I don’t want to alarm anyone—particularly fellow mothers to young girls—but this whole puberty thing? Does not wait until high school. I mean, if it had any manners it certainly WOULD wait until high school, so that our daughters would already be refusing to talk to us about anything, but no.
“Well, how old were YOU when you started… changing?” asked a friend, in response to my detailing recent events in our house.
“I don’t know!” I huffed. “I HAVE COMPLETELY BLOCKED OUT THOSE YEARS!” And it’s true. I have one vivid memory of pestering my mother, repeatedly, that I wanted to shave my legs. I am descended from hairy Eastern Europeans, people. We are blessed with milky white skin and ebony PELTS. Not a fabulous combination at the pool in the summer. So I pestered, and pestered, and finally my mother agreed to buy me some depilatory.
(She was afraid I’d cut myself with a razor.) (She was right to be afraid—years later, the first time I shaved I sliced such a big hunk of my kneecap off, it clogged the razor. You’re welcome!) Anyway, here’s what I remember: I had the foul-smelling bottle of Nair. I took it into the bathroom along with a book and a timer, after my mother and I had read the directions. I applied it to my legs, from ankle to hip. (Did I even have any hair on my thighs? Who knows. I put it ALL OVER my legs, like I thought I was supposed to do.)
I set the timer. I sat down on the edge of the toilet lid to read my book until the timer dinged. It dinged and I hopped into the tub to rinse.
It was then that I realized that coating my first leg all the way up to my thigh and then leaning down to coat the second leg meant that ANOTHER part of my body had pressed against said depilatory-coated thigh while I was bent over. And I turned the water on and washed off all of the hair on my legs, like magic.
As well as half my pubic hair. Oops!
I remember feeling mortified, although who would know? Maybe I was just pissed because it had taken me twelve years to grow those twenty hairs I lost. Who knows.
And THAT is more or less my memory of early puberty.
So when Chickadee’s feet started growing at accelerated speed I thought it was odd but figured okay, whatever, that’ll stop soon. And when she started wolfing down endless amounts of food, well, I figured she needed the energy to GROW HER BIG FLIPPER FEET. But then the day came when she sat down on my lap and something was very, very wrong.
Do you know how babies smell wonderful and children smell pretty good? That was the day I discovered that girls in early puberty are indeed fragrant, but not in a way that is pleasing. I may have bellowed, “Oh DEAR GOD, your pits STINK!”
She may have been offended. And really, had I been thinking about it, that’s probably not the way I’d envisioned talking to my daughter about her changing body and the miracle of maturation. But in the moment—with very little fresh oxygen to the brain—it was all I’d managed.
I tried to make it up to her by taking her to the store to behold the Big Wall Of Deodorant Sticks, and told her she could pick whatever she liked. We spent about ten minutes just sniffing. Because it’s a big decision, you know, whether you want your pits to smell flowery or fresh, crisp or seductive. (“Mom, what does seductive mean?” “It means you put that one back and try a different one!”) In the end, she opted for tropical power, and that—I thought—was that.
Well, there’s a funny thing about that Degree Girl deodorant. They apparently have a whole associated campaign. I had barely noticed that the lid had a sticker proudly proclaiming OMG!, which I figured was just designed to appeal to today’s teens, who only speak in text. Whatever. But Chickadee never removed the sticker.
Last night as I was bidding her goodnight, she was having some trouble settling down; it was a combination of a full day and some anticipation of school today, where her supposed BFF is still being decidedly unfriendly. So in the midst of a lot of whining and tragedy, she decided that she ABSOLUTELY NEEDED some lotion for an itchy spot of skin, and so I went to her dresser to grab the lotion, which was sitting next to the deodorant. The deodorant proudly proclaiming OMG!
I turned back to Chickadee with the lotion in one hand and the deodorant in the other. “Do you want some lotion, or, OH MY GOSH! Do your PITS SMELL? Do you need some of THIS?”
She sniffled a little and I thought I saw a grin, so I pressed on. “OH MY GOSH! Should we use this on your FEET? Because OH! MY! GOSH! they sort of smell, TOO!”
Now she was laughing, and snatched the stick away from me. “OH MY GOSH!” she trilled. “Maybe YOU are the smelly one! Because OH! MY! GOSH! you are REALLY ANNOYING!”
“OH MY GOSH!” I answered, and we collapsed in giggles.
I really do not recall antiperspirant being quite so entertaining, when I was her age. Then again, I lost a big chunk of “it’s NOT! FUNNY!” time to waiting for my pubic hair to grow back, so what do I know?