We remember this book cover, don’t we, girls?
My tried-and-true crew of goddess-friends recently got together to celebrate the summer solstice and, naturally, conversation turned toward periods. You know, as it’s prone to do at a girls night*.
(*ASIDE: Surprise! I was being ironic. As lavishly liberated ladies, it’s actually quite rare for us to discuss our periods when we get together. Usually we stick to talking about organic baking and our favorite bras. Haha. Tricked you again. We actually did discuss bras—the fact that no woman should waste her breasts on anything but a sexy one. But, really, normally we just have pillow fights in our panties.)
But about bras, this vintage La Perla longline will do just fine.
Turns out Cin was in the process of plotting a coming-of-age ritual for a dear friend’s daughter. The questions started flying: How old were you when you got your first period? How was that for you? Who helped you through it? What did your mom do? Did you have any idea of the amazing gift you’d been given—to create life—at that moment? Were you able to fathom that, in all this mess, you’d just received the world’s most wondrous superpower?
We all reflected on how glorious it might have been to be surrounded by a bunch of loving women when our bodies decided to go off the effing reservation. Because that’s how it seems when you’re 10 or 13 or 16, or whatever, and you have fertility rushing from your body for the first time.
My mom was pretty great—warm, loving and matter-of-fact—about the whole period thing, but it certainly wasn’t, like, a celebration. I was given some Ivory soap, some pads and a big hug. “Welcome to womanhood,” she smiled sincerely. She was sweet and I felt like I’d joined a new club, but it was shocking. And solitary. I was young—I got it on vacation in Colorado on my 11th birthday—so it was also a secret. If anyone had found out about me getting my period while riding Mademoiselle, the spunky brown Bay, up the mountain toward the old abandoned sheepherders’ cabins on the Jacques’ ranch only to notice blood through my jeans, I might’ve killed them.
So last week when my babysitter’s 11-year-old daughter revealed with an uncomfy grin that she couldn’t swim today, I went in. “Is it because…?” I asked her. Her mom was sitting right next to me, and she leaned toward me, smiling. The girl nodded.
“Oh, honey, that’s wonderful!” I beamed. She and her mom beamed back. The glow of her beautiful face was unforgettable. I started gushing. “Congratulations! I’m so excited for you. This is such a big deal. You know that right? You now have a superpower! You can create life, you are infinite, you are connected to all women throughout all time, you are a goddess, you are a queen.”
This isn’t how most of us feel about our first period, but this is how I want girls to feel about coming of age.
I stopped, glancing at her mom, who was smiling from ear to ear. “I mean, of course just because you can create life doesn’t mean you should—you’re so young—but you have a gift, the gift of womanhood. Wow, honey, I’m so happy for you.”
She beamed so brightly, her lovely features completely absorbed in the joy of my reaction. We hugged. She pressed her flawless face into my chest and wrapped her arms tightly around my waist as we embraced. When I pulled away, her smile was so big, and her eyes so wide. She searched my face and I knew what she wanted to ask.
“You know you can swim,” I started. “If you want to, right?”
Her mom jumped in, talking really fast. “I never learned how to use those things, Emily. Can you teach her? Please? Would you mind?”
Oh. My. Holy. Can I teach your luminous, sports-loving daughter how to use a tampon so that she can swim today because it’s hot out and she really, really, really wants to? Would I mind?!
“It would be such an honor,” I said, with tears in my eyes, for sure. “Thank you for asking me!”
We tucked away on a sidewalk behind the bushes at the park and I rifled through my purse for a tampon. Even though my little boys already know all about periods, they and their buddies were curious about what was going on with this unlikely pow wow, which mortified the new young woman. They eventually lost interest and gave us the privacy we wanted.
This was kinda what the scene looked like. But at a park.
We sat in a circle and they listened, rapt, as I explained how to use the magical thing that would allow her to swim with her friends even while on her period. She was so excited about it, and her mom seemed relieved to find someone she knew who could teach her daughter about this thing. It was awkward, so we laughed a lot. It was the kind of laughing that starts out nervous, moves to a crescendo of sincerity that acts as glue between those sharing it and culminates in a deep, comforting sigh. Eventually, after doing my best to answer her questions, I gave her one for the road—it was all I had in my purse—and we re-engaged with the park around us.
On some level, I aspire to heal my own girlhood, fraught with stifling, subverting and frequent invisibility, by seeing, uplifting and empowering the young girls I get to know now that I’m a grown-up.
It may say something strange of me to get so excited about taking part in an aspect of this lovely girl’s initiation into womanhood, but my feet didn’t touch the ground the rest of the afternoon. Naturally, as I happen to be in a season of making intentional effort to experience gratitude for all the things going wonderfully in my life, I felt overcome with thanksgiving for this girl, her mom and the favor they so generously asked of me.
And, bonus, I now have the perfect story to tell the ladies at our Fall Equinox celebration. Right after we discuss casserole recipes and hair conditioner.