August 12th is the day designated as World Elephant Day. It is a day we stop and take note of the beauty and magnitude that is the elephant. We reaffirm our commitments to protecting them and saving them from poachers. But for me, it means much more than that. It is the day I stop and remember how elephants became part of my DNA.
Sixteen years ago, I sat on a porch with my mom, sister and best friend having a glass of wine and solving all the problems (as we did every night). My daughter, Emma, who was only 6 months old, played on a blanket under our feet.
This particular night we were making plans for my upcoming trip to Texas so I could introduce Emma to some of my closest friends. The problem that we were solving? I was also planning to get my first tattoo on the trip and had no idea what to get. I knew I wanted something that meant something … something I would love when I saw it as an old woman.
It was my own mother who came up with the winning solution. She suggested I get a tattoo of a mom and baby elephant. I had collected elephants for a while, believing them to bring good luck in Feng Shui. More than that, my mom explained, the elephant was the perfect symbol of my new phase in life: as a single mother. She went on to tell us how elephants are a matriarchal society and they travel in a herd of females only, with the oldest (and many times largest) elephant leading the pack. The male elephants come around only to procreate and lead a mostly solitary life after leaving the herd around age twelve.
She was right. It was perfect, and my first tattoo was a mom and baby elephant. Over the next few years, I learned a lot about elephants. I created an entire fantasy world in my head of how this matriarchal society operates. The older female elephants train the young ones on how the world works. While the young ones push back as their wobbly legs turned into sturdy ones.
In my head, my mom became the Matriarch. She was the old wise one who watched over things, kept everyone safe, and ensured traditions were continued. My sister – who at the time was single and not yet a mom and had always marched to the beat of her own drum – became the sort of witchy aunt who told the young ones the things no one else would. My best friend, Emma’s godmother, became the epitome of the consigliere, both to Emma and to the rest of us. I, of course, took on the role of navigating the tension of following the traditions of the herd and teaching my own daughter that she could truly live her life any way she wanted to.
The reality is that Emma was raised by a herd of amazing women who each had a role in her life.
To me, my tattoo is a symbol of that decision – to always surround her with complex, complete, and courageous women. And the combination of those influences has made her a total shining star.