When I got my period for the first time, my mom wanted to throw a party. She had the whole thing planned. There would be a circle of women — many of them her friends, who would talk about womanhood with me, share their womanly wisdom, and tell rousing tales of menstruation. My mom would present me with a special bracelet, ordered from a catalog of all-natural products, that somehow symbolized my transition from girlhood to womanhood. The red beads were supposed to represent my various life-stages. Or congealed menstrual blood, or something.
“Ohgodpleaseno,” I said, when she told me about her plan.
It was the worst idea I’d ever heard. I was 12. I couldn’t imagine anything more embarrassing. I wished for a second that I was a boy. And then, even thought I felt slightly awkward, I decided to talk to my dad about it.
“Mom wants to throw a period party,” I said. “To teach me about being a woman or something.”
My dad cracked up. “You don’t have to do it,” he said. “But your mom’s just trying to make things special.”
“It doesn’t feel that special, to bleed,” I told him. Actually, it felt pretty lame. I was perfectly happy before, when there was no threat of ruining my new, white Guess jeans.
Talking to my dad made me feel better, especially when he agreed the period party was not the best idea. He also confided that he thought the word “menses” was really funny. My mom was saying “menses” ad nauseum as she explained my womanly changes. So my dad and I said it a lot too, behind her back, in this sort of snobby accent, with our noses in the air.
“Oh, and how are the menses today?”
“Lovely! The menses are doing just peachy!”
“Oh, they’re doing peachy, are they? I’d hoped you’d say that.”
As my monthly cycle progressed, I began to get terrible cramps. My mom never took painkillers and thought that I shouldn’t either.
“She thinks she’s superwoman,” said my dad, as he slipped me a bottle of Midol.
“I’m not,” I said, grabbing the painkillers.
“You take after your dad,” he said. “We’re wimps.”
My mom wanted everything about becoming a woman to be great for me. She wanted everything about my budding body to feel beautiful and meaningful. She wanted womanhood to be an empowering experience. But for me, getting my period was never a particularly significant part of being a woman. It was a thing that happened to me as a kid, and it made my life a lot more annoying. I didn’t feel empowered, and I didn’t really want to. I just wanted to deal with the situation once a month and then think some more about the super cool soccer player boy with the really high voice who I had a crush on.
My mom wanted to talk about what It All Meant, but sometimes I just needed to complain about what a pain my visit from Aunt Flow was. And since not many of my friends had gotten their periods yet, I talked to my dad. When I needed tampons, my dad bought them for me. My mom didn’t like them, she wanted me to let my “menses” exit my body naturally. That did not appeal to me in the least, so I talked tampon brands with my dad. The first time I successfully used a tampon, my dad was the one I told.
“That’s great,” he said, smiling.
And the conversation moved on. I mean, it wasn’t creepy or anything. I just needed to tell someone, and he was a good dad who would listen to anything I told him, even if it was weird and/or involved tampons.
Sometimes, even now that I’m grown up and can manage my period just fine, if I’m not feeling well, my dad will say, “Bad cramps?”
“Yeah…” I will tell him.
“Oh, they’re not that bad,” my mom will chime in.
My dad and I look at each other knowingly.
“Superwoman,” he will mouth.
Then he’ll slip me some Aleve. He knows my painkiller of choice.
For all those years, and all of those times I needed someone to listen to me complain about how weird this stuff that was happening to me was and how very, very little I wanted to become a woman, based on what womanhood was like so far, I just want to say: Thank you, Dad!
Every girl should be so lucky as to have a dad who will buy them green O.B. tampons in the middle of the night, no questions asked.