Once a year – that’s just one night every 365 days – I have a non-negotiable, overnight outing in another state. My students take a two-day trip to Wisconsin, and I have chaperoned it for over twenty years. When my daughters were little, being gone for 36 hours was kind of a big deal. Now that they are older, it has become far less dramatic.
Until this year.
Our departure date for camp was May 9. That morning, nothing seemed amiss beyond the added chaos of packing for an overnight trip. Finding a flashlight was threatening to upset the delicate equilibrium of my family getting out the door in time for me to drop off the 15-year old and still make it to work on time. Fortunately, it was “late start Thursday” at the middle school which meant that the 13-year old had some extra time to sleep. Her bonus time in bed streamlined our exit.
I kissed the still slumbering seventh-grader, and I grabbed my sleeping bag, suitcase, and the freshman. Before we pulled out of the driveway, I remembered that I had forgotten my pillow. I ran back to the house, unlocked the door, and started up the stairs. I stopped short as I saw Daughter the Second slowly climbing down, holding her sheets in her upturned hands like some sort of a bizarre offering. She looked befuddled.
Her: Ummm…Mom. I think I started my period.
I look at the sheets.Yep, I think, That’s what happened. And also – this is extremely unfortunate timing.
Me: (mustering enthusiasm and slowing down my words even as my brain is sending me frantic White Rabbit messages of being late late late late late late) WOW. Wow. Wow. Wow. This is a big deal.
We hug. Also, I am a highly emotional being. I get choked up. I cry a little. My little peanut.
Me: (Running my fingers through her lovely bedhead, looking in her beautiful eyes) You know what to do, right? Where are your pads?
Bonus Flashback Montage!!!
See Daughter the First getting her period when she was in fifth grade.
See Daughter the Second wanting to be prepared.
See Mother succumbing to ridiculous marketing and buying a festively-hued box of teen feminine products.
See Daughter the Second squirreling away these pads wherever she went over the next 2.5 years = in backpacks, lockers, gym bags, sleepover bags, and airport luggage.
See dramatic close-up of now-empty box in her bedroom closet.
Montage fades back to tender moment between mother and daughter.
Her: (With full knowledge that the box is empty) I don’t know where they are.
Me: (Mentally glancing at non-existent watch) Okay. Let’s see what we have.
I tear through the bathroom, and all I can conjure up in two minutes are a few liners, tampons, and some jumbo-sized maxi pads – heavy emphasis on the maxi. (Daughter the First has a crazy,heavy flow – I know, TMI – but relevant to story).
Her: (Looking distastefully at the offerings, though still graces me with a smile) I’ve got this, Mom. I know you’re late.
Ahh, Daughter – so strong, smart, resilient. One more kiss. I’m out the door. I drop off the freshman. I then leave a rambling message for my husband:
Me: So … big news. After you left for work this morning, Daughter the Second got her period … and we couldn’t find any pads except some of Daughter the First’s jumbo pads, so I need you to go to Walgreens or someplace and buy her some smaller pads. She needs some little ones, but not little like panty liners, but little, like slender. I don’t know they might be called exactly – maybe “light flow” or “easy day” – although it’s not going to be easy for you – ha, ha, ha. You could look for an obnoxiously bright-colored box because they’re marketing pads directly to teens now so they have fun colors BECAUSE HAVING YOUR PERIOD IS SO MUCH FUN but maybe that’s the kind you should just buy if you see it because they will probably be the right size for her even though they will be priced higher than the ones in the plain wrappers but whatever. Just get a small box until I get home – which won’t be until tomorrow, in case you forgot I’m off to camp. Okay. Bye! Have fun! Good luck.
I disconnect and continue speeding to work.
My phone rings. It’s Daughter the Second. I don’t even have a chance to say hello.
Her: Mom. There is NO WAY I can wear this thing in my pants. It is huge. It feels so weird. I CAN NOT EVEN WALK.
(Daughter the Second is dramatic – but she is super tall and thin. With her wardrobe, exclusively comprised of spandex-blend leggings, she’s actually right: a bulky pad is going to feel super weird.)
Her: Mom. Mom? I can’t go to school like this.
Me: Okay. Let me think about that.
I have an idea. Admittedly, it’s not great.
So…what if you got some scissors and trimmed it? Cut off a little of the front and the little of the back?
Because who wouldn’t want to do arts and crafts on you first maxi pad?
Me: Ummm… okay. How about you go straight to the nurse’s office when you get to school and tell her you started your period? She will have a student-sized product for you until you get home.
Her: (dramatic sigh) I’ll figure it out, Mom.
I must have hit a dead stop in coverage because I didn’t hear a goodbye or an “I love you.” Huh.
I make it to school. I regale my colleagues with some daughter drama. We load the buses. I say a little prayer for my family and head off to Wisconsin.
Before dinner that evening, II get a series of texts:
Her: Mom. Should I wear a tampon tonight for my dance class?
Me: Daughter. This is the first day of your period. Why don’t you hold off for like … one day? Didn’t Daddy buy you something to use? (heart emoji)
Her: Yes. But I have DANCE CLASS.
Me: Can you please wait until I am in the state before you put in your first tampon?
She’s had her period for less than 12 hours.
Her: Whatever. Fine.
I findy myself ridiculously glad to be chaperoning 65 8th-grade students, one state away.
Fast forward to Friday night. I’m home from camp. I enter the vortex of emotions, when I see my daughter who has saved up all of her hard feelings for me. In summary, “I have the worst cramps and horrible pimples, and I keep crying and this is totally gross.” She sheds some tears. I refrain from saying, “Oh honey – if you think THIS is bad…” Instead, I channel my mom. I get a heating pad. I give her an Advil. I tuck her in. I lie down beside her and whisper some truths about the lovely parts of growing up to her. She smiles. She sleeps.
In the morning, I wake her up for early-morning rehearsal. She gets out of bed, stands up, and her first words are slightly nauseating.
Her: Ugh, I still have blood coming out of my butthole.
Me. And also, it’s not your butthole, it’s your vagina.
Her: (sigh) Same thing.
Me: Yeah, no. Two very different things…If you had blood streaming out of your butthole, we would be handling this situation very differently.
Me: Wait. How many holes do you think you have down there?
Her: [Before Daughter the Second answers, let me provide you with a fuller snapshot of this girl. She is quick-witted. She has thoughts – big thoughts – about things like immigration reform and climate change. She appreciates double entendres in musical lyrics. She understands nuanced looks better than most adults I know. She has held interesting face-to-face conversations with multiple Broadway artists. Her breadth of knowledge spans Ruby Bridges to Ruth Bader Ginsburg to Lin Manuel Miranda. In short, her brain appears to be totally functioning.]
Me: How many holes do you think you have down there?
Her: [One more thing: Daughter the Second has also had a two-week unit on sex education and the reproductive system. I remember signing a parental permission slip! And I know I read her at least two other books at home to supplement what was happening in science class. Plus, I gave her a copy of the wonderful The Care and Keeping of You as a reference guide. Also, she has access to that new-fangled knowledge box with its magician named Google. In short, she has not lived in a closet of secrecy.]
Me: How many holes do you think you have down there?
Her: One? (looks at my incredulous face) JK … two?
Me: Daughter – do you think women poop out babies?
Giggling is heard from Daughter the First in the next room.
Me: Honestly? Are you kidding me right now? You have three holes. We’re having a quiz later. And if you ever have blood coming out of your butthole, please tell me. Now, go get ready for rehearsal.
After I dropped her off, I could not stop thinking about the morning’s amazing revelation. My seemingly savvy daughter’s brain had not registered the “you have more than one hole” anatomy fact. Despite early directions on wiping that commenced nearly a decade ago, despite a focused curricular unit, despite my own efforts of culling the best books on the topic and reading them WITH HER, she had missed a major point. Or two points, apparently.
While admittedly this interaction with Daughter the Second is currently one of my favorite anecdotes, it also has served as a wake-up call. It reminded me that I need to keep having the important conversations. I can not assume my kids learn big truths the first time. Or the second time. Or the third.
Maybe they aren’t listening.
Maybe they aren’t ready to hear them.
Maybe there’s so much other goofy stuff bouncing around in their brains that the big information fails to take root.
Nonetheless, we have to keep teaching them. And listening to them. And teaching them again. I have some basic truths that I want my children to own, and I can’t afford to assume that they already know them. These truths are bigger than the basics of human anatomy (although – heaven help me, they should know that). These truths are more about their hearts, their words, their minds, their souls. They’re about speaking out and speaking up. They’re about respecting yourself and respecting others. They’re about taking risks, making mistakes, and trying again. They’re about hope in darkness. They’re about how I love them unconditionally. They’re about the power of laughter, the solace of finding soulmates, the wonder of life. I don’t want to wake up one morning and realize that they missed any of these lessons.
So I will keep teaching them. Over and over and over again. Though they may roll their eyes and repeat the words with me verbatim, I will repeat these truths to them until they are etched in their hearts to strengthen and guide them when they leave my house for good.
But for now? I’m just glad my daughter didn’t stick a tampon in her butthole.