Why Is My Mother Getting a Tattoo?

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  • Edition: Original
  • Format: Trade Paper
  • Copyright: 2009-06-23
  • Publisher: Villard
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With the trademark humor and lovable spirit that infused her first memoir,But Enough About Me,Jancee Dunn turns to her evolving relationship, as a so-called adult, with her parents and family In her early forties, Jancee Dunn began to wonder why she still felt like a thirteen-year-old around her family. Talking to her friends, she found the same was true for themdespite successful jobs, marriages, and families of their own. Do we ever really grow up, she wonders? Why is the slow, sticky process of prying ourselves free from our parents and childhoods so difficult? In her new memoir, Dunn examines the phenomenon, with scenes ranging from a "haunted Savannah" tour gone wrong to a visit to a tattoo parlor with her sixty-ish mother, who is dying to get a raven inked on her wrist. Finally, Dunn and her sisters arrange to visit the house where they grew up, a bittersweet but comic experience that answers her questions and puts her at peace with her parentsuntil the next tattoo parlor visit, at least.

Author Biography

JANCEE DUNN is the author of the novel Don’t You Forget About Me and the memoir But Enough About Me. A former writer at Rolling Stone, she was a correspondent for Good Morning America and an MTV veejay. She has written for The New York Times, GQ, Vogue, O: The Oprah Magazine, and other publications. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband, writer Tom Vanderbilt.


Triple-Sausage Stuffing with Sausage Sauce

Recently my younger sister Heather decided to paint her fireplace white. This would be minor news in most families, but not in ours. All day the phone calls flew back and forth. My mother suggested cream instead, which she said was softer. My retiree father phoned from the golf course to warn that painting the fireplace would decrease the property value. I debated the pitfalls of the “wrong” shade of white. My other sister, Dinah, requested a photo of the fireplace before weighing in.

My family does everything by committee, so that the most trivial dilemma is debated with the zeal of Talmudic scholars. (As Dinah puts it, “No one in our family ever says, ‘I don’t know,’ even when they know absolutely nothing about the subject.”) We all live within an hour’s drive of one another—I’m in Brooklyn, Dinah and my folks live in our home state of New Jersey, and Heather is in a small town in upstate New York—but we can never seem to save these conversations for get-togethers. They require an immediate blizzard of phone calls, so we all signed up for a “friends and family” plan to do it on the cheap.

Dinah, a mild-mannered editor and mother of two, is the most agreeable of our group, and thus most apt to get flattened by the familial steamroller. When she wanted to redecorate her TV room last year, she made the tactical blunder of enthusiastically sharing the plan with Heather and my mother. After weeks of research, she told them, she had picked out two brown couches, a dark brown rug, and, instead of a coffee table, two large tan ottomans.

A short, deadly silence ensued. “Huh,” said my mother, a former Southern beauty queen not known for holding back. This is code for I hate that idea.

“It’ll look like a padded cell,” said Heather, the youngest sibling and an elementary school teacher. When I got my first job in New York City, at Rolling Stone magazine, a teenage Heather used to covertly run my life, advising me on my career and dating travails, despite having scant experience in either realm.

Dinah, in mid-shrivel, valiantly moved on to plan B. “Okay, instead of the ottomans, how about two little coffee tables that I can move around? That would look kind of cool. Right?” For Dinah, this was a radical proposal.

“When are you going to move them around?” wondered my mother.

“The only time they’re going to move,” Heather said, “is when your kids run into them and knock them over.”

By the end of their little chat, Dinah had been persuaded to get two cream-colored couches, a cream rug with red accents, and a conventional coffee table with clean, modern lines. I saw the results a few weeks later, and while the room looked great, it was leagues away from her original idea.

“Why did you feel compelled to tell them you were redecorating?” I asked.

She shrugged. “Because I really wanted to know what they thought. Sometimes it’s nice to be told what’s best for you by people who are absolutely sure of their opinions.”

“But some of those opinions are half-baked! They just use an emphatic tone of voice so you think they possess some secret knowledge. Hell, I use the same trick. Sometimes as I’m holding forth, I’m thinking, What the hell am I even saying?”

Unfortunately, Dinah does not have the lawyerly power of persuasion that the other females of the family specialize in. The longest I’ve ever witnessed her hold out was twenty minutes. “I never win in family committee meetings,” she told me glumly. “Remember my wedding? I kind of remember thinking I don’t know if I want this a lot. How about the bridesmaids’ dresses? You guys wanted red velvet wi

Excerpted from Why Is My Mother Getting a Tattoo?: And Other Questions I Wish I Never Had to Ask by Jancee Dunn
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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