Today, I am a Woman
(Coincidentally, Today I am in Fourth Grade)
On my childhood list of least favorite locations, the pediatrician’s office ranked highly. Between the likelihood of being stabbed with a needle, the germ-infested waiting room overflowing chicken pox and snot, and the horrifically awkward moment when my male doctor examined my lady parts, there were really no redeeming aspects to the doctor’s office.
My eight-year-old check-up was not one of auspicious beginnings. By the time the doctor came to my exam room, I had already received every available vaccine at the express request of my mother. She routinely asks nurses what new immunizations are available, and is it possible to administer flu shots more than once a year? Is the doctor positively sure that I don’t need a tetanus booster? This practice is not charming. (My mother’s response after reading this paragraph? “You need a meningitis booster.” I rest my case.) After my arm was so covered in band-aids it looked like a patchwork quilt, my doctor pulled my mother aside to speak to her privately. This did not appear promising. A laundry list of potential life-threatening ailments flashed before my eyes. Whatever it is, I thought to myself, it had better warrant some excellent presents.
When we returned home that evening, my mother informed me that we needed to have “a talk.” This was it, the moment of truth. While I ultimately wasn’t afflicted with the fatal case of Mad Cow Disease I had anticipated, I was apparently a mere months away from contracting something that sounded far more unpleasant: a monthly period.
To provide some background, this conversation was merely the capstone to two already horrific years of training bras, shaving and deodorant: three things that my eight-year-old comrades blissfully lived without. After the hundreds of tears shed because mean-spirited boys wouldn’t stop snapping my bra straps, I couldn’t believe my prematurely pubescent ears as my mother informed me that an already dreadful situation was about to get worse. To top it all off, she informed me that this monthly uninvited visitor would likely be accompanied by cramps that felt similar to having your intestines twirled by a fork like spaghetti. I was also not permitted to share this information with my friends, as their mothers likely hadn’t provided them with these delightful facts of life quite yet. Evidently my mother wanted to avoid another episode like the time I informed my entire kindergarten class that Santa Claus does not exist, failing to keep my disgust that anyone actually believed in this myth a secret. Alone in my terror of all things menstrual, I could do nothing but wait for this fresh new horror to commence.
P.S. Dear kindergarten teacher, If you inform a Jewish five-year-old that her options are to create a calendar counting down to Santa’s arrival or sit silently until everyone is done, said Jewish five-year-old cannot be held responsible for enacting revenge in the form of outing Old Saint Nick.
Fast forward to January of fourth grade, age nine. My friend Ali’s mother Laura is honking in my driveway as I am hurriedly running to the bathroom on my way out the door. I will be spending the day watching Ali at her dance competition, and time is of the essence. As I settle down on the toilet, I look down and see a menacing red smear. With a grimace and a quickening pulse, I realize that my unwelcome visitor has arrived.
I bellow for my mother, who holds back her my-daughter-is-a-woman tears long enough to inform my awaiting carriage that I will be just a moment. As I affix a feminine napkin to a fresh pair of underwear, I have not quite emerged from my incredulous state of dismay. How could this be happening to me, today of all days? After stuffing roughly a dozen extra pads into my sassy denim handbag, I dejectedly walk outside to the car. Laura’s eyes have taken on a glossy appearance not unlike my mother’s, and Ali appears gob smacked in the backseat. It would appear that my not-so-good news has traveled fast. Laura, who has known me since pre-school, reassures me that she will be there for whatever I need that day as my mother hugs me so tightly that I cease to convert oxygen into carbon dioxide.
When we arrive at the competition, I realize that I have entered what is quite possibly the worst location for a nine-year-old who has just started her period. I am suddenly drowning in a sea of boob-less, hipless beings. While my underarms are coated in course, dark hair and a thick layer of deodorant, every lithe dancer in my midst is a portrait of smooth, daisy-freshness. I immediately shift from feelings of slight discomfort to feeling like an ogre surrounded by beautiful, pre-pubescent Barbie dolls. I survive the day with frequent trips to the concession
stand (if I’m going to be the least attractive being in the room, I may as well spring for soft pretzels) and by compulsively checking to make sure I haven’t accumulated any leakage every hour on the hour. I return home at the end of the day exhausted and pray for early menopause.
News of my period traveled rapidly through my small Jewish day school (to provide you with a frame of reference: there were nine students in my class. They had to blow up our heads to three times their normal size to fill up a yearbook page) and one day Lilly, a popular girl a year older than me, pulled me aside during recess. Lilly’s breasts had also appeared at an extremely young age, but unlike me Lilly seemed to take great pleasure in hers. Lilly had also started her period, and gleefully informed me that she was inviting me to join her exclusive period club. When I inquired about the other members of this “club”, Lilly triumphantly stated, and I quote this word for word, “there’s a me, and there’s a you.” As I stared into Lilly’s expectant eyes, the words “slowly back away from the certifiably insane girl” ran through my head. Choking down a desire to scream “no thank you, you bizarre freak of a fifth grader.” I politely declined Lilly’s offer.
While this exchange remains one of the most unusual and uncomfortable of my life, it also helped me to stop feeling so ashamed of my body. If someone like Lilly wanted to form a club about my monthly guest, then I supposed it couldn’t be that bad. I stopped begging God to grant me early menopause, and instead focused on polite requests to keep Lilly heavily medicated and at least ten feet away from my person at all times.
Written by Rebecca Marks, USA