My talk with my mom about menstruation went something like this:
Me: “Mommy? We learned about periods in health class today. The teacher said we should get this kit. It comes with books and pads and stuff.”
My mom: “Okay.”
Uh, huh. That was the end of the conversation. She ordered the kit for me -- it came with three books about puberty and an assortment of pads and tampons -- and when it arrived, she handed it to me and we never talked about periods again. I was 13 when I finally got mine; I was at my uncle’s house on a weekend visit, and spent half of Saturday and most of Sunday with wads of toilet tissue stuffed in my panties, too embarrassed to ask my uncle for help, and later, too embarrassed to tell my mother about it. My mom didn’t find out, either, until after she realized I’d used up all the pads in my “kit.”
She was hurt. I could tell from the look in her eyes.
It’s a pain that I never want to feel with my own daughters -- that much I know. I made a vow when each of my babies was born that I would be honest with them, that no matter how hard/embarrassing/uncomfortable the conversation, I’d do my best to make them feel like they could ask or talk to me about anything.
By age 5, when she was curious enough to ask, I told Mari where babies came from. By age 7, she knew about periods. A year later, after a round of pre-tween questions during a car ride with her cousin, Miles, she learned about wet dreams, boobies, pubic hair, and a bunch of other stuff the two were curious about.
Let’s just say we have an “Ask and Get Told” policy in our house.
Nick and I figure that if we just go on ahead and give them the correct info, we don’t have to worry about being forced to deconstruct the crazy locker room tales they’ll surely get from the friends who’ve been deliberately left out of the puberty/sex-ed loop. Like, seriously: Who wants their kid to think they’ll grow hair on their hands if they masturbate? Or that they can’t get pregnant if they have sex while they’re menstruating or their partner pulls out before ejaculating? Or that boys will do irreparable harm to their genitals if they don’t have sex when they’re horny? Or that if a girl has a big gap between her legs then she’s not a virgin? Or that having anal or oral sex isn’t real sex?
I had to make a hard gulp and a sign of the cross, though, when Mari asked me what an abortion is. That question? Totally unexpected. But it was natural for her to ask: I’d been reading the newspaper and she’d noticed a front-page story about an abortion doctor who’d been murdered by an anti-abortion activist, and she wanted to know what all the brouhaha was surrounding the crime. The word “abortion” was screaming at her on the newspaper and on the television and radio, and she had questions.
I thank goodness she felt comfortable getting answers from her mother. The way I saw it, it was the perfect time not only to define for her what it is, but also to get her on board with our family’s feelings on the subject. See, all-too-often, the assumption is that when you’re open with your kids about hot-button topics that you’re promoting promiscuity -- giving them the license to cut up, act out, and get themselves into compromising situations. But for me and mine, it’s not about giving them permission; it’s about giving them information -- information that will help them make good choices that fall in line with their family’s beliefs and values. Hopefully, my girls will make those choices not only with the information their parents shared with them, but in consultation with their mom and dad.
So how did I answer Mari’s “abortion” question? Nick and I told her exactly what it is in a way that’s meant for a 9-year-old’s ears: It’s when a pregnant woman decides she doesn’t want to have a baby and she goes to a doctor to take out the fetus. The fetus will not survive the operation. More important, though, was our follow up: Mommy and Daddy choose not to support abortion in our home, but we do know that it is a legal procedure and, by law, all women have the right to have one if they want. Our hope is that you and your sister would not have a baby until you’ve finished college, gotten a good job and are married.
This is our family’s “company line” and it’s infused with the familial beliefs we have in our family -- beliefs that are in line with the morals and values we hold dear in our home. And I trust that the more we talk to our girls and give them honest answers and opinions and the room to really think for themselves, the more they’ll be compelled to be smart about the choices they make with their bodies.
(And if that doesn’t keep the boys at bay, their Daddy will get his NRA card, a rifle, and a rocking chair for the front porch. You know, to regulate.)