#puberty #growingup #menstruation

While you are busy lumbering through your days and nights, cajoling, feeding, yelling, arguing, feeling dumbfounded, managing a plethora of household chores and running errands on most mornings as opposed to brunching with friends or learning a new musical instrument, you can’t help but feel overwhelmed. And some days, you hit the wall. Period.

You reckon a sudden growth spurt in your child; a physical and physiological change you didn’t see coming. Like the light at the end of a tunnel which was actually a train approaching from the other side? You feel washed out by the contrast in her personality from a few months, err, weeks ago. Undeniably, your ignorance drives you up the wall and you spend the rest of the day on a guilt trip, sulking that you missed out some important growth markers. One thing leads to another and before you know, you find yourself peering into that plus size store at the shopping mall. Retail therapy is known to soothe the worst emotional nightmares after all. This is merely parenting guilt. A new linen dress should be enough to calm the waters. No therapists or doctors needed.

Okay, let me not beat around the bush and bog you down with thoughts attacking my brain at the rate of some 1000 cubic words per second. So, here goes. We had this much awaited and most dreaded conversation last week. The ‘PADMAN’ sort of conversation that happens in ‘Whispers’. I had been bracing myself for months, if not years. My mind flew back to decades ago when I was 13.

It’s a vivid memory. As though being appointed to assist James Bond, all girls from my class were ushered into the school studio known as the ECS (Electronic Communication System) Room. Boys were strictly left in class to sit and guess. For a minute, I thought we were the chosen ones being sent out to war, or maybe on a peace mission or to the save trees. Those were also the times of the CHIPKO MOVEMENT. But then, I looked around. What were the chances? At most, we were going to get expelled, all at one go. The school was turning into an all boys school. That’s just as far as my 13-year-old, internet deprived, still playing with dolls brain could imagine.

And then hell broke loose. There were talks about blood and menstruation and using this brand, new, hygienic blotting paper called ‘Whisper’! We were handed free samples of the latest goods and asked to guard it like national treasure. There were low murmurs. So that’s what the fuss was about. Growing up to realize there was indeed a third end in the lower half of your body that was capable of oozing out incredible amounts of blood without having to get hospitalized or die. “Is that where red ink comes from?”, I thought. Never mind.

What were the teachers thinking? The boys wouldn’t sniff what was happening? Were they not going to sneak into our backpacks behind our backs? What were we to tell them? And when on Earth were they supposed to discover? Only when a girl refused to have sex because you know what, she was supposed to Whisper about those days. Till date, pharmacies in India hand over our favorite goods in black plastic bags or wrapped in newspapers. Why this special treatment? Do condoms meet the same fate? Clearly, I have never understood.

Back to the present, my 10-year-old goes hysterical at the sight of the tiniest drop of blood. I have spent years convincing her it’s the most logical liquid to flow out when we get hurt.

She gets back from school that dreaded afternoon, all serious in her tone; the kind that hints I am in trouble. My mind, on the other hand, is preoccupied making friendly, after-school conversation with the girls, moving them to quickly finish the family lunch ordeal and finally coaxing them into an afternoon siesta. And here stands my 10-year-old, panic-stricken, bothered and looking me into the eye with twitched eyebrows.

“Tell me Mumma, what are periods?”

I fly a good 50 feet behind and hit the wall in my mind as though shot by a bullet. My jaw drops in shock. I don’t believe my ears. Did she just utter the P-word? Really? She’s just 10. And she stated it in a rather casual and matter of factly manner. I need oxygen; no, water, no wait a minute, actually a Gulab Jamun to settle my racing pulse. After a good 10 seconds, I am back to my senses and ask her if there is already an early bird at school. Turns out, a friend has vented out her first-hand experience to soon-to-be-interns. Girls will be girls. They are wired to share everything, except Louis Vuitton bags of course. Age is merely a number, now that you are reading this blog. The world deserves to know what’s up with our lives. Facebook thrives on us.

She fills me in and confesses feeling all grossed out about blood, feeling uncomfortable and not being able to play as suggested by her friend. I read the clueless look circling her pretty features and inform her, “periods are a wonderful way of learning, you are turning into a fine young woman. It’s your body’s way of telling you it’s getting ready to be able to hatch eggs someday, really far from today. But until that day arrives, your body is going to rehearse forming the most perfect eggs every month. It’s like playing the piano. You never get it right the first time, do you? The only drawback is that the body needs to flush out dirty blood so that there isn’t an entire army of eggs waiting to get hatched.”

She doesn’t react to my monologue that flies out in a single breath. I am shaking and waiting for tears to well down her beautiful, brown eyes. I am waiting for her to tell me she isn’t ready. I am waiting for her to at least show some anxiety. But she just nods and walks away asking, “What’s for lunch?”

The day ends as usual. It’s been a week now and she hasn’t brought it up again. I am the one that hiccups at the speed of growth children experience these days. Knowledge is available aplenty. Statistics reveal pubertal age has climbed down 3 years, thanks to a sedentary lifestyle and wrong food choices. And gadgets are making it worse. Going at this rate, the fourth generation from now will be born equipped to give birth. We may not be any different from animals. Children will pop out and start using and social media and responding to AI more than to us.

I am over imagining, but the future looks scary. On the hindsight, children handle change and growth so much better than they did a few decades ago. They are open to conversations on a wide variety of subjects. They are not afraid to voice out their thoughts and opinions. It is up to us to help them tell right from wrong and build resilience. Menstruation is just the beginning. 

P.S. She finally confessed this morning, it creeps her out to think menstruation is a fact of life. Sooner or later, every girl shall be gripped. I hug her and tell her she will be alright. I look at my younger one and think, ‘at the ripe age of 8, she is probably going to be able to write a thesis on puberty. Period!’