This is a Moms Only post. O.k., not really. Anyone can read it, but be forewarned that the topics and discussion are decidedly feminine and potentially not what dads (or dads-in-waiting, Luke) want to read. With that said, I will continue ... and know that I don't need to self-edit, because my audience will all have the same lack of Y chromosome that I enjoy.
I was about 12 when I got my first period, and ladies, it was nothing to celebrate. My mother was out of town, to start with. This wouldn't have been so horrendous in itself, except for the fact that my mother's prime contribution to my knowledge of menstrual cycles had been to sign the release form required for me to endure the sappy, 1970s filmstrip along with the rest of my female fifth grade female peers. At the end of the presentation, our frighteningly masculine gym teacher--Ms. Barber--asked if we had any questions. We didn't, and I'll never forget the look of relief on her face. I left the gym that day having learned this: no one can tell you when your period will start, exercising during your period is just fine and no, you can't wear a pad under a bathing suit.
Ms. Barber handed each of us a take-home pack as we filed out in horrified silence. In it was a pamphlet outlining the (not so) helpful information we'd been force-fed during the cheesy movie, a talking points sheet for our parents and two coupons for the Kimberly Clark products of our choice. I remember riding home on the bus that afternoon and being drop-dead embarrassed with the knowledge that such incriminating evidence was in my backpack. I dumped the cheerful little plastic bag and its contents into the outside trash can before anyone could see the smiling girls (Periods are FUN!) on the side and ask questions.
And so it was that I found myself alone, in the bathroom, unarmed with any knowledge or comfort beyond what I'd managed to glean while trying desperately not to look at the screen during my crash course in reproductive biology. While I wouldn't have asked my mother any such probing questions on a regular day, this was clearly no regular day. There was blood in my underwear, for goodness sakes! What on earth was I supposed to do?
I had no choice but to turn to my father. Famously tight-lipped and generally horrified by bodily function in general (he had a strict "gas is only passed in the bathroom, with the door shut" rule that haunts me to this day), I was petrified to approach him. But I had no choice. I was ill-prepared and clueless. My grandmother was a long-distance phone call away. I had no sisters. And my mother was, conveniently, on a trip to New York with her best friends.
I crept through the house, looking for my dad. I finally found him in front of the newspaper, smoking a cigarette and scanning the car ads.
"Dad, I, uh--need some...uh, stuff," I remember starting.
He looked at me as if I weren't making any sense, which, of course, I wasn't. Stuff? What kind of stuff, MG? Oreos? A pair of shoes? A VCR tape to record more of those darn Miami Vice episodes you watch all the time?
"Yeah, ummmm...some stuff of mom's."
I was pretty sure I was going to pass out if I had to say it out loud, but I gave it one more try.
"Dad ... you know ... girl stuff."
Now we both felt like we might vomit. My father's face crumpled into a shudder that matched mine. He looked away, back to the safety of the car ads.
"Yeah," he managed after a long moment of studying the Dodge listings. "Yeah. That stuff's under the sink there. Get what you need, sure."
I ran out of the room, even though I was sure he wasn't going to be making eye contact for possibly the next twenty years of my life. I found a bin under the bathroom sink, pulled it out and eyed the contents. Unfortunately, what I found there was nothing like the quick rundown I'd picked up from the smiling, pimple-free teen in the movie. First of all, these things were about two feet long, and didn't have the sticky side she raved about. No ... there were some kind of tabs ... long, without padding. And then there was this elastic thing that seemed to have hooks on the end. Huh?
It probably took me an hour to figure it out, but necessity being the mother of invention, I got the point. The elastic was a belt that went around your waist. The tabs fit into the hooks on the puffy pad and voila! I was go to go. Well, except for the fact that the pad seemed to go from my navel to my middle back.
And right about now, if you have any clue what I've just described, you're asking yourself why on earth my mother had such a thing in the year 1986. That is, if you haven't fallen off of your chair laughing.
The answer? The whole box I found was a leftover from when my baby brother had been born five years previous.
You have no idea how hard my mother laughed when she got home and saw me waddling around the house with the equivalent of a scuba suit to handle the puddle hopping I was trying to do. Not that I'm still bitter or anything. After all ... it was her fault I was wearing the things. If she'd given me any inkling of what to do, I wouldn't have been in that predicament to start with.
As you can imagine, coming off a shockingly horrible first period episode such as this, I've always felt that it's of utmost importance to prepare my daughter for her impending ascent to womanhood. We started talking it through early. Probably too early, if there is such a thing. I made it clear to a preschool-aged Jo that women were made differently. That there was an important role our bodies were given to play in the making of babies. And that even when there was no baby on the way, your body was ready, just in case.
Our discussion has been open all of these years. As Jo has crept slowly closer to her own maturation, I've kept the dialogue going by asking questions, answering concerns and steering her toward a kind of young womanhood that I wished I'd had for myself.
Knowing that her first period is just around the corner, I've looked for a resource that fit what I wanted to say--and left out what I didn't want to say. I wanted a focus on the beauty of growing into a woman, the miracle that God created in the form of a woman and the blessing that changes are for us as individuals. I didn't need-or want--someone to fill in the blanks on sex, birth control, STDs or the like. I just wanted something that said "Congratulations! You're a WOMAN! Look at the amazing things that will happen inside of you." No cheese. No embarrassment. No stinky gym or corny movie.
I tried a handful of recommended resources and found one thing or another lacking. Finally, with Generations of Virtue's Beautifully Made! series, I found the perfect fit.
This thin, three booklet set says everything that a thoughtful Christian mom has in her heart for her daughter. You know all those moments of wonder you've tried to express to your little girl but couldn't put into words? They're in here--from revealing the artful complexity of God's design for our bodies to celebrating the long line of women we share a heritage of grace with.
The first booklet, Approaching Womanhood, is designed to be given to your daughter before her first period begins. An overview of physiology, some insight into emotions and a few tips of preparedness are all included. I gave this book to Jo and then talked through it with her. While we had covered many of the points in the book, I was delighted to hear new questions and concerns coming to the surface as she thought through the big changes happening in her body and life. Reading Approaching Womanhood led us to talk through the options in hygiene products and assemble a kit of necessities for the big day. Her excitement in getting prepared has been contagious, and I find that I'm not just dreading the next sign that my little girl is growing up too fast, but actually looking forward to celebrating with her as she hits her next milestone.
This idea--celebration--is clearly defined is the third book, Wisdom from a Woman. Intended for mothers only, this booklet shares God's real plan for the biological process most of us dread each month. By putting into perspective the very real blessing of the monthly cycle, the author shows moms how to rejoice in watching their daughters grow into godly women.
The second book (Celebrating Womanhood) is a more detailed explanation of the nuts and bolts of hormones and the cycle itself to be given to daughters as they begin their monthly menstruation. I have to say that I'm looking forward to giving Jo this book and then taking her out for a special Mom and Daughter Dinner--just one of the ways the books recommend blessing your daughter and recognizing her new status as a young woman.
I can't imagine how different my own experience would have been if I had been given thoughtful, loving direction on how to handle growing up gracefully. I know that I wouldn't have worn a Victorian-era menstruation belt for four days while I tried my best to ignore what was happening to my body. Maybe my entire outlook on womanhood would have been different. Maybe, just maybe, I would have had an easier transition into adulthood had I been prepared for my role as a female, not just a human.
I suppose I'm getting a glimpse of what could have been now, though, as I watch Jo process the new information, learn more about her body and anticipate the changes God has in store for her. Tools like Beautifully Made! are priceless. Your daughter is worth the investment.