I remember clearly the day I first understood that life as I thought I knew it was not, exactly, life as I thought I knew it.

I had, of course, had inklings.



My first suspicion that life was going to throw me some curve balls occurred when I was four years old and my mother carefully and kindly explained to me that as much as I might want to grow up to be an eagle, it probably wasn’t going to happen barring some very wrong science.

Another time when I was seven, my older cousin not-so-kindly let me know that no matter how much I loved Donny Osmond and his purple socks, he was just never going to give me the time of day. Donny Osmond was after older girls. Donny dug nine-year-olds...like her.

And even accidentally discovering the the David Cassidy guitar hidden in my mom’s closet two days before “Santa” brought it down our fake chimney with a big bow and a ho-ho-ho just for me -

Even the death of Santa Claus didn’t shock me into big girl reality as much as the mind-bending truth I found out one fateful day in fourth grade in the dusty, dark library of Annunciation B.V.M Elementary School when my classmate, Maria, shoved a Young Miss magazine under my nose, its pages opened to an ad displaying a pert, long-haired girl dancing in a field of purple flowers.

Like my older cousin, Maria also wasn’t kind: she was as precise as a meat-fisted surgeon.

“Know what this picture is for?”

“Uhhhhhm. A new movie? A perfume? A TV show?”

“No. It’s for your period.”

She gave the word period special emphasis to let me know that in no uncertain terms was she talking about punctuation. I was a quick study and caught on that there was a game afoot, and if I didn’t rise to her challenge and fake like I'd never faked before, I would be slaughtered.

“Oh. My period. Yeah, that.” I was a goner, and she knew it.

“You don’t even know what a period is, doooo you?”

“Yes I do! I know what it is! Pfft. Of course I do.” I gathered from Maria’s hand-on-hip pose that I was going to have to offer more proof than a weak bravado. “It’s a…a….”

(Think fast, think fast! Field of flowers…young woman…long hair…dancing….AH HA! I had it!)

“A period is when you daydream about things. Like when I daydream about being a go-go dancer on Laugh-In!”

I could instantly tell by Maria’s widening grin and narrowing eyes that I had revealed a dangerous amount of information about myself. She leaned in close and hissed:

“Your PERIOD is when BLOOD gushes out from a HOLE between your LEGS for a WHOLE WEEK, and a MAXI PAD is a LADY DIAPER that you have to wear EVERY DAY for a MONTH and this happens to EVERY GIRL when they become TEENAGERS and MY SISTER told me this and you can ask CARLA in Sixth Grade because her sisters TOLD HER TOO and it’s GOING TO HAPPEN TO YOU and YOU are going to PEE BLOOD and IT HURTS and it DOESN‘T STOP until you are DEAD!”

And with that, Maria turned heel and scanned the room for her next unsuspecting victim.

Meanwhile, I was left with a mind-boggling amount of information and horror to take in considering just five minutes before Maria's pronouncement I had been minding my own business, hanging around in my high knee socks and long plaid skirt and wondering which pony book to check out this week.

Pee blood? Wear a diaper? The whole notion was, simply put, preposterous.

And yet…she had quoted her sister as a source. You only dared to misquote an older sibling under risk of public playground humiliation. And Carla  in Sixth Grade was widely recognized as being The Authority on all things teenager, herself having four older sisters of varying ages and bust size. Wasn’t it Carla who confirmed as fact the miserable rumor that sometimes a teenage boy would try to put his tongue in a girl’s mouth when they were kissing and that if he did this it could make the girl have a baby unless the girl quick ate an entire pack of Orange Tic Tacs?

But no…this period thing couldn’t be true. Could it?

During recess, the mood among the fourth grade girls was grim. Some of them had heard of this “period” before today, some hadn’t until Maria’s stunning revelation. There were more rumors, whisperings, groups of girls huddled together fretting and rehashing the information as they knew it.

Yes, Jennifer Walton had heard of this “period” from her oldest sister. She said that her sister called it “her time of the month” and it usually meant that her oldest sister got to hog the television all to herself for a week while she moaned and whined about her stomach hurting.

Shari Marcavage told us that her mom had to put rags in her underwear to stop the blood and that she couldn’t run or swim or ride a bike when it was happening.

Ann Ronan was somber. “Yes. It’s all true. Blood comes out between your legs for a bunch of days, but you don’t have to wear a diaper. It’s more like a big long towel folded up that you attach to a belt around your waist and you have to change the towel every hour and you can’t go near any animals or they’ll smell the blood and attack you.”

We were dumbfounded and cautious, but then Ann recited those five words that proved what she said was true:

“I saw it on T.V.”

Our morbid curiosity turned to panic: When would this happen? Would there be any warning? Would we be at recess and all of a sudden The Period would happen? And never mind when, but why?

At this, Carol Malone heaved a sigh and leveled the final blow:

“I heard Sister Davidica say that women have the babies and get all big and fat and that when they have the babies the women are in pain and scream a lot because this is the punishment for picking the apple that God told Eve not to pick.”

Eve? What the hell?

My haze of shock was lifting and in its place was righteous anger born of Eve’s indignation at being blamed for the whole apple episode in The Garden and thus being pinned with her particular punishment for acting as the source of Original Sin and thus damnation of all humanity. But, good lord, if God’s going to punish Eve for being duped by the evil genius of The Prince of Darkness, what did it say about Adam that it just took a wink and a nod from some dame to get him to give up eternity?

“But! But! But what about boys?" I tried to rally. "What happens to them?! This isn't fair! If we have to have periods, what do boys get?”

None of my classmates had an answer. They were still rapt in their anxiety over possibly getting their period while standing in the front of the classroom diagramming a sentence.

“Boys have something worse.”

Into our circle stepped Carla Pronio, her plaid skirt rolled above her knees, her knee socks rolled down around her ankles, a forbidden slash of blue eye shadow and mascara on her face, and the shadow of Maria’s mocking smile on her lips.

“Boys have it a lot worse.”

I just couldn’t imagine it. “But what?! What could be worse than having a period?!” This horror for boys had better be something really embarrassing and uncomfortable and involving a lot of wet towels between their legs, or I was signing off the whole God thing once and for all. I understood punishment - all kids understand punishment without much question - but what no child understands is the perception of unfairness in just how adults levy the loss of weekend television time to one child while another kid gets away with a few measly tut-tuts for what is so maddeningly evident as the same infraction, if not worse.

Carla leaned in and testified:

“When boys become teenagers, this thing happens where they pee in their bed, like every night.”

This boy thing sounded promising.

“And not only that, but whenever they see a girl, their pecker starts to hurt like someone kicked them. Like someone kicked them right. in. the. pecker.”

This might do. Although...perhaps it did sound a bit harsh.

“And then…”

I could tell by Carla’s half-giggle that she was about to deliver the coup de grace.

“…the boys see a girl, and they start peeing in their pants. And they can’t stop.”

Well. That clinched it for me. Whatever it was that happened to teenage boys, it sure sounded a heck a lot worse than a few drip of blood and wearing diapers every month. God may have even gone a bit overboard on this one, but frankly, who was I to judge? I still sometimes mourned the unfairness of not being able to grow wings and someday pose on the emblem of The United States of America. I was content to let this entire day pass into distant memory until that day when I became a teenager and had to worry about periods in earnest. Although, really, what worry?

No worry. No worry at all.

Until recess ended and on the walk back to the classroom, Maria once again bumped up against me.

“Psst. Hey.

You know what a tampon is...don’t you?”


Blog Antagonist said...

Oh Lord. The other day my son and I were talking and I told him that I always wanted him to feel comfortable coming to me when he had questions. I told him that my Mom never told me anything, and that I heard some pretty crazy stuff. He, of course, wanted to know..."Like what?" and of course, then, I couldn't think of a single example. So thank you. All that and more. Oy. Kids are so crazy.

unmitigated me said...

This is all very nice, but Donny Osmond was my boyfriend. Pfft on all the other stuff. I don't believe it will happen.

Jon said...

I remember clearly the day I first understood that life as I thought I knew it was not, exactly, life as I thought I knew it.

My mom just got married and Randy Potratz said "Your Step Dad fucks your mom, you know?"

Fucks her?

Karen Jensen said...

Oh, the agony of education.

Natalie said...

i have a 12 year old son who has yet to have the "peeing in the bed" problem. i have never mentioned it to him, but i wonder if he knows about it. he knows he can ask us anything, but i'm not sure if he would say something about that. he did tell me that he was getting hair on his privates the other day. um...thanks will. i appreciate that knowledge! awww...my baby is growing up! and we know all about periods in our house. my 15 year old daughter isn't shy about sharing at all!

MereCat said...

Great story. So beautifully told.

Unknown said...

Maria was a pox on the house of fourth grade girls!

I'm simultaneously laughing and having post-traumatic stress disorder over remembering being sent to the neighbors to borrow some "feminine napkins." A MAN opened the door and I had to ask him. Oy, the mortification! Why would my mother do that to a second grader?

calicobebop said...

Oh my GAWD this is hilarious! Here were my first crushes:

Frank Hardy: Parker Stevenson
Joe Hardy: Shaun Cassidy

I totally wished I was Nancy Drew. *sigh*

Amy said...

This is hilarious. I guess this is how we all learned about this stuff, because this was pretty much it for me!

Unknown said...

I'm thinking I'll stick with the boy thing. You ladies got a raw deal with the whole period issue. At least you were eased into it. I can't wait until my son earns his first street education.

scargosun said...

Too funny. Did you guys wonder what the nuns did about it? ;)

Tania said...

Justification for formal sex-education in schools

Vinegar Martini said...

Note to self - pick up a copy of "Are You There God, It's Me Margaret" for my daughter.

Although your version is way more realistic! LOL

My cousin informed us that Donny Osmond was hers hers hers and none of us were to even consider it! So years later when I actually met the guy, I had him sign an autograph for my cousin and mailed it to her! Then I enclosed the picture of me hugging him and put "NEENER NEENER" on the back of that! LOL

Anonymous said...

I remember when I asked my Mom what a period was and she responded, "A dot at the end of a sentence."

Thanks God for health class!

Krista said...

OHHH, that was riotious Jozet!
How coincidental that so many of us, scattered in our own pre-teen corners of the nation...had a MOST SAME freakin' experience (or at least some parts of it) with our girlfriends, sisters, cousins, etc...when it came to learning about "Aunt Flo".
Yes, truly a vote for formal health/sex education in schools!

I can't find my blog said...

You don't post enough.

And to Middle Aged Woman, HE'S MINE! Well, him and (the now nasty) Leif Garrett. We were to be married and sing beautiful duets into the sunset together.

Anonymous said...

My mom told me all about periods pretty early... but my playground whispers ended up being about "humping". Yikes, how I dreaded the day a boy might "hump" me, because it sure sounded painful!

Preston said...

Great story. I remember being in the 8th grade and my girlfriend playing Donny Osmond's version of "Puppy Love" over and over and over...

Suburban Correspondent said...

I can't imagine how I forgot about all this. But you've brought it back very vividly.

Thanks. Thanks a lot.

Mama Dawg said...

Oh, Maria. You bitch.

I can remember those days. Not of the towel between the legs, but of the fear of the PERIOD.

My 8 year old already knows what it is and when to expect it. She saw me taking care of business a few years ago and I had to explain. Since then, she still asks questions every once in a while, but, what can you do.

Mom101 said...

Oh man this is absolutely priceless. One of your best. Send it to Glamour. Send it to David Sedaris!

And Carla just sounds like someone who would know everything, from her name alone. To say nothing of the eyeshadow which is always a symbol of wisdom.

Anonymous said...

Oh, the Donny. I too loved him dearly.

Many years later, I was on a tram ride going through an MGM "back lot" tour and he was there shooting his video for "Soldier of Love". Someone noticed him and said in a deadpan voice "Look. There's Donny Osmond." Everyone looked. He sheepishly waved. It was sad.

Unknown said...

This brings back SOOO much 4th grade agony. I remember smuggling the S book of the school library encyclopedia way back in the dusty reference section so I could look up this "sex" thing I'd heard whispers of. When I read the very clinical "insertion of penis into the vagina" description, I still remember thinking, "Ick? Why would anyone ever want to do that?"

For future reference, Em (starting when she was 8) and I have had great success with the all-about-growing-up-and-sex book "It's So Amazing!"

josetteplank.com said...

I'll second It's So Amazing. Also, the American Girl Book The Care and Keeping of You is a highly recommended.

Angie McCullagh said...

OMG, this is soooo Judy Blume. Love it.

mamatulip said...

Oliver asked Julia to ask me once why I was putting a band-aid on my underwear.

I was speechless.

(I love this post.)

Glennis said...

Oh, god.

i remember a ride in the car with my son, who is now 20, and living in NYC with a very nice English girl....

But he was in the 6th grade when we were riding in the car and it had been about a week after a sex ed meeting at school...

he asked me, with great discretion, whether it was true that when a male became aroused, he would immediately ejaculate in his pants, and it would be obvious to all observers. he said that the boys in his class had all discussed this after the meeting, and this is what they had concluded.

There's something about talking in the car that is great. You have to keep your eye on the road, the kid can look anywhere...it's almost like telling a secret to a diary....

I told him, No, that wasn't true, and that he was free to become aroused without worrying about some embarrassing circumstance that would telegraph his arousal to everyone watching.

and then I told him to make sure he paid attention to the talks about birth control and contraception.

So far so good.....

Glennis said...

Oh, another thing?

When I was taught about menstruation in the fifth grade at my elementary school, the boys were sent to the playground and the girls were shown an 8 millimeter movie produced by the Modess company. What I remember most about the movie was the reiteration of the word "dainty."

At the end of the movie, they had a Q & A session with our school nurse. I raised my hand and asked a question - if we were having our period, did it mean that we couldn't wear shorts under our dresses like we regularly did so we could play on the monkey bars?

Shocked silence. I had outed the entire school's female student population. No one in the faculty or administration knew that the girl students were routinely wearing shorts under their skirts to school.

We were prohibited from wearing shorts from then on. I felt like a traitor.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

How grateful to I feel to the mom that talked to me about all of this way before I heard it on the playground?!

Variations On A Theme said...

Oh my!!!! My kid already knows about it, because our bathroom door doesn't lock. (Old, old house.) Heavy knowledge for a second grader, but it's so commonplace, she probably doesn't think to mention it to her friends. Yikes!!!

Anissa Mayhew said...

As 10 y.o. son has taken to "reading" in the bathroom with the door locked, I am a little nauseous thinking about what might really be going on in there. The amount of time he's spent in there since the start of summer, he should have finished the entire works of Shakespeare...in French.

Anonymous said...

I don't know about periods, but any boy who's had an erection in the middle of biology class will attest to the fact that it wasn't all puppy dogs and peaches on the other side of the aisle.

Angela said...

what a story and strange enough I never acually got any street info on this growing up

just from parents and school

Julie Marsh said...

Jozet, this is the greatest. Absolutely brilliant - all of it.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx said...

Absolutely hilarious! Man am I glad I didn't go to your school. I just got to read "Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret" sixty-thousand times. When I did get my period, I was really surprised that people didn't wear belts anymore!

Fairly Odd Mother said...

I still remember being 7 and a girl telling me the word "Fuck" and what it meant. I told my mother and I thought she was going to rip this girl to shreds.

Now, my kids have certainly heard the word before, but I'm sure are a little sketchy on what it means. Ignorance IS bliss.

Anonymous said...

I was devastated the day that I learned that Kevin Arnold from the Wonder Years would never love me.

Cheri @ Blog This Mom!® said...

How do you solve a problem like Maria?

MommyTime said...

I'm some days behind in reading -- but this is brilliant. Hilariously, perfectly brilliant. Thank you for the excellent laugh on my (second) rainy day of our impromptu vacation. At the beach. At least I'm not wearing diapers. :)

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