When people think of being in college during their 20s, they often get this image in their mind of partying, drinking, making poor life decisions, etc. I have had anything but a “usual” college experience for a multitude of reasons. Being introverted with mild social anxiety, I see little appeal to partying with a bunch of people I don’t know and have no interest in knowing. It’s just not me. I lived in Germany which exposed me to drinking at a much younger age. Thus, I have already learned how to drink responsibly and don’t feel any need to binge. As for the poor life decisions piece, it could be argued that I haven’t always made the best choices. But, my track record is cleaner than most college students’. This is largely because of my nieces. Life changes a lot when you have pairs of small eyes on you.
I have a very close relationship with my two nieces. We regularly interact with each other as I live with one of them and the other lives a little ways down the road. These girls are the sunshine in my life. They love me and learn from me even when I don’t realize they are paying attention. This bond has resulted in them mimicking things I say and actions I do.
As a role model for these young girls, I make a conscientious effort to hold myself together as best as I can. I try to make sure I’m using manners. I keep good habits. I express my love and appreciation for others around me. Disregarding the occasional slip-up, I don’t cuss around them. I don’t drink. I don’t smoke or do drugs. I refrain from watching non-kid-friendly television shows until I’m alone. This isn’t because I am under the delusion that this will shield them from seeing these things. I realize that they will encounter these things in the world around them. But, I do this in hopes that they will take what they’ve learned from me, remember it, and keep in mind when they are older/are faced with these things themselves.
In spite of all this, I have tattoos and piercings. My parents let me get my ears pierced when I was a child. Much later on, before either of my nieces were born, I got my first tattoo on my shoulder blade. My second tattoo was adding to the first one. As a celebration for starting college, I added a cartilage piercing to my existing ear piercing. Since then, I’ve proceeded to get my second holes and a second cartilage piercing. Most recently, I obtained a third tattoo on my ribs. And in the near future, my sister and I will be getting matching tattoos (mine will be on my ankle).
Some may say this is setting a bad example for them, but I have never made any attempt at hiding my tattoos or piercings from my nieces. In fact, I have shown my tattoos to both of the girls and I’ve let them help me pick out jewelry to wear in my piercings. They have both seen my tattoo drawing books. I’ve taken the time to explain them what tattoos are and why some people get them. Frankly, I would rather have an open and honest discussion about these things, even if it’s overly simplified, than have them learn it on their own later. (It doesn’t hurt that other people in the family have tattoos as well.)
Mind you, we have had some amusing conversations because of my tattoos. While my nieces are both too young for me to explain the meanings behind them, they both are old enough to notice that Auntie has “drawings” that are always on her body and they don’t. They ask all kinds of questions. They will ask me to see my gecko. They will ask me what my rib tattoo means since it’s a symbol they aren’t familiar with. They will ask me why I have numbers and stars next to it. They ask me why I have tattoos and they don’t. I even got asked by one of them if they could have a tattoo. I promptly answered that tattoos are only for grown-ups and that they would have to wait until they were an adult to make that decision.
Through all this, there’s a lesson that I believe is very important for them to learn. How people look and what they choose to put on their body does not change who they are on the inside. Who people are on the inside should always be more important than anything else. Tattoos are just a reflection of who people are, what they like, and where they came from. They each hold some sort of significance (even if it’s just “I thought it was pretty”). They tell a story through art. And, someone’s choice to put these pictures on their body should not change how the girls view them. The girls may be too young to fully grasp all of this, but they are on the way to learning compassion for others. This lesson is just helping them down that route.
All in all, even if I make a million mistakes with them, the girls will always know that I am honest with them about who I am. I am human. I make errors in judgement. I sometimes do things they won’t understand yet. But, I am their Auntie. I am silly and crazy. I like to play with them and read to them. I try to be someone they can look up to. I am proud of myself as a person. I have tattoos and piercings. And, I love those girls more than anything else in this world.