August 26, 2014

guys have it easier

Period.  Let me rephrase that . . . guys have it so easy, period.  Yes, that is what I meant to say.  Girls put up with having a monthly period, while guys can swim whenever they want, don't require a sudden purse carrying week in grade school, and aren't forced to wear dark clothes or long shirts just in case certain days are worse than anticipated.

I remember feeling awful when I heard about the inevitable.  Why?  This had to be bad information.  After accepting what was rocking my youthful world, I began to plan.  My friends and I discussed our need to start carrying a purse every day to school, so that when the purse was needed our issue wouldn't be so obvious.  Back in the mid 80's products were bulky and not easy to hide.  In addition to obsessing about how I would conceal the necessary products, I agonized over where I would be when 'it' arrived.  My mom showed me where the puffy, cloud-white pads were stashed in her bedroom closet.  In the few years after I was in the 'know' but not yet a 'woman', I would occasionally hear my mom reference my older sisters' time of the month with comments like, "Now don't be crabby just because you have your period."  And with a chuckle, "Grandma used to ask me if I my little red headed friend was visiting."  This last not-so-catchy catch phrase morphed into, 'Do you have your friend?'  I cringed when the topic came up, but these cutesie sayings only made it worse. 

Heading into Christmas vacation of 7th grade, my friends decorated my locker with candy and streamers to celebrate my 13th birthday, which fell over break.  I loaded the loot into a brown paper bag, lugged it home, and stashed it behind the upholstered chair in the family room for safe keeping and easy access.  My birthday fell on a Saturday.  I turned 13, and yes - that is the actual day when 'it' arrived.  Nightmare.  I wondered if anyone could tell that I was wearing a pad.  The pads were so thick, did I appear taller?  What surprised me the most was that I had horrible cramps.  I struggled to stand upright.  It felt like upon completion of approximately 1,000 sit ups, someone was punching me in the gut.  I attended an Irish dancing class that day, so I carefully chose somewhat baggy shorts to keep my secret 'my secret'.  I told my mom, but that was it.  There would be no celebrating.  No 'congratulations, you're a woman now'.  No thanks.  The less fanfare the better.

A while before we headed out to the south side for dancing class, my mom ran an errand.  My oldest sister approached me in my room with a smug look on her face.  "I saw what your friends gave you," she sneered.  Oh, no.  My sister knew.  Who else knew?  My head spun around and I hurled every insult in the book at her.  Crying and screaming, I pushed her out of my room and anxiously awaited my mom's return.  My mom laid into her when she got home.  Turns out my sis had simply uncovered my ill-hidden candy bag in the family room.  She was completely baffled as to why I over reacted to her candy discovery.  I mistook the 'friend' jargon for the period slang so often used by my mom and my sisters.  One more opportunity for the great sisterly divide to grow even larger.

This scenario was followed quickly by years of embarrassing, period-related incidents.  I once bled all over my Catholic School uniform as a freshman.  I still remember how mortified I was to stand up after a long history lesson and sense that something was amiss, or should I say a-flow.  I chose to ingeniously rotate my skirt conveniently swapping the front panel with the rear panel.  Now that the stain was in front, I could conceal it if I carried my books a certain way.  I worked at cleaning it up a bit, and then acted as if I had spilled catchup in my lap during lunch.  Nightmare avoided.  Other times I wasn't so lucky.

As an avid babysitter, I grew accustomed to kids crawling on me, springing off of me, and riding me around the house.  I once offered an airplane ride to a little girl I was sitting for.  Although I thought the ride would be quick, I ended up laying down too long.  The pad I wore failed to protect me from the 'river factor' which is greatly impacted by gravity.  The back of my shorts were stained in the blink on an eye.  Mortified.  The mom assured me it was no big deal when I explained why I needed to run out to my car to retrieve my customary back up outfit.  I could care less how comfortable she was with the situation.  I still wasn't at the 'we've all been there' sisterly phase of this relentless reality I couldn't escape.

One hot summer day, my sister and I went into the city to go to the beach with our oldest sister (the one who teased me for hiding my birthday candy in the lamest place ever).  My period arrived while we were sunbathing at the beach.  Terrible cramps.  The whole 9 yards.  I don't remember the particulars- miscalculation or simply failure at being prepared. . . . I do recall the fact that my sisters were annoyed with me, and I left my mark on the beach.  I remained stationary for most of the day, and when we departed my sisters and I quickly kicked the sand around to cover the evidence while I wrapped myself in a towel.

So much of these incidents could have been avoided if I could get over my fear of tampons.  Allow me to back for a bit of history on the subject. . . . I was at my best friend, Marge's, house.  It was early June, and we were celebrating grade school graduation.  This is when I first learned of the demonic notion of tampons.  Graduation party invites arrived daily, which was slightly odd because very few classmates in my ritzy, stuck up, Catholic grammar school associated much with my friends and I.  Apparently the parents dictated that the entire class be invited to these swanky parties rather than exclude the few of us that didn't don Izod apparel daily.  The gathering that caused the biggest buzz involved a pool party at a wealthy boy's house.  Another pool party at a nearby club also cropped up.  After doing some calculations, I realized that I would be unable to swim at the parties.  It wasn't that I thought it would be fun to swim with my classmates, but not to swim would indicate something else entirely.  Bummer.  Marge's mom asked about the distressed look on my face.  She called us into her room, and produced a box of products that required a bit of explaining.   How could this period thing get any worse?  Cramps, purses, strategic dressing, calendars, and now this?  It was too much.  To prove that it was too much, I passed out on Marge's mom's bed as she wielded this foreign object before me with nothing left to the imagination. Squeamish as I was, it would be years before this became a legitimate option for me.

Obviously the embarrassment factor presented issues right from the get-go, and that didn't improve for years.  Once while in high school, I was shopping with my mom.  I needed to purchase additional pads.  My pad preference were not on the shelf.  My mom flagged down a stock boy (and by boy - I mean a young, high school aged peer) and instructed him to search in the back for the box of pads I was looking for.  There was no where to hide, and she wouldn't hear of it anyway.  She was encouraging me to accept my circumstances and get over it.

I suppose she had the best of intentions when she outed me as premenstrual to my cousin Jerry, too.  My dad was taking one of my younger brothers, myself, and my cousin Jerry on a horse pack trip in Wyoming.  Jerry and I were both about to start our junior year in high school.  Since this cousin lived in the city, my mom drove to his house that afternoon and picked him up.  My dad planned to leave bright and early the next morning, so Jerry spent the night before the trip at our house.  Unfortunately, I remember it like it was yesterday.  Jerry and I were sitting in front of the TV watching Vanna White on the Wheel of Fortune.  Oddly no one else was around.  My mom, who was preparing dinner, called into us from the kitchen.  "Now, Ernie, don't go acting crabby just because you are going to have your period on the trip."  Yes, she did.  She said it.  She knew I was concerned about it, not sure why she felt it was important for Jerry to be in the know.  I had chastised my dad for booking the dates of the trip without consulting me.  I had a calendar for a reason.  Now she had ever so casually alerted Jerry of my impending issue.  Jerry and I didn't budge from our seats until we were called to dinner.  I honestly think we both felt like if we didn't flinch, the recent offensive comment would go away.

Yes, I did have my period while we were on that trip.  Not during the endless, air conditioned-car, comfortable days of driving, but when we were on horses for 6 hours a day with no plumbing facilities for miles.  My dad had inquired with our guide for me.  The instructions were:  keep everything with me or bury it sufficiently.  Blood in bear country.  Danger.  Try to imagine everyone waiting while I grabbed my shovel and got busy.  Instead, I literally rode through beautiful scenery on the back of a horse in a saddle enduring terrible cramps wearing an uncomfortable maxi with a bag of discarded pads strapped to my saddle bag.  I occasionally stopped to walk far enough away from our group so that I could pop a squat, pee, and replace my pad.  Then I would return to my horse, casually retrieve something from my back pocket, ditch my garbage in my bag, and hoist myself into the saddle again.  We were in the woods for 3 days.  I didn't defecate once.  I didn't shower once.  And miraculously. I didn't encounter bears once.

My periods are winding down.  The days of barely being able to function or leave the house are an irritating memory.  My oldest daughter is ten.  I'll have to explain this to her in the not so distant future.  I vow never to refer to her period as her 'friend'.  Anything but.  And I will commiserate with her when she realizes that her brothers have it easy.   Because they do.

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