“Mom, where do babies come from?” My precocious five-year-old is looking at me in the rearview mirror. She has impeccable timing, of course. It is just the two of us driving along a busy road with nowhere to pull over. My mind races with all the teachings I learned as a child, all from books by Peter Mayle to Judy Blume. I was not prepared to have this chat now.
I muddle my way through what I hoped was age-appropriate. I kept it simple. She nodded and asked if we could stop for French fries. I happily fulfilled that request, feeling like I dodged the bullet of giving her a full sex-education talk on the fly. It was clear that I had work to do before the next big inquiry. What I found in my research was a wealth of information to help my kids and myself.
I was young when I started my cycles. I thought it was odd until my research discovered that it wasn’t early at all. Family history can play a factor, but not always. According to HealthLink BC, “Girls usually start having menstrual periods between the ages of 11 and 14.” Since my kids were still in elementary school, I thought I had more time until I read, “It can happen as early as age 9 or up to age 15.”
Flashes of my own awkward moments at school—including having to tie a jacket around my waist to hide surprising arrivals, no vending machines in the girls’ bathroom, or sneaking tampons to my friends during class—motivated me to find ways for my kids to not have those same experiences. I had to figure out how to teach them without being tuned out. I asked my friends, who had already had teenagers for advice.
I started at my local bookstore where I discovered the American Girl series, The Care and Keeping of You. The books contain a head-to-toe guide with visuals about what is happening to their bodies. They also include a part on feelings about what might happen. They cover body changes too, including tips, how-to’s, and facts from experts (other than mom).
Beginning the conversations with the books helped a lot. It didn’t feel like I was lecturing. We flipped through a few pages. I showed them where I put the books on the bookshelf for reference. When my youngest was in Grade 3, she had a classmate who started her period at age 8. These conversations needed to happen.
After getting the kids armed with knowledge and supplies at home, I had to figure out how to make sure they were prepared for school too. I remembered hiding a pad in the sleeve of my arm when asking to use the bathroom. You didn’t want to bring your bag because everyone would know what was going on with you.
I prepped a full kit (spare underwear, wipes, plastic bag, Tylenol) for her backpack. She knew about her body and the changes coming up. I told her about the period kit (disguised as a pencil case) that I put in her backpack. She refused to take it to school saying, “No one has one, mom.” I was stumped on what to do. I posed the question to one of my mom groups on Facebook. One mom, Carla, said she got her kids to include the kit in their bags in case a friend needed it. That worked!
When it came time to help my youngest prepare, I took an altered version of what I did for her sister. I got The Care and Keeping of You books out and read them with her. I read a social story about puberty with her on her augmentative alternative communication (AAC) device. Like her sister, I got a kit for her backpack that included period underwear. I let her team know at school where it was located. She had no problem transitioning into undergarments. I was hopeful that she had observed enough to be ready when her period arrived.
I have since purchased Dr. Jen Gunter’s book, The Vagina Bible. It is filled with menstrual hygiene topics, myths and more. As my kids become mature teenagers, I hope they continue to get their information from reliable sources, and not social media if they don’t want to ask mom or a trusted adult.
Looking back to that first conversation in the car, I realize that we have done something right as parents. Our kids can ask us anything. We have always had the rule that if you tell the truth, you don’t get into trouble. They covered so much in prenatal classes, why not extend it to what to do years after you bring them home from the hospital?
Story by Danielle Christopher