Does anyone remember the following joke from their school days?
A gang of boys finds a dollar in the street. “Let’s go to the candy shop,” says one. “No, let’s go to the amusement park,” says another. “No!” says the third. “We have to buy a box of tampons!”
“With tampons we can go to the beach and ride horses and ride bicycles and –”
Yeah, that one.
I saw the 1966 Modess movie It’s Wonderful Being a Girl twice, first with my Girl Scout troupe, then a year later in school. It was a big event. A permission slip event. The girls were segregated from the boys, who saw their own movie about maturation. In accordance with the strict, unwritten rules of the playground, these films were barely discussed among one’s own sex, much less with those cootie-ridden, penis-wearing boys.
Thanks to this informative film, with its diagrams and its product placement, I could have written a dissertation on menstruation by age ten, but I was 13 before I — ahem — became a woman. When it happened I was horrified. No one told me it would smell. And while I’d been desperately envious of friends who were already regular bleeders, on the day I kept shouting, “Make it stop! How many years of this shit do I have to endure?”
Turns out until I was 48. There’s a bit of trivia that’ll get you nowhere, but it means you might get a phone call if I draw a blank while filling in medical records in the future.
My mother believed in straight talk and wasn’t one to insult her kids’ intelligence. If we had a question about sex or drugs or rock and roll she answered as honestly as possible. So after both viewings of this classic bit of cinema, there were sessions about human reproduction that concluded with the standard offer: “My door’s always open if you want to know anything else.”
A few years later I turned up in the doorway of my mother’s bedroom. “You remember a while back you told me about the birds and the bees?”
“Sure. What about it?”
“You told me I could come back if I had more questions.”
“Yes. What do you want to know?”
“Um, basically, could you start at the beginning?”
“Ah ha! I knew this moment would come,” she crowed, and whipped out a paperback she’d bought in anticipation. “Read this and come back when you’ve finished, and we can talk over any questions you still have.”
Off I trundled to my room across the hall, and in no time at all I’d read the straightforward words and absorbed the pen and ink diagrams of insides and outsides and how they fit together. Back I went to Mom.
“Here’s your book. I finished it. I totally understand sex now.”
“Really? No questions?”
“Nope. None. It made sense. I get it. No. . . . Well, maybe one question.”
At which point I burst into embarrassed giggles.
“In your own time.”
My own time took an age: I was so curious and so mortified. Finally I blurted out: “Doesn’t he smoosh you when he lies on top of you? How do you keep from suffocating?!”
It took about twenty minutes for the laughter to die down, at which point Mom finally caught her breath long enough to say, “You won’t suffocate. A true gentleman rests on his elbows.”
Judging by the fresh eruption of laughter, I felt pretty sure she was being sarcastic, but we left it there.