Do any young girls react positively to the news that they’ll bleed for several days each month for the next forty-plus years?
When I recently explained the basics of menstruation to our daughter, Ava, she cringed and moaned in disbelief, throwing her hands up to cover her face before warning me that she might throw up.
I wanted Ava to hear the details from me, before she heard them from a stranger at school next week during a Health & Human Development seminar. Although Ava is unlikely to start menstruating for at least another year or two, a few girls in her fourth grade class have already begun. I’m grateful her school addresses the subject, but I knew my daughter would be devastated hearing these life-altering details for the first time during a class with her peers.
Although I was prepared to explain to Ava the blessings of a fully functioning female anatomy, the truth is I’ve always dreaded getting my period and hated its personalized accoutrements: bloating, exhaustion and flash anger. It’s only recently, now that I’m galloping toward menopause, that I’m grateful to feel the pang of cramps every month. (My appreciation is momentary, only long enough to swallow enough ibuprofen to shock Lance Armstrong.)
And at least one of us is terrified of her growing up. In my mind, menstruation signals the loss of “little” in my little girl. I don’t know how to navigate the pain of this inevitable part of parenthood. Or how to help her celebrate this routine rite of passage.
Even with my reservations, I envisioned sitting with my daughter for a mother-daughter chat worthy of an Oprah magazine feature article. I even wore my favorite flannel Scooby-Doo pajamas to lighten the mood.
But as Ava freaked, I choked, unable to find any sugar with which to cloak the facts.
I tried focusing on the future baby angle, but Ava was too far gone.
“I’ll only bleed once, right, Mom?” she said, peeking out from behind trembling fingers.
I wanted to lie, to restore some semblance of order to her world, to reassure her that yes, a period is a one and done gig.
“No, honey, you will bleed once a month,” I said, looking around the room for stray sharp objects.
I may as well have told Ava she will gouge her eyes out with a Sharpie twelve times a year. And who could blame her?
“What happens to boys?” she asked, once her breathing returned to ragged.
“Boy’s bodies go through lots of changes too,” I said. “They get hair on their chests, under their armpits and around their genitals just like girls do. Oh, and their voices get deeper.
Her face twisted in astonishment.
“That’s it? Are you telling me that girls get breasts and bleed and boys get sore throats? I’m going to throw up.”
Maybe I should have softened the news with Oreos. Or tequila. Remind me to bring both when we have the sex talk.