It all started with a simple book.
My ‘tween-aged daughter’s best friend smuggled it in under her shirt one day and she and my daughter bent low over it, pointing and giggling like a couple of teenage boys with a Penthouse.
"Whatcha lookin’ at?" I asked casually, and they were all too eager to show me, not knowing it was wrong, because it wasn’t wrong. Just ... startling.
It was a book about puberty, geared toward girls aged 9-12, complete with cartoon drawings of the female body and reproductive parts in all their glory. No, it wasn’t a bad book—in fact, it seemed quite nice and informative and probably had helped a lot of young girls with some very embarrassing questions—but it was the timing of it. Strange, how Savannah could be looking at step-by-step diagrams of how to use feminine hygiene products and at the same time be surrounded by a number of Bratz dolls she and her friend had been playing with only moments before.
"PUT THAT DOWN!" I screamed, grabbing onto the table for support. And then came the question I definitely wasn’t prepared to hear: "Mom, how old were you when you got your first period?" (Studies show that 100 percent of mothers suffer a mild heart attack when faced with this question.)
When I regained consciousness, I thought, wasn’t it just yesterday you were asking me to take you to the American Girl store?
"Um ...," I stammered. Before I could answer, the phone rang and it was the best friend’s mom looking for her—and luckily the mom also happens to be one of my BFFs too, which is why I didn’t waste a second in asking her: "Do you know what kind of filth your daughter just brought over here?"
"Yeah?" she asked nonchalantly, because she is much more hip to the groove about these things than I am.
I whispered through clenched teeth: "Aren’t they too young?"
"I guess so," she appeased, but clearly I could hear the tone of her voice: "What’s the big deal?"
When I was growing up, Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Puberty and Sex was literally learned on the streets or taught by Judy Blume. I remember my big sister reading Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, and then handing it down to me, and I in turn passing it around to my friends. And I remember my own mother never willingly offering information on the subject, just dancing around answers whenever my sister or I mustered the courage to ask.
So we just didn’t ask. We stuck to cable.
So it was probably no surprise when I simply figured I would be about 12 and in junior high when I got my first period because that’s what happened to Margaret in the book. Only I wasn’t 12. I was 14 and a freshman by then.
I was a late bloomer, but fortunately for me, so were my closest circle of friends, so while it was frustrating that we graduated grade school with no discernible signs from the Puberty Fairy, it wasn’t completely out of the ordinary. I remember the few girls who did get breasts or their periods before eighth grade were regarded with equal amounts of horror and envy. In particular, I remember one girl who was already in a B-cup by fourth grade and that kid might as well have had a horn sticking out of her head the way we—both girls and boys alike—looked at her. (I also came to learn, years later, that the same girl had breast reduction surgery right out of high school. So the Puberty Fairy is often unkind, no matter how you look at it.)
But kids today grow up so fast.
It was still so much on my mind that that night at dinner, I accidentally let slip: "Could you please pass the puberty?" And my husband, who had been the first person to hold our first born, our baby girl who had opened her eyes and smiled at her daddy—looked at me in shock.
Later, he asked incredulously: "Isn’t she too young for this?" And I retorted: "Yeah, well, I’m too young to be experiencing early symptoms of menopause, but there you go." He screamed and fled the room to watch sports with our son.
But, I was determined to dig in my heels and deal with the fact that, like it or not, my babies are growing up and I have to accept it. So the other day, when Savannah cornered me alone and asked almost sheepishly, "Mom, can I ask you a question?," I turned and smiled at my daughter, who is growing up despite my best efforts to keep her in Neverland, and answered bravely: "Ask away, Honey."
And she looked around to make sure her little brother and sister weren’t within earshot and whispered: "Will you take me to the American Girl store?"
And I thought, Thank you, God.
Laura Doyle is a mom and writer living in Oak Forest.