Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Facts of Life—Part II

        Penelope's first happened last year during our family trip to Molokai.  As she showered after our long day at multiple beaches, Deanne went in to collect the dirty laundry and noticed pinkish stains on her swim underwear.  It didn't take long to ascertain that her first menses had come.  It hadn't been a total surprise for Penelope because Deanne had taught her, at my insistence, the facts of life months earlier (see my prior The Facts of Life essay); we just didn't expect it to happen so soon, Penelope age ten at the time, though Deanne did have hers early too at age eleven.
     In shock, Deanne scolded her for not saying anything.  Penelope, in quiet submissiveness, said yes Mom.
     I later told Deanne to take it easy on her, she must have been scared—of course it would be for anyone the first time—and that we should encourage her.  It isn't a curse or the most horrible or uncomfortable thing, it's part of how God decided babies would be made.  
     When I was going through adolescence and my voice was changing, I explained, my mom, the most wonderful mother in the world, teased me about it, and let my older sister tease me about it, too, and I don't want Penelope to feel bad about it at all.  Other cultures celebrate the milestone with festivities and for western cultures to act as if it's shameful or dirty is absurd, for every healthy woman goes through it and for those that don't, something's the matter, which would be a real cause for concern.
     But Deanne expressed concern about the early onset being far from ideal.
     I said it's out of our hands, fretting about it won't help, and it's still within normal range.
     So when Penelope emerged from the bathroom with a tremulous look, I smiled, gave her a hug, and said congratulations.  She smiled back and said thank you.  Taking my lead, Deanne supported her and we distributed special treats for dinner that night in honor of Penelope having passed such a major milestone.
     At church that weekend, arm around Penelope's shoulder, I shared with our pastor when we had a quiet moment alone with her, “Congratulations are in order.  Penelope is now a woman.”
     “Oh,” she said, hesitant for a moment.  “How old is she?”—this directed toward Deanne.
     “Ten,” Deanne said.
     “She's pretty tall...”
     “I see her in a whole new light now,” I said.
     Minutes later, Pastor Mary came by and congratulated Penelope with a hug and a lei, which made her feel special.
     More recently I asked Penelope if she knew whether any of her classmates were having their menses too, and she said yes and named a couple of them—close friends of hers.  She hadn't asked them; they'd approached her separately and asked her.  I guess they somehow sensed it; I've noticed an increased serious-somber weight in her ever since, perhaps due to the heightened responsibility and/or bouts of natural discomfort.
     And just the other night when we were making a jigsaw puzzle of four wolves—two fearsome black and two handsome tan and white—Penelope asked are they all the same species? 
     “I don't know, perhaps they're different sexes?” I said.
     “If so, I bet the black ones are males.”
     “Maybe, but sometimes in the animal kingdom, the males are the pretty ones—like peacocks and chickens and other birds—and the females are the drab ugly ones.”
     We worked a bit longer in silence and then she said, “Whenever I see a male peacock, its feathers are always pointing straight back.”
     “A long time ago we saw one at Hilo Zoo, tale wide open, quivering, and making brrrbrrrbrrr noises,” I said, imitating.
     “I remember that,” said Braden.
     “I enjoy seeing animals do what they do.  Some animals' behaviors just seem
 so bizarre by human standards.”
     A short while later Penelope said that her friend said she saw a couple of snakes mating at a zoo.
     “Were they twisting all around as if they were fighting?” I asked.
     “No,” she said.  “One just went on top of the other.”
     “Did she see anything or did she just think they were mating?”
     “She said she just thought they were.”
     “Maybe they were, maybe they weren't.  Every animal has its own way of doing things.  If we lived on a farm you'd know all about these things...”
     After a few minutes I noticed Penelope not working on the puzzle, instead fidgeting with something in her fingers.  It took awhile to figure out what it was, then I said, “Is there something interesting about that plastic?”
     She giggled, said no, and soon walked away.
     I was glad that we could have quiet family conversations about the facts of life, something I believe every child should feel comfortable discussing with his or her parents.

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