The electrician pulled in at a quarter-to-nine this morning.  We were already in the back alley, frantically loading up my car with shit from the garage.  Purging, tidying up, making a space for the electrician to work so he can run wires to the kitchen above, which will hopefully, finally, allow the bald Italian contractor to install the microwave above our new oven. 

Mr. Apron got to make a run to the dump, one of his favorite activities.  He also got to make me throw away shit, one of his other favorite pastimes.  And if in the process he gets to break things, so much the better.  Today’s carload was my old dresser, a blond, veneer piece of crap I picked up on the side of the road the year I lived in Pittsburgh, before I met him.  I had no money to buy furniture, and no place to put my clothes, so when I spied a free intact six-drawer dresser, I didn’t care what it looked like.  It fit in my car, so it was mine.  Today, Mr. Apron had the distinct pleasure of jumping on each drawer till it was a flattened pile of boards.  We also pitched the hose I broke a few weeks ago; a white melamine nightstand that was another roadside find (also reduced to boards by Mr. Apron’s vigorous stomping); some random pipes that may have at one time formed a railing along a path through our side yard, but which were left sadly sticking out the ground by themselves until I pulled them out; and an enormous, dilapidated, water-damaged, moldy cardboard box which had, until moments before, contained the remnants of my adolescence and college years. 

To wit: my 8th grade yearbook; a scrap of wood on which my 7th grade shop teacher had scrawled “hall pass” in 1992; my high school and college notes from biology, psychology, linguistics, computer science, freshman seminar, and “History of Modern Japan”; my travel wallet from my first trips abroad; every purse I’ve carried since 1997, some with money, pens, paperclips, and “important” papers inside; an unused Chia pet; sketch pads for expressing adolescent angst; Hello Kitty temporary tattoos; stilted photographs of my first boyfriend; a souvenir  visor from “Hal’s” bar mitzvah; my A+ report on whales from 6th grade; and a teal paperback book called “Period.”

Because my family is not so touchy-feely, and we find it hard to talk about sensitive issues, we seek out other ways of sharing sensitive information.  If it comes to gay rights, religious freedom, taxation of the proletariat, or animal cruelty, we have no problem having raucous discussions.  But when it comes to talking about feelings, puberty, or the wonders of life, we’d rather not, thank you very much.  This is how I learned where babies come from – my parents sat me down to watch the NOVA special.  And how did I prepare to become a woman?  My mother came into my room one night, sat down on my bed with me, presented me with a gift-wrapped package, and told me, if I had any questions to come and ask. 

And that was it.  I think she followed up with “The New Our Bodies, Ourselves,” once it, too, arrived in the mail.  Living in rural upstate New York in a pre-internet world, having no reputable bookstores in town, I’m sure she had to work pretty hard to track down those books.  While “The New Our Bodies, Ourselves” is a definitive text, all-encompassing, and professional, “Period.” tries a softer approach, interviewing “real girls” and attempting to help the reader identify with the cartoons of blossoming adolescents claiming, “I have more energy than ever about the time I start my period” and “It seems like sometimes when I’m about to menstruate, I get an urge to reorganize shelves, closets books.” (73,65).  It tackles such issues as “What if I start in the middle of my math class?” (38).  I received the second edition, when they still hadn’t edited out the “Are You There G-d? It’s Me, Margaret” era illustrations of a sanitary napkin belt (apparently Judy Blume edited that out of her book in 2006!).  I tell everybody that “Period.” is how I learned about womanhood. It’s legendary in my circles.  And I found my original copy, buried in the garage under the remaining vestiges of my adolescence.  

What’s amusing is, because of my mother’s prudishness and projected embarrassment about bodily functions and puberty, she couldn’t find  a way to talk to me about my getting my period.  She tried to let the books do the talking; however, at the end of “Period.” is a “Parents’ guide,” perforated for easy removal.  It advises the parents how to talk to their kids, how to start conversations, and it includes the authors’ own testimonials about how great it is to give the book to your precocious six-year-old and to have a family discussion about cramps, vaginas, and tampons.  The book may have come out of the sexual revolution, but my mother, who indeed came of age during that time, grew up in the Midwest in a repressed household.  She grew up ashamed of her body, so that, because someone chanced to make a comment about her breasts, she has kept them covered and desexualized ever since. 

I hope I am fortunate enough to have daughters.  I hope I am able to be open with them about my body, their bodies, and all the strange crap that happens to them throughout our lives.  I hope they will not feel ashamed or embarrassed or afraid to ask questions.  But, despite the parent’s discomfort level, the parent can’t put the entire burden on the child to “ask if you have any questions”.  Kids like me will never ask.  We’ll just pick it up at school, bury our noses in more books, and try to tone down our surprise when we discover things our peers knew years before.  Adolescence is hard enough.

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