Here's this week's offering, in which I muse about puberty and girly bits. Consider yourself warned.
Wednesday, September 8, 2004
Daughter-Only and I were sitting in the van in the grocery store parking lot waiting for Hubby to pick out videos and, out of the blue, she says, "I have a scratch on my nipple and it really stings!"
I mention this because I'm tickled that she would casually mention a stinging nipple--this in sharp contrast to my own deep phobia at that age (ten) and many others about my body, and especially, about speaking aloud about any portion thereof to anyone including (and perhaps especially) my mother. My mother never really gave me any reason to feel embarrassed or ashamed about my bodily functions--she was always letting me know I could come to her about anything, absolutely anything...[still] I had my doubts about spilling the beans about anything remotely related to my body and anyone else's and anything those bodies might be prone to do.
To illustrate the extent of my secrecy regarding such things, two stories:
I had my period for three months before my mother found out about it--and she found out then completely by accident. I hid what pads I used by rolling them up and sticking them inside empty bleach and laundry detergent bottles--in the days before recycling, they went out with the caps on, in the regular trash, so it was quite a clever hiding place. There was a brownish smudge in a pair of my panties that Mom noticed while doing laundry.
She was standing in the center of a pile of dirty clothes in the laundry room when she called me down from my room. She asked me about it and I sheepishly admitted that it had been going on for three months. I will never forget the look on her face--her disappointment and her struggle not to let it show.
Around the time I was thirteen, I was staying at Nanny's and Pappy's when I got this huge lump on my left breast. I assumed it was likely cancer and I just knew I would rather die of it than talk to anyone about it, undergo the necessary examination, expose my newly hatched B-cup breast to my mother, let alone a total stranger. I sat in front of Nan's vanity mirror, gazing into my own tragic eyes, contemplating the things that would be said about me at my funeral--how noble I had been to suffer in silence to spare my family the pain of my illness. Being the musings of a thirteen-year-old, there was a singularly self-indulgent note to the selflessness of my decision to go bravely into that dark night all alone. Of course, two minutes into this morbid fantasy, my tumor began to itch like crazy and it crossed my mind that it might be a mosquito bite--one of perhaps thirty-five I had at that moment. (The irony of a mosquito on what Pap had until recently referred to as my "mosquito bites" did not escape my attention even in my turmoil over my until a moment ago terminal illness.)
My point--lost in my meanderings--was that I literally would have DIED rather than mention my boob to my mother--at least in that moment, I was convinced I would rather waste away than speak up.
So, when Daughter-Only said to me, "I have a scratch on my nipple and it really stings," not only without a hint of discomfort, but without even a giggle or a smirk, I thought it was amazing.
In light of the fact that I don't hold my mother accountable for my own reticence on these subjects, I can't very well take credit for my daughter's openness and comfort. I think a fair portion of it can be chalked up to innate personality characteristics of each of us. Daughter-Only is simply more "out there" in every single way than I was at her age (or so many other ages as well--in fact, she's more open in lots of ways than I am even now).
As I said, my mother was always encouraging me to confide in her, to not be afraid to ask questions about anything and so on. (She was so earnest, in fact, that my silence became a weapon I could use against her in our power struggles--the most effective weapon.) She never let me doubt that she was available or that my body and bodies in general were anything but natural, normal and good.
I have gone in a different direction with Daughter-Only and the boys--whether by accident or by design--I have made issues like these a part of our everyday lives. It isn't an event to have a conversation in which words like masturbation or whatever come up. I guess the difference between my mother and me is that she wanted desperately to be comfortable with subjects like sex and the body, but she had no foundation in her own childhood on which to base that comfort. I had the foundation--and though I was unwilling or unable to take advantage of the invitation to share with my mother, my children are now benefiting from it. I think my mother would be gratified to know that all her efforts hadn't gone to waste.
PS--This afternoon, when I asked Daughter-Only, who is now 17, for permission to use this entry, since it all began with a scratch on her nipple, she had only one reservation. She said, "The reason I feel more comfortable talking about things with you than you did with your mom has nothing to do with how different our personalities are. It has to do with our relationship. Most of my friends don't have the kind of relationship with their moms that I have with you."
I'm thinking of reminding her of this conversation the next time she's enumerating all the ways I'm ruining her life.