On”.
I had never heard the song before and wondered what it was, so I pulled it up on YouTube and watched the video. By the end of the song, I was in tears and instantly became reflective of my past.
My kids’ childhoods were never easy. I married young and had 2 young daughters within the first 5 years. Then, 2 years later, I found myself a single mother who quickly had to figure out how to survive. I worked full-time during the week as a clerk and junior buyer at a large corporation. My weekends were spent waiting on tables, slinging alcoholic beverages in a sports bar. And throughout all of that, I was attending school at night to earn my Bachelor’s degree. Sleep was a luxury I couldn’t afford. Money was tight, and there were times when my kids ate and I didn’t. Yet, somehow I managed to pay my bills, keep a roof over our heads, and food in their bellies.
Before long, I met a guy, fell in love, and became engaged. I began working at a new company. Later, we bought a small townhouse, just big enough for the 4 of us. But within a year, we welcomed daughter number 3 and the house became a little smaller. Not long after that, my husband joined the US Army Reserves and left for basic training.
Over time, the house grew smaller as the kids grew bigger. We knew we needed to sell it and find a larger home. Eventually, we found a large rental house to move into. Instead of selling our home, we made plans to rent it out to a woman I used to work with who had gone through some tough times. But after only a few months in, she and her kids packed up in the middle of the night and left us with both a mortgage payment and rent. We had to let our townhouse go and we thought the worst of it was over.
But it wasn’t.
And then I lost my job. Long story short, this began a spiral of ups and downs that, at times, I didn’t think I could recover from. We had a car repossessed, were close to living out of our van – twice. And there were a few Christmases that nearly didn’t happen.
We eventually dug our way out, but I always worried about the impact that all of it had on my girls throughout the years. Would they see me as a failure? Would they look back at their lives and wish that things had been better? Would they resent me for not being able to give them everything they wanted growing up?
Fast forward to today. My middle daughter believes that the song “Keep On Keeping On” is indicative of who I am as a person. It speaks of having dreams, believing in yourself, working hard even if you keep losing, and one day realizing that all that hard work has paid off. In other words, it isn’t about how many times you get knocked down – it’s how often you bravely claw your way back up.
So, while I worried about leaving a legacy of failure behind for my children, without even realizing it I was leaving a legacy of perseverance instead. My apparent tenacity and courage, my ability to get back up whenever I was down, is what resonated with my daughters. I was leading by example.
So, as a constant (and permanent) reminder to never give up – no matter what – I had the word “ceaseless” tattooed on my forearm. It will serve as a reminder to lead by example and show my daughters how to face fear and defeat it head on.