I have three girls…which means three times I’ve had to give the old Sex and Puberty talk. I always assumed my delivery would get progressively better as the last one rounded the bend into womanhood, but no such luck.
I still remember the first time. It was fifteen years ago. My oldest walked into the kitchen where I was slaughtering a recipe for Beef Stroganoff. Upon quick analysis, I could see that her legs were bowed and it looked as if she had ridden Old Nell bareback from Fort Bragg at an uncomfortable trot.
“What’s wrong with you?” I asked.
“You know!” she gasped, her eyebrows raised…index finger pointing to her privates.
“No, I don’t,” I said.
“Come on, you KNOWWWW!”
I suddenly understood…and blamed myself for not reading the brochure the school had sent home a few years prior. Immediately I prayed to any menstrual God there was…Creator of the Curse…Lord of the Heavy Flow…The High Priestess of Pads and Pons…in the hopes that from some far-reaching heavenly direction wise words would appear.
Procrastinating, I turned a few knobs on the stove, wiped my hands on a towel, dipped my finger in the sauce…and waited. Eventually I realized I had to wing it, but not before my daughter told me that she thought she’d put “IT” in the wrong hole.
“What?” I said.
“Those things…I don’t think I put it in the right place.”
“A tampon?” I asked.
“MOM! You don’t have to say it!”
For whatever reason, my thoughts took a nervous flight to an old joke involving female genitalia and a bowling ball. The smirk on my face as I remembered the punchline sent her waddling out of the room like an old cowpoke.
“Wait! Oh God, this is it, isn’t it?…The day you want me to explain things. I thought there would be more time…and now I’m supposed to be clinical, yet motherly.”
My daughter rolled her eyes. I was losing her.
“Someday you will understand how difficult this is. My success or failure at explaining this could mean the difference between you embracing womanhood…or being doomed to years of therapy. It’s a lot of pressure. Just give me a minute.”
“Mom, WHERE DOES IT GO?”
“Okay…I can do this. A tampon? Well, it’s fairly rudimentary. It goes in front…no, actually behind…that flipper thing.”
“Flipper thing?” She said, looking confused. “You mean the clitoris?”
Then a few years later, the second daughter splash landed into her womanly wake. Like her sibling, she cornered me in the kitchen where the conversation started out much the same until I stopped her in mid-sentence recalling my previous “bird and bee” debacle. Regrouping from a pregnant pause, I blurted something about going to fetch the “Let It Flow” school pamphlet.
“Forget it Mom…I’ll just ask my sister.”
Years passed, and I was all alone with number three… “the baby.” One evening she approached me, holding a tampon up to the light like a mouse caught in a trap.
“Yo Mo, where does this bad boy go?”
I will give you the good news first…by that point I had forgotten the bowling ball joke. I was even fairly factual, but nowadays, this new batch of kids are much more open and in touch with their bodies. Very little embarrass them.
One day I walked into the bathroom and she had plastered a new Kotex to the wall as if it were a piece of art. I looked at it for a long time.
“What is this doing here?” I asked.
“I’m preparing,” She said.
“Preparing? Honey, people prepare for a hurricane, a tsunami or an earthquake…but a Kotex is nothing like a can of Spam in a bomb shelter.”
I remember when I was growing up. No one clued me in. I guess we were instinctively supposed to know what was going on, like birds flying south in the winter. One day I overheard some girls on the playground. When I walked up to them, they fell silent.
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
“Female things,” one sneered. Then they turned their backs on me.
“I know all about that,” I said. Both girls abruptly did an about-face.
“Have you started bleeding?” One of them asked.
“Bleeding?…Who hasn’t?” I laughed.
When I got home from school I asked my neighbor, Virginia. She was two years older.
I said, “Ginny, how does that blood get out of you anyways?”
She said that it just sort of gushed out of a hole.
“A hole?” I said.
“Damn,” she screamed. “Don’t you know anything?”
I began having dreams…frightening dreams, that made me wake in a cold sweat. I saw myself sitting in a classroom when all of a sudden a gigantic tidal wave of blood exploded from this abyss down there, knocking over desks and children, carrying them out the door and into the hallway. There were kids trying to keep their heads afloat, desperately grabbing for lockers and mounted fire extinguishers for support. Miss Delbert, the school nurse, lunged toward me through the rapids of blood swinging a sanitary pad and belt over her head. The vital fluids of life erupted from me like red hot lava, oozing with such force that it was all I could do to hold onto my desk and watch my best friend Margie Klinkerbush get swept away.
Okay, so the Kotex wall art never caught on with the critics and remained part of a private collection. In some Andy Warhol circles, I’m sure it could have been cutting edge…probably ahead of its time. All I know is…I have finally finished my last bloody speech on menstrual cycles! Now I’m fine-tuning my spiel on pregnancy and the joys of childbirth.