When my mother got her period at 13, my grandmother gave her a hard slap across the face. My mom explained that this was common “in the old country,” but that she wouldn’t slap me when my time came. Instead, she gave me a copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves. I was 12, and examined the black and white photographs in the 1970s classic to learn what I could about my period. I don’t remember reading any of the text, but the images of all those pubes are still burnt into my retinas.
As a leftist, latte-drinking, overeducated feminist, I’ve tried to become more positive about my body and its associated functions. This effort increased when my husband and I had our son and then our daughter. I put a lot of thought into how to help my little girl feel okay with talking about menstruation.
Last year we came up with an experiment: Every time I get my period, he would take the kids to buy me candy.
OK, I came up with the plan, but he agreed.
My reasoning was simple: we would take a topic that is taboo (vagina stuff) and make it just part of our daily conversation. In fact, we would build positive associations with it (candy! CANDY!).
We introduced the topic at the dinner table to my daughter and her eight-year-old brother. My husband and I affected a slightly disinterested air, as though we were talking about an upcoming play date.
Me: “Oh, by the way, I have good news. I’m on my period.”
Husband: “Oh, that’s nice. Kids, let’s buy Mommy some chocolate after dinner.”
Son: “What’s a period?”
Me: “A period is kind of like a nosebleed, but from a vagina. It doesn’t hurt.”
Son: “Blood comes out of your vagina?”
Me: “Yup! It happens about once a month to grown-up women and teenagers.”
Son: “Oh. [Pause.] I want chocolate, too.”
Me: “Don’t worry – I’ll share. Make sure your dad gets something good.”
I was pleased with our progress. My daughter had closely attended the entire conversation, my son showed every sign of becoming the world’s most liberated young man, and my husband managed not to blow chunks at the dinner table. Unfortunately, the follow-up conversations were a little disturbing:
“Mommy, my nose is having a period!”
“I have candy because Mommy has blood on her vagina!”
“Mommy, can we have M&M’s for your period?”
Maybe if these comments didn’t take place in public, it would be easier.
Overall, the interim results of this experiment are positive. My kids aren’t grossed out by vagina talk, my husband doesn’t use euphemisms like “Aunt Flo,” and I get lots and lots of candy. I’ll report back when my little girl is an adolescent. Until then I need to come up with a good explanation for why other women in their life (teacher, neighbors, postal carrier) may not want the kind offer of “period chocolate.”
Related post: We Don’t Play With Our Vulvas At The Table