Little Son, Bodacious and I were barreling down the road last week, headed to one of our last soccer practices for the season. It had been an uneventful drive so far, and I was looking forward to a little siesta in the evening sun.
“Mom,” Little Son said from the backseat. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Sure!” I answered confidently. I could see our turn into the soccer fields rapidly approaching, and my little travel pillow was softly calling my name. I had already ruined the Santa Claus thing during a car conversation last year, so what did I have to lose?
“What’s a period?”
Now, if I has been my quick-witted pastor friend Jan Reed, I would have said, “Son, a period is a punctuation mark indicating the end of a sentence.” But alas, poor Yorick, I am not.
What I said instead was, “Look! We are almost there. Let’s talk about this after practice.”
But Little Son was having none of it. “No, please, Mom. I really want to know. Now. Please… ."
Kick. Me. And before you all start to wonder what I let my kids watch on television and during unsupervised YouTube time, let me just tell you so you can prepare yourselves. Children hear everything you don’t want to talk about at school – from their friends, overheard in lunch lines and bathrooms, or hurled as insults on the bus.
Last year, at the tender ages of 9 and 7, my children learned about the birds and the bees, sexual orientation, and the difference between being transgender and bisexual over dinner.
My kids still think their stuffed animals are magic and that the tooth fairy is real. How on earth am I supposed to manage the dichotomy? I want them to be little, for as long as possible. But other kids are just not going to let that happen.
Now, if you have not yet experienced the joy of one of these crucial conversations with your kid yet, Rule No. 1 is to always to ask the child what he thinks he knows about a particular situation. Suss out just how far you need to go in your answer.
“How did you hear about periods, Son?”
“My friend told me a girl in his class was on her period,” he said. Oh God bless her, I think to myself, she is only in the fifth grade.
“Well, what do you think a period is?” I asked him.
“I think it’s when a girl gets really, really angry,” he said.
Well, huh, that can certainly be a part of it. You’d be angry too if you were 11 and starting menstruation, but I can’t say that out loud because I don’t want to terrify Bodacious who is intently listening.
“OK, well, settle in. This is going to take a few minutes,” I said.
Rule No. 2, give the child factual information using the correct names for body parts and body functions without terrifying him. I began with puberty, and explained to him the basic … mechanics of the uterus. I tell him that as a girl transitions into becoming a teen, her body starts to mature. I tell him menstruation, or monthly “periods,” are a sign that a woman is healthy and that her body is physically capable of growing a baby. Each month that a woman is not pregnant though, the uterus needs to clean itself out, and that comes out as blood. All perfectly natural and normal and just part of being female.
I checked the rearview mirror. No one looked panicked, so I was feeling pretty proud of myself. And lo and behold, there was a prime parking spot in front of the soccer fields. I patted myself on the back once again for nailing this mom thing.
But Little Son made no move to get out of the car. I looked back again and could literally see the gears whirling in his head.
“When do periods start? Do they hurt? How long do they last? And just how much blood is there?”
I explained that every woman’s body was different. I told him that sometimes, periods were uncomfortable and sometimes women did get sad or more tired, and sometimes, we even were a little quicker to get mad about something. And I also told him that periods are a woman’s private business, so if he knows someone is having her period, he shouldn’t tell other people.
Rule No. 3, there’s always a kicker. “So, what exactly do you do with the blood, Mom?”
Now, I am flashing back to my own childhood. Every time a commercial came on the television for, shall we say, personal hygiene products, my dad would immediately lie back in the recliner and feign sleep. It always made me feel embarrassed about something I couldn’t control. I think he did it because he never wanted me to feel embarrassed about it in front of him, but I never had the courage to tell him it was having the opposite effect. I also think it made him uncomfortable to think about. Despite the fact that he had delivered cows and even a baby or two, bodily fluids were just not his thing. As far as I know, he never even changed a diaper, much less talked about maxi pads with me.
Now, I hope I am not scandalizing or embarrassing any of my readers. That isn’t my intention. As adults, we have a responsibility to educate our children. I just hate that it feels like it is happening so much sooner than it should have to. But I don’t want my children to think that what happens to their own bodies is embarrassing or dirty. I want them to always know they can ask me anything and I will answer them as honestly and as age-appropriately as possible.
Our children have access to more information than we ever did, they see more and hear more, sooner. But it is still up to us to tell them how to process and live with what they learn. We cannot leave it to the schools, HBO or the Kardashians!
I took a deep breath and told him the truth. Even though I was secretly a little uncomfortable talking about it with him, I am so very grateful he felt like he could ask me everything about periods.
“Son, I want you to know you can always ask me anything. Is there anything else you want to know?”
Little Son looked relieved.
“No, I’m good. But I’m glad you told me what those pads in your bathroom are for! All this time I thought they were lady diapers and were using the bathroom on yourself!”
Well, Little Son, here’s crossing my fingers – and ankles – that’s not a conversation we ever have to have!