SparkNotes Blog

Auntie SparkNotes: Happy, Humiliating Birthday!

This is a time of peril. It all started when my friend Bridget got an iPhone for her 17th birthday. That gave me the idea that what I get for my 17th birthday, which is a month away, should be something of epic proportions that I would remember forever and everyone would be jealous of. I relayed this idea to my mother — who is not the most conventional person in the world — thinking along the lines of an iPad (which was shot down like Bambi’s mom).

And here’s where it gets sticky.

My mom got a brain storm. She thought of the “perfect” gift for me. She relayed the gift idea to my father, who supports it whole-heartedly. Then she relayed the idea to my sister. And my sister, who swore that this is true, relayed the idea to me. For my 17th birthday, in one month, my mother is getting my name tattooed on her body.

You may say: Your sister is completely pulling your leg. No, she is not. My sister swore on her life that this is what my mom told her the idea was. And even more so, when I asked my mom “What size is this gift?”, her response was “I haven’t decided yet.”

SHE HASN’T DECIDED YET. That means, the day in which I will be celebrating the ability to go see an R-rated movie without supervision, I may come home to my mother whipping off her shirt and seeing MY NAME in block letters on her face, chest, back, or anywhere else she imagines. And, because it is TATTOOED, I’m going to be forced to pretend that I like it. And, I can’t tell my mother that my sister told me about the gift because then my sister would get in trouble and my mom is the type of person who gets upset beyond belief over things like you not appreciating a gift.

So, I am desolate, Auntie. Please, save my name, my 17th birthday, and, most importantly, my mother’s body from going through what I will remember as the worst birthday of my life.


I’ve gotta admit, Sparkler, I’m at a loss for words. Not because I can’t help you figure this out—we’ll get to that part in a second—but because the cognitive dissonance involved in saying, “Hey, for your birthday gift, I went and bought myself this tattoo!” is blowing my freakin’ mind. As is the terrifying thought that, if you do come home on your birthday and this madness has come to pass, it may not be her shirt that your mom whips off. IF YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN.

And now that we’re all feeling slightly nauseated (and if I never use the words “mom” and “whips off” in the same sentence again, it’ll be too soon), let’s save your birthday, your sanity, and your mom’s epidermis.

Or at least, let’s do our best.

Step 1: Let the grapevine work for you.
Because just as your sister could be counted on to tell you about your mom’s crazy plan, your dad can be counted on to subtly alert his wife that her “gift” is your personal idea of hell—something she should be aware of before she permanently etches your name on her body. Get him in private, and say something like, “I’ve heard a rumor that Mom is planning on getting a tattoo for my birthday. I don’t know if this is a joke, but if not, I hope you can understand that I’m completely freaked out. You know how mom is about appreciating gifts, and there’s no way I can pretend to be enthusiastic about this; I think it’s a horrible idea. Can you please talk to her?”

Step 2: Pick a gift, any gift. Since mom’s “great idea” came about in the absence of an affordable suggestion from you, you might be able to derail her plan by injecting a reasonable alternative into the conversation. So find something, anything, that you would be happy to receive and that costs less than $100—and the next time you see her, casually say, “Hey, mom, I don’t know if you’re still trying to find a gift for me, but I just saw this [insert coveted item here] that would be awesome. Just in case.”

Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean that your mom won’t go through with her plan—just that she’ll know, if she does, that you won’t necessarily be crowing with delight at the big reveal. You can’t change her mind, if it’s made up, but you can reduce the fallout from your less-than-thrilled reaction. And hey, if she does get the tattoo, then at least you’ll have the gift of a spectacularly horrifying story that you can tell for the rest of your life!

Oh, and one last teensy thing: despite your sister’s up-and-down vows to the contrary, keep in mind that you might still be getting punked. Both of you, in fact—it’s entirely possible that your parents, knowing full well that your sister couldn’t possibly keep such a ghastly secret under her hat, told her about your mom’s impending tattoo just so they could have a good laugh at your inevitable panic.

In which case, when your mom’s birthday rolls around… well, let’s just say that you know just what to get her.

What do you think: is mom getting inked, or is our letter-writer getting punked? Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at