I wrote 15 different intros to this post. Some were a little poetic. Some were sort of funny. All of them were about bodies, modesty and gender, but fuck it.
I’m just going to say it:
Yesterday, I showed my 7½-year-old daughter how to use a tampon.
Maybe you’re shocked. Maybe you’re horrified. You’re looking up the number for CPS as we speak. Since I am putting this out there, I’ll explain.
I never saw my mother naked.
I never saw the rise and fall of her belly or the stars on her legs from broken capillaries.
I never saw what a real woman looks like naked—a woman who made a baby, carried her, gave birth, nursed her, and then went on about her life—a mother but a woman, still.
Instead, I was treated to the images we see splashed across billboards or in movies or on the Internet—women who were crafted and sculpted and lasered and surgically enhanced. These women became my paradigm, and as my body developed and went its own wild way, I didn’t realize that they were the exception, or I guess more aptly, that every body is an exception and different and beautiful in its own way.
So, I let my kids see me naked—especially my daughter, so she will learn that the most important woman in her life embraces the dimples on her thighs, the round curve of each hip, the tiny thread of hair that runs down from her belly button, the softness of each breast.
May this be her paradigm. As she develops in her own wild way, may she celebrate each change and each deviation that make her, her.
So that’s our normal. We aren’t nudists (although, that’s cool if that’s your thing. I just get cold easily), but if I’m coming out of the shower and she’s brushing her teeth, she’ll see me. If I’m getting dressed and she is curled up in my bed under the covers, she’ll see me. And if I’m peeing, and she walks in (because let’s be real, a closed door is not an order, but merely a suggestion almost always ignored by kids) then she’ll see me.
“Mama, what are you doing?” she asked me yesterday.
“I’m changing my tampon.”
She knows why. We had that conversation the first time she asked me, “Mama, why does her vagina have a tail?”
In fact, earlier that week after I snapped at her in the grocery store and grumbled about the weather and told her brother that he needed to (and I quote) put the “damn Pringles back because I am not buying that crap,” my daughter walked up to me with a box of tampons and said, “You probably need to buy these too, right, Mama?”
Smart girl. She was right. I bought them.
“Can you show me how?” she asked.
And then I wondered, why not?
She asked to know.
I showed her how to wipe her ass. I showed her how to blow her nose. A woman’s period is just as normal, just as natural, and why not?
And then I remembered this:
I had to learn how to use a tampon on my own because my mother said I was too young to learn, and she wouldn’t show me. So, when the time came and I wanted to learn, I snuck out to Rite Aid and bought a box all by myself. My face burned red. I couldn’t even look the checkout clerk in the eye. I went home, locked the bathroom door, sat down in front of the floor-length mirror, and tried to figure out how to insert tab A into slot B.
After 30 minutes, I got it in.
But it hurt. It scratched. It poked, because no one told me I was supposed to take out the freaking applicator. I walked around like this all day until I summoned the courage to ask a friend.
I could help my daughter avoid that.
So, I showed her how I use a tampon.
I showed her how to open the package. I showed her how to prep the applicator. I showed her how to take it out. And I showed her that it was normal and natural and didn’t hurt me when I put it in.
I know, I could have waited, but she asked to see it now. Plus, “I’ll show you when you’re older” relegates the menstrual cycle to something mysterious, inappropriate and even taboo, and it shouldn’t be. It’s normal, it’s natural, and yeah, it can be messy and uncomfortable, and we should talk about that too when we get there.
But for now, my daughter saw the basics—from her mother, the most important woman in her life. And that feels natural and normal and right.