As you know, I’m a mom. I’ve got three little girls whom I love, love, love. They challenge me to be the mom that they deserve and the mom that they need. I do my best to wear many hats in order to fulfill their requests, desires, and needs. Sometimes, I’m a chef. Sometimes I’m a hairdresser. Most of the time, I’m a chauffeur. All the time, though, I’m a teacher. I’m leading by example, whether I’m aware of it or not. I have to take care in what I say, how I say it and in what I do and how I do it. In order for them to be good people, I have to show them what that means.
We have our ups and downs. We are steadily marching towards Big Kid status, as M turns 9 this year and C is hot on her heels turning 7. V is holding things down in toddler-ville, a full blown two year old. It’s challenging trying to find activities that appeal to this spectrum of ages, especially those that don’t involve electronics. We read a lot. We do lots of “arts and craps”. We spend time outside. I recently got M a scooter and nothing gives me greater joy than seeing her whizz down the driveway, the skirt of her favorite dress billowing around her legs like the wind filled sail of a ship. C comes next, either by her own scooter or with her jump rope ticka-ticking furiously on the asphalt. V brings up the rear, sidewalk chalk in each fist, her little flip flops working double-time to catch up to her big sisters. This has been the summer of skinned knees to be sure, but when the heat gives way to crisper air and changing leaves, I think the memories of outdoor play will be remembered most.
Today is an off day for us. We’re taking a break from the pool because M is getting her hair braided this afternoon. She and C have been swimming just about everyday. I spent a good chunk of the morning washing, conditioning and de-tangling her hair so that it would be ready for braids this afternoon. While sitting in the bathroom, the girls listened attentively as I explained the importance of good hair care habits, why we try not to put a lot of heat on our hair and so on. V sat for a bit, but then got up to empty out the contents of the bathroom vanity. Once done with that endeavor, she grabbed for the storage basket of extra toilet paper rolls that I keep in the same general area. In addition to the rolls, the basket also had a magazine and soft zippered pouch where I keep my feminine hygiene products. She unzipped the pouch and up-ended it, showering tampons and pads all over the floor.
“I know what these are!” C crowed, as she grabbed a handful and shook them under M’s nose. “These are tampoons!”
“I know they’re tampoons!” M said.
“Tampons.” I corrected, trying to corral the sanitary napkins with my foot while continuously blowing dry M’s hair. “They’re called tampons. Those other things are called pads.”
“What are they used for?” asked C as she began replacing the items in the pouch.
“Grown up lady business.” I said.
“Grown up lady business, in the bathroom!” amended M.
“Yes, but what kind of grown up lady business?” C pressed. And just like that, I found myself in the middle of a teachable moment with my girls. What should I do? Should I gloss over the purpose of pads and tampons? Should I just tell them never mind; I’ll tell you when you’re older? Should I just tell the truth as plainly as possible? How old was I when I had this conversation with my mom? Could I get her on the phone and have her explain it to them? Tick tock, tick tock.
“Okay,” I said, setting down my hair tools. “Here’s the deal. What I’m going to tell you is our private business. That means, you keep it to yourself and you don’t need to share it with your friends. I’m sure their moms will tell them what they need to know when they ask, so this is just for us.” And then I launched into a brief anatomy lesson. In truth, part of it was a review, because they had had some questions about V’s arrival several years ago. This time, aided by M’s artists pad, I sketched out the female reproductive system. I likened the thickening of the uterus to the feathering of a nest. I explained how the uterus is constantly preparing itself in the event a baby shows up (I did gloss over that part), and how if no baby shows up, the uterus then cleans itself by shedding the nest and starting again. M was “Mmhmm-ing” and “Oh, I see-ing” while C was listening with furrowed brow. I plunged ahead, explaining that the pads were what collected the “old nest” and how you used and disposed of them, the whole time peppering the conversation with “But this doesn’t apply to you right now!” and “This won’t happen to you for a few more years!”
“But what about the tampoons, I mean, tampons,” M asked, “How do you use them?” At this point, I felt as though I was bumping up against more info than they needed, but I’d come this far. I went into my closet and came back out with the American Girls The Care and Keeping of You book. I’d bought it years ago in preparation for a moment such as this. I thumbed it open to the section of changes in your body and together, we read all about menstruation, sanitary napkins and the like. Again and again, I reminded them that while all of this was good info to have, it wouldn’t be info they would need for a several more years. Then M pointed to the paragraph that said, “Most girls begin menstruation between the ages of 9 and 15.”
“A few more years,” I repeated, praying the organic chicken I’d been feeding them would help stave off any hormonal accelerations.
I let M read the book a bit more as I finished her hair. C took the info for what it was and went back to playing Barbies with V. I reminded them that our conversation was just that, our conversation and they heartily agreed. I put the book away, finished M’s hair and that was that.
While the girls were busy doing whatever they were doing in C’s room, I went downstairs to make lunch, do the laundry, clear the counter-tops and extinguish the dozen or so other little fires that needed my attention. I called the girls down for lunch, C and V galloping into the kitchen. M had to be called a few times and when she finally came down, I asked her what she had been doing.
“I was in the bathroom,” she began, “And then I was washing my hands. I saw one of your tampoons in the trash, Mom, and I figured it was just your uterus cleaning itself out. ”
Yes, M, it was just that.
Me and my big mouth.