Posted in Family

The Mom with the Dragon Tattoo

Christian at age 7. (Dragon being invisible, I take Christian’s word for it that he’s also in the picture.)

My son Christian has had an invisible dragon-friend since he was two years old.  He’s blue (I haven’t puzzled out the contradictory twist of physics by which “blue” and “invisible” can coincide as descriptors) and about the size of a big toe.  A pocket-dragon, you could say–though I’m given to understand that most often he flies around my son’s head during the day.

Before he could verbalize, I used a lot of sign-language with Christian, which he picked up and put to use with a facility that astonished me.  (Clearly he understood what to do with language–he just couldn’t get his mouth to make words yet.)  He invented some signs of his own, including a verb-marker I called his “do-it” sign.  “Do-it book” meant read, “do-it shoes” would be a request for shoelace-assistance, and so on.  At 14 months, his newly invented sign was “Dragon”–I assumed in tribute to his favorite book, The Cowardly Dragon… But perhaps Dragon has been with us from that early date.

When Christian (whom I have always called “Hobbit” for his curly hair) discovered at age three-and-a-half that there was a book called The Hobbit, nothing would do but to read it right away, despite my protests that it’s an un-illustrated “grown-up” book.  “YOU can read it to me,” he declared in his most decisive, debate-ending tone–and I acquiesced, assuming he wouldn’t last for more than a few pages.  As we neared the final chapter, I wrote disbelievingly in my journal:

“Surely a great deal of the language is over his head, but I’ve overheard him relating plot-points and descriptions to grandma, and he’s discussing character motivation as we read…
‘When Invisible Bilbo converses with the dragon, is Smaug only pretending to be polite? Or is he really a nice dragon, and the dwarves were mistaken?’
‘Do you suppose Smaug is flying off to Lake Town to attack the people, or to get a drink?’
(He was quite willing to consider the dragon ‘not wild’–HIS Dragon’s influence, perhaps–at least right up until the dragon began to burn Lake Town. Then: ‘They’d better kill him fast!’)”

(Yes, he was the kind of three-year-old who used words like “mistaken.”)

Dragon’s days have mostly mimicked Christian’s, though always with a twist.  He played Dragon T-ball (in which dragons field more players than kids do), took Dragon Swimming Lessons (where dragons learn wing-strokes, their arms being too small for effective swimming), and is apparently a great reader of Dragon Books (which are necessarily printed on fire-retardant paper).

dragon tattoo
Christian’s Dragon, Mom’s Tattoo

Dragon has been part of our family adventures for years, through the medium of Christian’s story-telling.  There was the time Dragon’s soccer-team got a flat tire on their Dragon Bus and almost missed their game. And the traumatic episode when dragon “ran out of Blue” and had to become a Green Dragon–until it was discovered that he could “check out Blue” from the library and resume his original color.  At least until the books–and the Blue–came due.

Even now, a few months from Junior High Scool, Christian readily answers my inquiries about what Dragon is up to. (Dragon Algebra, in case you wondered.)  The other night when we were figuring out the Chinese Zodiac for each member of the family, he asked me when he had started talking about Dragon, so he could calculate his age. (Dragon was born in the Year of the Sheep, go figure.)

Last year he and I collaborated on a tribute to Dragon: a tattoo twining up my leg.  Christian described him in detail so our artist could get it right (because, duh, Dragon is INVISIBLE to the rest of us) and signed off on the likeness, sketched in Sharpie on my leg, before we broke out the permanent ink.

Some parents have to “break the news” to their kids about Santa and the Tooth Fairy, but I’ll always remember Christian, aged four or so… Deep in a discussion of Dragon’s latest escapades, he suddenly paused, looked me seriously in the eye, and gently asked: “Mom, you DO know that Dragon is PRETEND, right?”


I am... a writer, an explorer, a coffee-drinker, a recovering addict, a barefoot linguist, a book-dragon ("bookworm" doesn't cover it), a raconteur, a sailboat skipper, a research diver, a tattooed scholar, a pirate, a poet, a spiritual adventurer, a photographer, a few kinds-of-crazy, a joyful wife, a mom... a list-maker! :)

25 thoughts on “The Mom with the Dragon Tattoo

    1. That was the one and only instance in which he used the word “pretend” about Dragon… I honestly think he was concerned that I might need the reality-check, but once assured that I DID know we were using our imaginations, there hasn’t been a “pretend” reference since. Dragon has always been “invisible,” not “imaginary.” :)

      “The Dragon Keeper’s Handbook”–Christian owns that book! and he can’t believe that its author just commented on a post about his own Dragon… :)


  1. what a wonderful tribute to your son! that’s the thing about tattoos… some people see them and automatically have an opinion of them and those of us who have them. but if you were to simply ask, most of us have tattoos that are deeply, deeply meaningful. your writing is as beautiful as your blue dragon :)


  2. That is so great, I love it! Kid’s are often smarter than we think. I love that you got the tattoo even as your son is growing up and moving on. I had been admiring a lot of tattoo art recently and mentioned to my husband that I was thinking of getting one. His eyes grew wide and he nearly flipped out. He’s so conservative I sometimes wonder why I married him – to keep me grounded I think, otherwise I would live in “Never Never Land”.


  3. Your son could write a children’s book about the adventures of his invisible dragon friend! Or several of them!
    Or, wait – if you remember any of them, you could write them down and maybe put some pictures with them. And then there are several online bookbinders and such. You just arrange the book how you want it to look, and order a couple. Give one to your son for his next birthday – or even the dragon’s birthday! He’ll love it. I got a book like this from my kids for Father’s Day, except it had pictures of my kids, rather than of an invisible blue dragon.


    1. Funny, I was just suggesting that sort of idea to Christian… So far he’s evasive. “You’ll have to ask Dragon–but he’s still at soccer, he had a double-header today. Plus, his Translator is in the repair-shop, and he wasn’t the first one in line, so it’s probably not fixed yet”… I asked if Dragon needs a “translator” to talk to HIM (no) and said I’d hoped Christian would BE my translator… Guess we’ll have to wait till after soccer to see if Dragon will agree. ;)


      1. Love the fact that there are numerous Dragon translators waiting to be fixed. Good to see so many ppeople conversing with our friends. Personally, I am trying to figure a way to fire-proof my computer.


            1. I know… I was so excited about the Dragon Dictation app, but it doesn’t seem to pick up Dragon’s voice. ;) Guess we’ll just wait on Ye Olde Translator Repaire Shoppe.


                1. The rest of us are fortunate to have folks like you & Christian to “let us in” on dragon perspectives… Especially since Translators are evidently so temperamental, always needing repair… ;)


  4. That is utterly adorable, and I love the tattoo. Very beautiful. My boy hasn’t created any invisible friends yet, but he has plenty of time. For my brother and me, it was Sammy the Snake. We shared him.


  5. I have to constantly explain to my daughters and their friends why I have som many tattoos. They seemed to be OK with it by now. I really enjoyed reading this.. it reminds me a lot of my relationship with my two princesses.


  6. Christian’s/Hobbit’s gentleness with you when breaking the news that Dragon was pretend says a lot about your Little Man (little at the time). I will read The Hobbit as soon as I finish reading my current book. And I will be picturing that Little Hobbit reading on the couch the entire time I am reading. So my version will have pictures. :)

    Your stories and life with your children are so emotionally powerful. I look forward to what your children do as children, but expect they will make wonderful changes in our world as adults.

    I feel joy when I read you and your family.


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