Do You Know What the Vagina Is?! Do you?!!

The Mayo Clinic advises that when it comes to menstruation, it’s important to begin explaining early.  They say the sooner a mother starts talking to her daughter, the better.  Don’t teach by way of The Big Talk.  Rather, tackle a variety of related subjects in a series of conversations.

It’s an approach I used – and continue to — with my own daughter, Grumpy Pants.  It also works for my oldest son, Mr. Angry Eyes and my youngest son, Busy Buzz.  I’ve found that the series-of-conversations method works for any and all subjects and it works with sons and daughters.

My mom, Sunshine, was not one to prattle on with all that talky-talky stuff.  She was more inclined toward the use of visuals, like her sneer, her glare, her pout, her grimace and her ever-present frown.  She had frowns for anger, disgust and for whenever she pretended to be happy.  Seriously, picture it: an a happy frown.

She wore her run-of-the-mill exasperated frown on my special revelation day.  The summer before my twelfth birthday, Sunshine summoned me to her room to present me with – a gift?  Ummmmm.  No.   She shoved a booklet at me called “Growing Up and Liking It” produced by the now defunct Personal Products Company.   Other companies like Kimberly-Clark maker of Kotex products produced similar booklets for distribution in schools. Sunshine was a teacher so she had easy access to the material.

“Lynne, you, read this and bring it right back!” Sunshine demanded.  Without a word – you know, ‘cause I was kinda scared – I grabbed the booklet and ran to my bedroom.  It took less than 20 minutes to finish the book and it was easy to understand.  However, I didn’t return one second before I had to.  “Lynne, come here!” she barked about an hour after the presentation.  I went back in, handed Sunshine her little booklet and turned to walk out.  “Lynne,” she bellowed, “did you read the book I gave you?!”  She’s shouting; Sunshine almost always shouted at us.  “Yes,” I said.  “All of it?!  Did you read the whole thing?!”  “Yes,” I repeated.  “Well, do you know what the vagina is?!!!”

Gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!!!

What a day.  What a moment it was to be asked at age eleven about “THE VAGINA” by a frantic and suspicious mother.  She spat the words out of her mouth like they were pieces of undercooked liver.  She seemed unhappy about the very existence of “THE VAGINA” and she seemed to think something about it was my fault.

As was usually the case, I wasn’t completely sure of the why behind her furrowed brow, but of one thing I was certain.  This was not the time for me to flub my response.

Fortunately, Sunshine had carefully taught me and my sisters the scientific terms for body parts below the waist, so I screwed my courage to the sticking place and spoke right up.  “It’s…uh, the front side?”  “Right,” she growled as she reached into her nightstand drawer.  “Do you know what the womb is?!”  Did she say the womb?  I’d heard of that, of course.  However, mom’s little the book had referred to the uterus.  “It’s the same as the uterus” I mumbled.  Sunshine glowered.  “Uh…the book said…” “Yeah, that’s it” Sunshine interrupted.  “Here!  You, take this kit, Lynne!” Sunshine commanded as she thrust a package at me.  “You use it when you need it!”  “Okay,” I whispered as I grabbed the coral colored package.  I stood there briefly looking at but not inside the package.  Then I realized that Sunshine had stopped talking.  Now, was my chance to end this.  I seized the moment and ran back to my bedroom.  Once there, I chucked the kit into my nightstand drawer.

Whew!  It was over.

The package stayed in my drawer undisturbed until the January following that special summer.  It was then that I started my first menstrual period.  I was a little startled, but not unprepared.  For my mother had given me a kit.  The kit, I was certain, contained what I needed.  Sunshine had told me to use it when I needed it.  To my nightstand drawer!  I opened the kit and…What??!!!

This is the kit my mother suggested would rescue.  This kit is what I was supposed to use when I needed it?

Sanitary pads and a belt.  That’s right.  Sanitary pads and a belt.  Oh, wait.  This kit contained  Cottony Soft sanitary pads and an adjustable belt.  Goody.

Yeah, so…I wore Modess sanitary seat cushions…er, pads and an adjustable belt during my first menstrual period.  Thank God it was just two days long.

Before that thing was over, I vowed never again.  It shouldn’t have happened in the first place.  Between the time of Sunshine’s tender instruction and the advent of my menses, I had begun taking a once-a-week all girls’ health class at school.  Our teacher gave us lots of clear instruction about menstruation and included information about different feminine products.  I should’ve purchased and prepared my own kit full of tampons, and scissors for that adjustable belt.

I didn’t use those preposterously thick pads or that ridiculous belt again after the first time.  I got myself some tampons and never looked back.  That doesn’t mean I didn’t have some ‘splainin’ to do later.  Sunshine fully expected me to continue with those proper pads and that belt.  It wasn’t long before she took notice that I hadn’t been asking her about a new supply.  She wasn’t the least bit thrilled to discover my new method of feminine protection.

It was stupid of me, I suppose, to toss an empty box of tampons into the wastebasket of the bathroom.  I’d gotten used to using them and I was indeed a happy customer.  Moreover, there was absolutely nothing wrong with using them.  Nothing at all.  Sunshine begged to differ.

She charged into my room shaking the empty box before throwing it onto my bed.   “What are you doing using those internal sanitary napkins?!” she shrieked.  (That’s right, she said ‘internal sanitary napkins’.)  “I…like them…better,” I stammered.  “Those things are gonna make you sick!” she responded before storming out of my room.

Wow.  That’s all?  Okay.  Good.

And so it was.  I chose my own feminine hygiene products without any more static from my mother.   I won.  I guess.

About two years later, when my sister, Straighten Up! started her period, Sunshine didn’t get “Growing Up and Liking It” from her nightstand drawer.  She came to me with an order.  “Lynne, you tell your sister how to use those internal sanitary napkins!!”  Good grief!  Wasn’t that her job?

Thus, Sunshine had left her second child at the start of her menstruation to the tender mercies of a teenaged older sibling.  I grabbed a box of tampons, tossed them onto her bed and advised that she would find instructions on or inside the box. Then, I left the room.

–Lynne

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