Whenever I spend time with my children, I wonder, “Is this what I am going to be like when I’m a grandfather?”
My daughter, Madeline, will turn 19 at the end of the month and is much older than her cousins, so perhaps that is why the question occurs to me as it does.
Earlier this month, Valerie and I visited my in-laws to attend our niece Millie’s first-ever birthday party. Millie is 3, but her first birthday occurred at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic two years ago, so she had never had a party before. Millie got a little tattoo kit as one of her presents from her. No need for alarm: we’re just talking markers here, not needles and ink.
Anyway, my other niece, Nora, 6, asked me if she could put a tattoo on my arm.
“It washes off,” my sister-in-law assured me.
I rolled up my sleeve, and Nora went to work, inking a blue heart on my right bicep, which I am sure plenty of 50-year-old guys get when they report to the local tattoo parlor. Nora added a sad face above her heart.
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So I now had a tattoo, one that I was assured would wash off. Thing is, Nora kept going. She drew a large tulip on my forearm. Underneath it, she drew a happy face. I now had the two poles of theater, a smiling face and a sad one, comedy and tragedy, inked onto my arm of her. A tribute to my days with the Sanford High School Drama Club, you could say.
Nora worked her way down to my wrist, where she drew a box and wrote “TV” inside of it. She must have heard me talking with the adults in the room about “Ozark” and other shows I have been streaming lately.
So much for a tattoo. I now had a “sleeve.”
“Hmmm,” Nora then said. “What can I draw now?”
“Well,” I replied, really keeping the faith now that this would all wash off in good time. “How about a shamrock? An Irish guy like needs me a shamrock.”
I called up a picture of a four-leaf clover on my phone and showed it to Nora. She glanced at it and reached for a green marker. She found a bare spot near my elbow and attempted to draw a shamrock. It did not go as she had hoped, so she scribbled it out. On my arm, remember.
Elsewhere, she tried again. This attempt went south too, and Nora scribbled it out as well. I found myself wishing shamrocks were shaped like circles or triangles or something else that would have been easier to draw.
These tattoos did wash off, by the way. eventually. It took a couple of weeks of scrubbing, but they washed away.
The stickers on my head were removed more quickly and easily, though not less painfully. That was on Easter. Val and I had dinner that afternoon with her family de ella, and this time Nora and Millie plastered my head with stickers from a unicorn book they got in their baskets that morning.
“You’re a good sport, Uncle Bubbie,” my sister-in-law told me, as everyone watched the girls cover my dome with horns, eyes, and rainbow-hued manes and tails.
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Nora and Millie call Valerie and me the “Bubbies.” Auntie Bubbie and Uncle Bubbie. We have no idea why. We have just rolled with it for a couple of years now. We like it.
“Who needs a fridge with magnets when you can have an uncle who shaves his head?” I replied.
I kept the stickers on my head until it was time for us to gather around the table for a nice ham dinner, complete with peas, corn, sourdough bread, and au gratin potatoes. Nora tried to peel off the first one, slowly, with what she intended to be great care.
I took a deep breath, winced on the inside, and smiled on the outside. “I think it needs to be done like a Band-Aid,” I told Nora. “You just have to rip it right off.” Then I added, “Which I think I’ll do, okay?”
I went into the bathroom, looked in the mirror, took a fortifying breath, and yanked a dozen stickers off my bare head. I did not scream, but I did wish I might have had a belt that I could have clamped my jaw on throughout the whole order.
“Is this what I’m going to be like when I’m a grandfather?” I asked Valerie afterwards.
Val smiled, warmly. “And it is.”
I said. I could see it. My father was like that with Maddie.
“Hey Val?” I asked after a few beats.
“Do you think you could ask your sister for some lotion for my head?”
Shawn P. Sullivan is an award-winning columnist and is a reporter for the York County Coast Star. He can be reached at email@example.com.