The massive cleaning out of the crap continues apace. There’s no shortage of junk around here, that’s for sure. I have this crazy dream that someday I’ll look around my house and only see stuff that we NEED and USE. Is that crazy, or what?
Today we had soccer (where Monkey’s team triumphantly TIED for the second week in a row! they are really not-quite-sucking, now!) and came home and had hot cocoa (because it was 40 degrees on the soccer field) and I decided to do some baking. Mmmmm, delicious gluten-free pumpkin bread! It really is delicious, but now I understand that “gluten” means “having glue-like properties,” because everything I bake with, say, rice flour (yummier than it sounds), tastes fine but falls apart. So we baked pumpkin crumble. Grab a spoon.
Then, because the day hadn’t been quite exciting enough, I decided to clean out my bathroom. (Warning: The following ends up having surprisingly little to do with cleaning. Go figure.)
The kids were busy doing important things like trashing their rooms and covering every square inch of the kitchen table with art supplies, so I grabbed a trash bag and headed into the master bathroom, a.k.a. Where Health And Beauty Items Go To Die.
Dudes. Need some Advil from 2002? How about some hairspray from 1996? I can totally help you out. Also, did you know that band-aids can actually calcify? I didn’t, either.
I cleaned out the high cabinet and was just starting on the drawers when Chickadee wandered in. She asked what I was doing and I told her I was cleaning, and she looked understandably perplexed. It IS a relatively new concept around here, after all. But she appointed herself helper and enjoyed pawing through my things and suggesting items to toss. We agreed that my ten-year-old razor handle could go, but were at odds over a flowered scrunchie. (I won, and into the trash it went. I had to promise that if they come back into style I’ll buy her one, though.)
I opened the cabinet under the sink and started pulling out items from the pile of junk shoved in amongst the pipes. By this time, Monkey had arrived in my bedroom with an armful of Legos. He rearranged them and kept us up-to-date on their dealings (“Now this one is going to transform and get out his laser!”) while I surrounded myself with half-empty bottles of lotions and cleaners.
Removing an avalanche of Mary Kay items (last Mary Kay party attended: 2001) revealed a forgotten stash of “feminine items” in the back corner of the cabinet. I started pulling the bags of pads and boxes of tampons out and piling them on the floor.
“What’re THOSE?” asked Chickadee.
“They’re called maxi-pads. They’re for grown-up ladies.” Monkey stopped what he was doing and craned his neck to peek into the bathroom. Seeing only an unremarkable pink bag, he went back to his Legos.
“What do you do with them?”
(Is someone trying to tell me something, here, or what?)
“They, um, well. It’s sort of complicated. Do you really want to know?” I swear to you, her little face just lit up when I said it was complicated. This is what she loves, is complicated. Tomorrow night I’m hoping we can cover some Euclidean geometry.
“Yes! Tell me!”
I took a deep breath.
“Well, when you’re a grown up lady, your body makes an egg every month.” Her jaw dropped open. “Um, not an egg like a chicken egg. It’s teeny tiny, and it’s inside the ovaries, which are in here—” I pointed to my hipbones “—unless you’ve had surgery, like me, to have them taken out. I don’t make eggs anymore, because when I had my surgery to take out my uterus, they took my ovaries, too.”
She was fascinated. Hey, this was actually kind of fun.
“Anyway, each month an egg gets made, and if it gets fertilized by a man it grows a baby.”
“Yeah, you know, like we have to add special stuff to the plants to make them grow. You know that you need something from both a woman AND a man to make a baby, right?” She nodded. “So each month, unless you get that special something from a man and a baby starts to grow, the egg needs to be flushed out of your body.”
I glanced past Chickadee, out the doorway, to see Monkey dangling off the end of my bed, completely transfixed. Hooboy. Okay, well, two birds, one stone.
“So, um, if the egg doesn’t get used, your body’s been getting ready for a baby by making the baby-holding place, the uterus, all warm and cozy, and if the egg doesn’t get fertilized, the uterus has to get rid of the lining it’s built up, and the egg that didn’t get used. So you, uh, bleed a little.”
Two sets of eyes went as big as saucers. I rushed on.
“So that’s what these are for,” I clutched a sack of maxi-pads to my chest like a shield. “When you have that bleeding, it’s called menstruating, or having your period. And you have to put one of these into your undies to catch the blood.”
“You bleed from your VAGINA? Yuck.” Monkey rolled off the bed and leapt to the floor like a cat, returning to his Legos because clearly, this story wasn’t going anywhere he needed to be. Chickadee was still gaping.
“Yes, women bleed from their vaginas.” I looked down at my lap and contemplated having some turn-of-the-century Tylenol I’d found a little while before.
“Does it… HURT?” Chickadee had moved a little closer to me, and spoke in low tones.
“No, honey, it doesn’t hurt. It’s annoying, and sometimes you get a little tummyache while you have your period—some stomach cramps, maybe—but it doesn’t hurt.”
“And it happens… every month?”
“Yep, once you’re mature it’ll happen every month you aren’t pregnant. Girls start their periods usually sometime between, oh, about nine—” her eyes went even wider, and I rushed on, “—and fifteen, and honey, I do NOT think you will get your period when you’re nine. I was a lot older than that, and probably you will be, too.”
“You have had 35 eggs!” announced Monkey. “Except only two of them turned into kids!” I was still trying to wrap my brain around this when Chickadee snapped out of her petrified haze to correct him.
“Every MONTH, not every YEAR, and she would’ve had to have eggs when she was a BABY for that. You can leave now.” Oddly, Monkey didn’t leave, but he did go back to pretending not to listen. “So,” she said, turning back to me, “you put one of those in your underwear, when you bleed? But you don’t need them anymore, because you don’t make eggs and bleed anymore?”
“That’s right,” I said. “I had my girl parts removed when I had my surgery.”
“So you’re a BOY now?” Chickadee quipped. We laughed and I poked her, then added the half-empty box of tampons I’d just found to the pile. I was just about off the hook here, and that hadn’t been so hard.
“What are THOSE?”
“These? These are called tampons. These are also for when you have your period, only these go inside your body instead of sitting in your underwear.” I held one up while Chickadee visibly cringed.
“INSIDE? YOUR BODY?” Her horror brought Monkey to the doorway.
“Well, yes. Um. See, these pads, well, sometimes you don’t want to wear a pad. Let’s say you’re on the swim team, and you get your period. You can’t put a pad in your bathing suit; it would show and be all messy. So then you’d use a tampon.” They both continued to stare at me.
“But… HOW does it GET inside??”
I sighed and tore open the wrapper. “Okay, see, it has an applicator, that’s cardboard. You would hold it here, and put the applicator into your vagina—”
“CARDBOARD? IN YOUR VAGINA??” Chickadee looked as though I’d just announced that first you take it and put it up your nose. Come to think of it, that’s probably about what it sounded like to her. Monkey began to laugh hysterically, whether at this marvelous tale I was spinning or his sister’s head spinning all the way around on her neck, I wasn’t sure.
“Yes, honey, just to help put the tampon in. See, you would put it in this far, then push this part, and see how that pushes it up? Then you take the cardboard out. And leave the tampon.”
“IT HAS A TAIL!” chortled Monkey.
“Yes, it has a string, so you can take it out later.” Also so that, if you have a slender neck, you can hang yourself with it after The Tampon Talk.
“Does it hurt?” Chickadee is a pragmatist. I like that about her.
“No, sweetie, you can’t even feel it in there. And this is something you’re not going to have to worry about for a long time, okay?” She nodded. Monkey giggled his way back to his Legos once more. I went back to pulling things out of the cabinet. Then I added, “I’m pulling this stuff out to put in your bathroom closet so you’ll have it when you need it, but it’s going to be years, probably, honey. When the time comes we’ll talk about it some more.” I remembered something. “And guys? This is not the sort of thing you need to be chatting about on the bus or announcing in class.”
“Yeah, cuz it’s GROSS,” said Monkey.
“Well no, but because it’s something that parents talk to their kids about and you don’t need to be telling other kids. Okay? If you have questions or want to talk about it, you come to me. Or Daddy.”
I chucked a few more bottles into the waiting trashbag.
“Mama?” Chickadee had been sitting very still, and barely seemed to move, even now.
“Yes, sweetie?” I found the hardware to a towel bar. I was trying to decide whether to save it or admit that the bar was never going back up and throw it away.
“You said that for an egg to grow into a baby it needs fertilizer from a man.” Crap. “How does THAT happen?” Crap crap crap.
“Yeah, how DOES that happen?” chimed in Monkey. Chickadee whipped around to face him.
“YOU can LEAVE,” she said.
“Welllllllllll…” I swallowed, hard. “That’s even more complicated. Are you sure you want to know?” She nodded. Monkey edged inside the doorway a bit.
“Okay. Well, you know a woman makes eggs in her ovaries, right? Girls have ovaries and boys don’t?” She nodded. “Well, boys make the stuff that fertilizes eggs in a part that they have and girls don’t. Any idea what that might be?” Chickadee thought a moment, then furtively pointed to her crotch. “That’s right, very good. Boys make something that fertilizes eggs that’s called sperm, in their testicles.”
I stopped and beheld her expectant face. Everything about her behavior was telling me she was ready, and yet I could clearly remember my own reaction at learning The Truth at around her age. Maybe this would be enough information for now.
“But,” her little brain was whirring, I could see, “how does that stuff get to the egg?”
“Well, there’s something that a man and woman do together to make that happen. Any idea what that might be?”
It took every molecule of my being not to shriek with laughter when Chickadee started making kissing noises.
“Yes, well, it usually starts that way, yes. There’s some kissing, and some touching, and then if they are ALL GROWN UP and WANT TO HAVE A BABY then the man puts his penis into the woman’s vagina and releases some of that sperm and maybe it gets to the egg and starts a baby.”
All they heard was “penis into the woman’s vagina.” Before the chorus of “EWWWWWWWWS” drowned me out.
“WHO TOLD YOU THAT?” Chickadee demanded. I bit my lip so hard I thought I was going to draw blood.
“My mother told me, when I was about your age. Why?”
“Who told HER that??” It was now clear that Chickadee was considering a hearty bitch-smacking of whoever had started this horrible story.
“Ummm, I suppose her mother told her. Why, honey?” She was not to be deterred, however.
“Well who told HER? And who told HER mom? WHO STARTED IT??”
Monkey held up a bottlecap (I have no idea where it came from) before I could answer. “A bottlecap! I found it! Can I have it?”
“Sure, you can have it.” He ran off with it. He was clearly All Done.
“Mama!” Chickadee was not letting me off the hook. “WHO knew this?”
“Honey, I don’t know about the telling part. But that’s how animals make babies, too. It’s instinct. It’s called having sex, or intercourse, and it’s how the egg and the fertilizer meet and start babies.” Her gaze was still accusatory. I lamely continued on. “It’s for grown-ups. Who are married.” I may or may not have crossed my fingers behind my back.
“Well,” she was fairly sputtering at this point. “I am NOT going to want to do THAT!”
“That’s a very normal way to feel, sweetheart. You won’t need to worry about that for a very long time. Really, it’s SUPPOSED to sound yucky when you’re a kid.” Of course it is. (I mean, it’d probably be pretty disturbing for your kid’s reaction to be all “neato, I can’t wait to try it!”)
I started loading items back into the cabinet. Chickadee sat on the floor, dejected. I felt like I’d blown it completely. What happened to “the miracle of life?” What about “normal and natural” and all of the other buzzwords I’d always planned to use? I scooched over and pulled her into a hug.
“Sweetie, a lot of people have trouble talking about this stuff because it IS a little weird and probably sounds gross. And most of it you really don’t need to know now, but mostly what you need to know is that you can always talk to me. And when you have questions and need to know more, we’ll talk about it, and you can come to me whenever, with whatever you want to know. Okay?” She nodded. “Okay, then.”
“I still don’t EVER want to do that,” she hissed, as she scrambled to her feet. I chuckled.
“Baby, I fully support you in that decision.” She glanced sidelong at me, trying to decide if I was making fun. “And later on, when you’re older, if you change your mind? That’s okay, too.”
“Okay. That’s fine.” What should I have done, argued with her? (“Young lady! You are going to have sex and you are going to LIKE IT!”)
She picked up a brush I’d found. “Can I have this?”
“Sure, honey. Go put it in your bathroom. Hey, do you have any questions?”
“Thanks! No. I think you told me enough.”
“Mama?” Monkey had reappeared, and Chickadee pushed past him on her way out.
“Yes, honey?” I braced myself.
“Do you have any more bottlecaps?” I laughed and told him that I was fresh out, and was about to ask if he had any questions when he disappeared down the hall after Chickadee.
So that went… ummm… yeah. I need a drink. And some crumbly pumpkin bread. And a lobotomy.