Coming to a classroom near us . . .later this month Maya will watch the much anticipated "The Movie" with her fifth grade class. We cannot say this in our house without pause, air quotes and stressed syllables. Maya and I have been talking about it for months. We giggle about our exaggerated "The Movie" announcements, but then we get down to the brass-tacks speculation of what exactly "The Movie" will be about. We've concluded that it definitely will be about puberty and How Our Body Changes -- which Maya has down pretty pat -- but we haven't decided whether "The Movie" will talk about sex or not.
Our almost daily discussions now cover all topics because I don't want anything in "The Movie" to be a surprise and because I'm on a mission to eliminate as much body/self shame as possible in my daughters. One of my biggest goals as a mother is to raise self-loving people and I know a lot of that starts by squashing body shame.
"Feh, we get our periods. Whatev. We're gonna get them every month for a long time. It's a pain in the butt, but we might as well not feel badly about it." This is the bulk of my period speech. Then we branch off into the details: Fun with hormones, why are we actually bleeding, where exactly does a tampon go . . The questions from her have been randomly asked and pretty phenomenal. Brushing her hair the other morning, she said, "Does a baby come out of your pee hole?" "Yoowza," I say. "No. We have a pee hole, a poop shoot" -- we laughed -- "and have you noticed another hole down there? In the middle? That's the actual china. That's where a baby comes out of, and your period too." She said, "I was WONDERING what that one was." I put down the brush and drew her geometric shapes that were supposed to illustrate the uterus, the bladder, the intestines and then the corresponding outlets. "But, we're special," I said, "Because women and girls are the only ones with the three holes." She giggled.
Maya's best friend Lola just recently saw "The Movie". Maya reported from Lola's recount, "Did you know that if you put a tampon in a glass of water it explodes?" I said, "Cool, right?" She asked, "Can I wear a pad and not a tampon when I get my period?" I said, "Absolutely. But dude, sometimes it's like a diaper and trying to play sports with that thing is so uncomfortable." I saw a pained looked on her face as she tried to imagine getting a tampon up the mysterious third hole. I said, "I know it sounds impossible, but the key is to get it up far enough, and then you don't feel it at all." This did not change her expression. She looked at me, "Tell me about your first time again." She loves it when I tell her the story of when I first tried a tampon. I've told it a few times if only to make her feel better.
While experiencing my first or second period, the summer I turned 13, and while my mother was at work, I was invited to the beach to meet some friends, including a boy on whom I had a crush. I knew tampons were used during periods though I wasn't clear how. I scrounged under my mother's bathroom cabinet to find some and retrieved a box of OB's. I looked at that oval piece of cotton sans applicator -- I didn't even know tampons came with "applicators" -- and I thought: What. The. Fuck. I unfolded the directions that were tucked in the box, put my foot on the toilet as the illustration instructed and attempted the first OB launch. I remember so clearly thinking in that flash of discomfort that having sex and having a baby especially will be IMPOSSIBLE. After several rushed attempts -- I knew I was missing precious moments of beach fun the more I fucked around with Tampon Insertion 101 -- I felt satisfied enough with what I had done. I put on my bathing suit, grabbed my towel and ran down to the bus stop. On the bus, I squirmed and shifted. I felt as if I would give birth to the tampon at any moment. Was I bleeding? Did all the bus patrons know what was happening to me? It was the same at the beach. I couldn't relax around my friends, nor the boy, and I sat on my towel, knees clamped shut. Swimming was out. I just wanted to survive the day without depositing anything in my bikini bottoms.
Maya thinks this story is hilarious. So do I. But I tell her the point is, I'll help her get through her first tampon ordeal more smoothly than mine.
She and I have had many fantastic discussions lately. For example, most of her lunchtime homies at school are boys so she'll repeat stuff they say and then ask me about it. "When Ryan got hit in the weenie with a basketball he yelled, 'OH Larry hurts so bad! Ricky's fine, but LARRY!' And then he fell over in pain." This one took me a minute until I realized the kid was talking about his Left and Right testicle. I laughed so hard at this. And then I realized that Maya had no clue that boys have three separate items down below. I explained all of this, and she said, "I wonder if that's gonna be in 'The Movie'?"
Another boy from her crew announced that he saw a condom in his uncle's bathroom trash. (GROSS & WTF?) And when a boy asked, "What's that?" the storyteller said, "That helps you have babies, stupid." This is almost my favorite part of our discussions; straightening out what she hears at school. I said, "A condom KEEPS you from having a baby" which of course was followed by "How?" Until very recently, Maya believed women had babies by themselves. This was revealed with the great question, "Why don't we all look a like? I mean, what's the point of men and women looking so different?" When I discussed function, she stopped me and said, "Wait -- we need a man to have a baby? I thought women did it all." I could've taken a crack at men there, but Maya has perfect examples of great fathering around her. Luckily, she had been studying the pollination of flowers at the time. I said, "The men have the pollen." And a light came on. She said, "OOOHHH. And women get the pollen when the car is pulled into the garage." This is how her classmate Anthony explained it a few weeks ago. I said, "I prefer 'Special Hug' for now." And we laugh at that too because we can't say "Special Hug" without the beloved air quotes.
Maya enters middle school next year. She'll be going to school with kids three years older than her, and god knows what she'll hear then -- or what she'll start to see. I've heard so many stories about how oral sex is popular now among very young girls, and it's not considered sex. It's how a girl can gain popularity within certain groups apparently. This summer, as a primer for middle school, I'm having that self-respecting talk with Maya too. I call it the "Don't Put A Boy's Penis In Your Mouth Talk." Many of my friends cringe and think I'm kidding when I say this, but I'm not kidding. How's a young girl gonna know when she's feeling pressure from a boy she likes if her mom hasn't said, "Hey, don't put a boy's penis in your mouth to gain popularity. It's ok to say no."
These kinds of talks and topics will be and get more difficult I know. I just plan to stay honest and open and discuss it all; squash myths and interpretations, without shame. And until then, bring on "The Movie."