I’m just going to come out and say it. I’m going to talk about periods.
I’ll understand if you want to stop reading right now.
Still here? Fabulous!
It’s challenging to parent a child who is mature beyond their years. Sometimes you can lose sight of the fact that despite how they carry themselves, they are still a child. Case in point, my eldest is 12 going on 45. She is bright, a voracious reader, and she remembers everything. Everything — not just facts and figures, but every McDonald’s Happy Meal Toy that I “donated to charity”, every favorite piece of clothing, every time I’ve ever said, “Maybe” without ever giving a definitive answer.
We’re at the point in her development where she is firmly smarter than me in math and history, my equal in the number of books read, and is just about looking me in my eye. Strange is the day when the little person who fit like a loaf of bread in the crook of your arm is now slipping into your shoes and jacket with ease to go run the trash out to the bottom of the driveway.
M is also very much in the throes of adolescence. We’re experiencing all the changes that come with this particular season of life — a touch of a growth spurt, a sprinkle of acne, a pinch of hormonal imbalance, and a large dose of tween-age angst. And yes, the tidal wave of chaos that comes with starting a period (she died a slow death when she overheard me talking about with my mom, so I know she would die a thousand times if she knew that I was talking about this with *gestures to the crowd*).
I knew that I would have my work cut out for me when the time came to talk about all the changes she could expect as she grew up. We’ve never baby-talked her; she asks, we answer (within reason). As puberty loomed on the horizon, M had an idea about periods that probably consisted of behind the hand whispers exchanged with her friends.
Eight or so years ago, when she saw the sanitary napkin dispenser in a public bathroom, she asked if it was like the machines that gave out snacks and drinks. I told her not exactly, that it was just for grown up ladies to worry about.
Four years ago, when baby V liberated all of my tampons from under the bathroom sink and onto the bathroom floor, we talked about tampons versus pads and why women needed them in the first place. I likened the process of monthly menstruation to getting your home ready for out of town guests. I am the master of on-the-fly analogies. Click here and here to see what I mean.
Two years ago, when she first started asking questions about menstruation, I got her the American Girl’s “Care and Keeping of You.” She read it; I read it. She asked questions; I answered them though my face probably looked like this the whole time:
The truth is, despite my belief that she and I would both be prepared for when the “big day” actually arrived, we really weren’t. I’m not talking about having the talk so that she knew what to expect or not having supplies on hand or anything like that. I’m talking about the bits and pieces of information that only come through experience.
The very first evening of her period, I handed her a zippered pouch that I had put together months before that contained extra pads, some baby wipes, some Midol, a chapstick, a Hershey bar, and some other fun odds and ends that she could keep in her backpack at all times. If she caught unawares at school, she’d be prepared. I practically broke my arm patting myself on the back for all my proper prior planning. The books she read probably had a line or two in there about the benefits of being prepared in case of an emergency. Having me regale her with my memories of navigating sixth grade, part of the Liz Claiborne purse-toting period posse, was more impactful than any cartoon uterus could be.
After we’d talked about how to properly pronounce “menstrual” — her insistence on making it a long -u followed by -s had it sounding like some kind of Scandinavian dessert — and how many pieces of chocolate were really needed to combat PMS, I tucked her into bed. The next morning, M came down the stairs, sheets balled up against her chest.
Me: What happened?
Her: I leaked on the sheets!
Me: Okay, that’s okay. We can wash them. Sometimes, your pad can shift at night and that happens.
Her: What do you mean your pad can shift at night?
Me: Your pad? That you wear at night? When you’re sleeping, it can get bunched up.
Her: You never told me had to wear one at night!
Despite all of our talks and all of our reading and all of our preparation and all of her smarts and maturity, it never — not once — occurred to me that I’d have to tell her to wear a pad at night. The book doesn’t say to wear a pad at night, at least I didn’t see a paragraph or blurb that specifically said, “Don’t forget to wear a pad at night!” The book also didn’t talk about sticking pads up your sleeves so that you can use the restroom without taking your purse thereby alerting everyone you’re on your cycle.
Okay, yes, the book does remind young ladies to keep their supplies on hand. It doesn’t specifically say that you must do that every month going forward until further notice. M is constantly stunned when she realizes in the middle of Target that she needs to use the bathroom and is completely empty-handed. It’s like Groundhog Day, except for periods. You mean, I need to be prepared? Every time until it’s over? Uh, yeah.
That’s called having a period, kiddo.
So, here’s the parenting tidbit to put in your pocket: You can’t rely on books and blogs and magazines to give you all the answers. You’re going to have to learn and expand upon what you’ve learned by being in the moment. Sometimes, you’ll be caught completely unprepared (Hello, M in the middle of Target); other times you’ll nail it with a finesse that has you polishing your nails on your lapels.
That’s called parenting, kiddo.
Also published on Medium.