Humor Magazine

Period. End of Story

By Dianelaneyfitzpatrick

Under the heading Things Sure Have Changed, pubescent girls are so lucky now. Getting swept up in the frank talk trend, along with toilet paper, erections and lubricant, are periods. It's all out in the open now and on every screen you happened to be in front of. They have Hello Flo videos on YouTube, where a sassy tween talks openly about her vag, pulls red nail polish pranks, and makes uterus jokes. When I was growing up we girls entered womanhood via pamphlets, nurses and embarrassment.

Joking about getting your first period? Please. We had no sense of humor over anything below the neck in the 1960s and '70s. In my high school's early experimentation with sex ed, our male health teacher stood in front of our class and, face red as the nail polish in the Hello Flo video, read from a textbook and wrote things on the blackboard. When he described menopause as when a woman can no longer get pregnant and doesn't have a menstrual period anymore, my friend Jody turned to me and whispered, "Sounds good to me," and we both got kicked out of class for smiling.

The only person in our lives who was allowed to talk to us face-to-face about our periods was our school nurse, who happened to be my friend Lisa's mother. In middle school, it was Mrs. Williams who told us about our changing bodies and some vague language about sex and, weirdly breastfeeding if my memory serves me right, but not venereal diseases or - god forbid - birth control.

We knew something was up when they separated the boys from the girls, because this never happened. We knew it had to be something good, something controversial, probably something that we could take home and tell our moms, and some of the more fiery ones would be marching into the office the next day to find out what kind of information was being disseminated in the public schools without their prior permission-slipped approval. It happened when they showed us the drug movie starring a troll doll in a hot dog bun, and it looked like it was going to happen again.

But it was just Mrs. Williams telling us how we were going to be getting our periods and some other stuff we already knew or suspected. Rumor had it that the boys were in the cafeteria where one of the male science teachers was talking to them about jock straps and deodorant.

Our pamphlets were Growing Up and Liking It and How Shall I Tell My Daughter? The latter wasn't even directed at us, it was supposed to be for our moms, but it was thrust at us to read so our mothers didn't have to actually talk to us in person. Both pamphlets were published by Modess, a company that sold sanitary napkins the size of small aircraft, and belts, straps and other contraptions to keep them on our skinny stick-figure bodies so we didn't drop a pad out of our bell-bottoms in the middle of third mod.

The pamphlets were distributed in Girl Scouts and I'm guessing Blue Birds. If you weren't in a girl club with a uniform, I guess you didn't get to learn "how to take those days in your stride," "why wearing the right sanitary protection is important" and " What about tampons?? " These little booklets were the most forthcoming things in our lives up to that point, save for Mrs. Williams, and the closest thing to racy we could get our hands on. And they were better than their predecessor, a 1930s booklet called "Marjorie May's 12th Birthday," a fictionalized conversation between a pre-teen girl and her mom.

I found out about Marjorie and her enlightening talk with the chatty Mrs. May from the Museum of Menstruation and Women's Health. You heard me. Some US presidents can't get a flipping library and we have a menstruation museum in Maryland. It's one of the Seven Most Horrifying Museums on Earth, a list from Cracked magazine, but I'll give it this: It does have some fun not-fun reminders of my past life as a pre-teen girl. When we first got our booklets, my friend Diane K and I had a long discussion about all of the accoutremental devices from which we could choose and I said, "I want the one that's the most complicated." And I did. It was the first time I could wear an adult-like contraption and the more bells and whistles the better. If I was going to ushered into womanhood, it was going to be with some clanky fanfare, damnit.

It wasn't hard to choose complicated. None of the pads had sticky tape. They all had to be attached to us and our underwear with a series of barbaric contraptions with hooks and fasteners and straps made of metal, elastic and rubber. As if puberty wasn't bad enough, we now had to worry that our seventh grade crush could see this mess through our polyester pantsuit.

Diane K and I also agreed to use the popular code word friend. As in "My friend came yesterday" and "I can't go swimming because I'm going to be getting a visit from my friend" and "My friend is methodically punching me in the lower abdomen again, but she brought chocolate and Midol this time, so all's good."

I'm not sure how any of us got through that phase of our lives. It sure would have helped to have someone our own age with some acting credentials on a filmstrip of some kind giving us funny but helpful advice. Mrs. Williams had it in her, but I suspect she was been under the constraints of our Midwestern town school board and a couple of fervent moms. So we did the best we could, poring over our pamphlets, running into Mrs. Williams' office when we got cramps, and hoping we could make it to menopause without any serious embarrassment.

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