* Image courtesy of author
The things I wish my mother said to me that my kids wish I didn’t say
My mother was a mere 16-year-old girl when I came into this world. My life in utero was a secret as she lost 10 lbs then gained 10 back and I was pretty hidden by size; hers and mine and strategic yet stylish 70’s shirts. My grandparents received a call from a hospital in San Francisco “we have your daughter here and she just delivered a healthy baby girl”. In addition to those details I know very little except my dad jumped over a fire hydrant and my grandmother said my mom asked her if she could keep me. Since I was imaginative and with very little real details as to what really went down, I always created stories about my birth, my family and siblings (who didn’t exist until I was 6 & 7).
I lived a pretty nomadic life spending time with my grandma, riding on the back of aunt Jean’s bike, summers in Sebastopol with my cousins or San Jose with more cousins and the school year with my other cousins in San Bruno. I wasn’t a big eater ever but my auntie Ginger tells me I would get very upset if I didn’t have three options (vegetable, starch and meat) on my plate that were NOT touching each other. Even though I would only eat one or two bites zero would be taken if my food touched. I was exposed to a variety of family members but no one explained anything to me, I was very inquisitive and asked a lot of questions only to hear “it just is” or “because i said so”. Like all children I vowed to never say these stupid sentences to my own children.
Then things started changing. Even though I was lizard catching, roof jumping, tree climbing tomboy my boobs started coming in. In 3rd grade to be exact. It must have been sometime after a school picture it was decided I needed a bra. The horror! No one had a bra let alone little booby buds in 3rd grade! Yet no one told me why I was getting them, what it meant and most of all why I had to cover them up. And I asked. Trust me I asked. I had to climb down a tree camping and was asked to put a shirt over my bathing suit! Dammit was I mad and confused. Turns out I was completely oblivious the boys climbed first and wanted me to go last so they could get a better view of my now 5th grade rack. I just know my mom and aunt called me over, had me put a shirt on and sent me on my way.
If it wasn’t for my love of reading I wouldn’t have even known about my period. I was a Judy Blume fan and had the displeasure of getting my first period, at 11, in Disneyland on a holiday weekend. I was pissed and thought you only peed blood and the pad was if you were too lazy to pee in the toilet. This is truly how naive I was. I tried to ask my dad for money to buy pads but he wanted to know exactly what I was buying. I didn’t tell him so I was still penniless and bloody. My solution was to wad up toilet paper and put that in my underwear. Now this was 1982 and the shorts were very tiny, tight and turquoise. To paint the picture even more beautifully I had a red visor on, glasses and was in the process of getting braces and may have even had neck gear (for sleeping only but still)! If my mother noticed (see picture) she never said anything. Now the woman does wear glasses but she isn’t blind and saw me in person not through the 110 lens you are looking at. For the next year or two I quietly took her pads from under the sink until she had an early hysterectomy and stopped buying them. I finally had to come clean. Still no conversation at all. Just “okay, I’ll buy some”. I had since found out this lasts until you’re an old woman then began to curse all the “Are you there God” girls who were giddy about the periods.
1. YOUNGER SIBLINGS (GREAT STARTER KIDS)
Since no one was telling me anything other than dame Judy Blume I decided I would have to explain things I learned the hard way to my sister. Then to my own daughters, Chiara and Amber. The average period age in my family was unknown but I did hear one aunt say she was 9 so I deemed that the age to tell the girls what really goes down.
“Hey Chiara, I need to talk to you”
“It’s serious” (utterly confused look)
“Something is going to happen to you.”
“It happened to me and auntie Jamie and we hate it.”
“WTF?” (I am mind reading)
“One day, I don’t know when, you will start bleeding out of your privacy” (privacy is our word for vagina)
“I am not done! It lasts for days, maybe even a week, you get mean before hand, sad during, you might get pimples and it happens every month.”
“It is the worst so me and auntie call it the worst. You should too because no one will ever guess what you are talking about. And stop wearing white, the worst will leak through your clothes if you are not wearing a mattress.”
“Mom, what are you talking about??”
“Pads. They feel like you have a mattress in between your legs and you can’t swim or anything.”
“AMBER!!!!” (calls out to younger sister)
2. THE INEVITABLE – PUBERTY
So let me get this straight Judy, not only will I start to bleed out of my privacy but I will get hair on it and boobs? Pimples? Oh mother didn’t you read a Judy Blume book?
“Come here, I have something important to say.”
“I’ve prepared you for the worst but some other things happen.”
“Your privacy will grow hair and since I have big boobs you might need a bra earlier than everyone else. You will get teased and boys will have an obsession with your boobs. It will make you mad for a few years than you will realize they are a great accessory”
“What are you talking about?”
“We can revisit the last part later but remember you might get pimples.”
and que exit
3. BIRDS AND THE BEES
The dreaded sex talk. Not that I had one but even reading ‘Forever” (by you know who) I couldn’t believe anyone could have that talk. Privacy meets privacy? The meeting could result in pregnancy? It could last a few seconds to a few hours? Not even Judy could help me with this one. So I waited for it to come to me.
“Mom, how are babies made?”
“I am serious”
“Want to read my Judy Blume books?”
“Um, no. I hate reading.”
“How are you my child? I love reading”
“Please stop saying that. This kid told me…”
“Stop, okay. From having sex. Privacy meets privacy.”
“God set it up that way. It works.”
“But how do you get a baby”
“You don’t want a baby.”
“FINE! How did I get here?”
“For the three of you it took a total of 6 minutes and 9 months times three”
exit stage left
“Just wait! You don’t get a do over! Only one first time for kissing and everything!”
4. TALKING BACK? NOT IN MY HOUSE
Apparently the children in the suburbs of Jersey or New York temple-going kids behaved better than San Francisco kids because eventually puberty leads to back talking. At home and to teachers.
“Chiara, your school called today.”
“Who? My math teacher? Idiot.”
I perk up.
“Nothing? Than why did I get a call?”
“I talked back.”
“Did you disrupt the class?”
“Yes, who cares?”
“You will apologize tomorrow. There is a right way and a wrong way to get your point across and it is never okay to disturb anyone else’s education.”
“I won’t say sorry.”
“Then I will show up in tights, without a skirt (I then take my skirt off giving the full visual), put a picture of you around my neck, tell everyone I am your mother and do ballet up and down the halls, talking with an accent, making sure everyone knows I am your mom.” (as I am running up and down our hallway)
“Try me, I don’t care what those kids think of me.”
5. SHOWING LOVE
I always felt like grandparents in Blume deserved a five-star rating in the love department. If we weren’t talking about periods, even when it was painfully obvious I had a whole roll of toilet paper in my Richard Simmons shorts than love was certainly not a hot topic either.
I try to say it and show it everyday.
“I love you Chiara and Amber!”
“I love you Sissy!”
“I love you Sonny and Wyatt!”
Thanks for the inspiration Mom
‘The truth will make you odd’
– Judy Blume
Jake McKenna is a mother, writer and 4th generation San Francisco native. She studied early childhood education at S.F.C.C. and is a certified SBD doula, focusing in postpartum, certified in perinatal mood and anxiety disorders through Postpartum Support international and is also a P.S.I. member. In her spare time you might find her walking around San Francisco.