Many of us can recall lines from books that will haunt us for the rest of our lives. One line that comes to mind is from the book Carrie in which the protagonist experiences having her very first period; unfortunately, her mother has never explained to her the importance of a woman’s menstrual cycle, and so she is terrified and believes she is bleeding to death. The rest of the girls in the locker room only exacerbate the issue by throwing tampons at her as they yell “PLUG IT UP!” It is no surprise why she takes certain actions at the end of the sad story …
The base at such a tragic experience is simply ignorance, and not ignorance on the part of Carrie, but that of her mother. There is a dark line between wanting your child to remain innocent for as long as humanly possible and keeping vital (and inevitable) information from them. Stephen King wrote this book in 1974, but recently, I became very aware that this type of ignorance is still quite prominent today. You can imagine my surprise and disgust to realize it was happening in my own family.
It was summer of 1989. I was in the shower at my sister’s house getting ready to go to Disneyland with my summer camp the next day. Upon towel-drying I noticed something strange; a few drops of red stained my towel. Not once did I think I was bleeding to death, instead I was the angriest I had ever been in my entire life. How could this happen the night before Disneyland?! I told my sisters who then proceeded to squeal with delight and invite everyone just short of her neighbors to bask in the glow of my newfound womanhood. The word “humiliated” does not even begin to cover it. My mother and sexual education course in fifth grade had already taught me all about the wonders of the menstrual cycle (no matter how hard I tried to avoid it); I was one of the lucky ones …
Years later, as my sisters began having daughters of their own, I realized that they were not as well informed as I was. For some mysterious reason, nearly all of my sisters and my brother were terrified of speaking to their quickly-blossoming girls about what happens when you become a young woman. In retrospect, I think the fear stemmed from the fact that almost all of them became unexpected parents at a very young age. I am thirty-one years old and sans child. Giving birth will never be a part of my future, but I have been around children my entire life and so I do not feel sad or unfulfilled. Sometimes the stars just don’t spell out certain words for some of us. My fiance and I receive great joy whenever our nieces or nephews are left in our care. Sometimes we even fool ourselves into believing we are the “cool” aunt and uncle. Recently, I have begun to see a disturbing new trend.
As my nieces grow and their bodies change, they have no one to turn to. Their parents, as I mentioned before, turn a deaf ear when the questions about sexuality begin to pour forth like so many unwanted marbles spilling from a broken vase. Several times, they have come to me in confidence, asking questions about birth control, cramps and even whether or not a tampon will make you lose your virginity. The last question is always the most unsettling. For some strange reason a few of my sisters and brother have convinced them that if they use tampons they will lose their virginity and, in conclusion, also lose their innocence and trust. How can this be? I ask myself. The moment a girl begins to menstruate she has two choices: 1) Use a pad or 2) Use a tampon. Simple as that. I personally started using tampons when I begin taking Tae Kwon Do. One look at the white uniform and high kicks spelled disaster if it was that time of the month. Now, I will never go back to pads.
Recently, one of my nieces began asking me questions and even told me she wanted to start using tampons, going so far as to describe the ones she wanted to try first. After giving her my own advice and clarifying the facts and myths, she seemed a little more at ease about her own female concerns, so you can imagine my surprise when another niece tells me how upset my brother was when his daughter told him I was trying to persuade her into using tampons (something he has always been adamantly against). I never mind being the bad guy in a situation, but one thing I cannot stand is dishonesty and self-inflicted ignorance.
Why, when we have knowledge practically at our fingertips, do people still choose to protect their children from the inevitable? Children will grow, children will learn, children will question and one day, children will leave their parents in search of their own destiny. Trying to keep them innocent by not disclosing simple facts about life and instead, replacing it with fear is as silly as trying to tell them that if they are good they will live forever.
I may never have the ability to bear children; I may never have the opportunity to raise a child from birth; but if I did I would know that the only thing I had control over was trying to raise them as best I possibly could without lying to them. If they had questions, I would give them facts, not fear. Otherwise, all you are doing is raising a child who will be doubly hurt when they realize they had to learn the truth from someone other than the person they have come to trust the most in life.
Now, as I sit here alone, typing away as usual, the house is quiet and serene. The only sound, other than the soft taps of my fingers as they fly over the keys, are the soothing notes of world music wafting through my speakers. Perhaps the reason why I will never have children is because I feel it is my job, nay, my privilege to enlighten the other adults in my family as well as their children. In no way do I ever try to sound condescending or pompous, but one thing I would like to believe is that I have common sense. Birds get restless in rusty cages. You don’t have to be a neurosurgeon to figure that one out. You also don’t need a diploma to tell the truth. And the way you lose your virginity is by having sex, not by using a tampon. I know being a parent is hard. I just hope I am able to make their lives a little bit easier, whether I turn out to be the devil or not.
Still, it really is difficult for me when I witness the incredible hypocrisy that some of these children have to live with on a daily basis. In fact, sometimes when I hear their parents speak all I’m thinking is “PLUG IT UP!”