A freezing Tuesday morning in February is never going to rock anyone’s world, but it’s extra hard to feel perky when one has spent the previous evening in a school hall, facing the grim reality of tween puberty, body image, sex and relationships.
Last night’s ‘Positive Parenting’ talk at Beastie’s school could be summed up thusly:
- Don’t be afraid to talk. If you’re talking, then you’re doing it right.
- Answer your daughter’s questions clearly and truthfully.
- Use the word vagina. A lot.
Given that I yack on endlessly, am honest to the point of cringe and have been banging on about my vag for donkey’s years, you’d think I’ve got it nailed, right? But, no. I was freaked the fuck out.
I slept on it and this morning, when Beastie was giving me one of her Killer-Bad-Timing-Cuddles (imagine being rugby tackled mid-eyeliner application, whilst maintaining the demeanour of the Dalai Lama), it dawned on me that I can’t tell her how she’s going to feel about any of this. I’ve cheerfully negotiated questions such as:
“How big does your mini get when you’re having a baby, mum?”
“About *this* big, darling”
“But why does it have to get hairy??”
“[Insert explanation about evolution, eyebrows and how everyone has pubic hair, so it’s nothing to be embarrassed about]”
“Why is Daddy’s mini inside out?”
“That’s Daddy’s penis, darling. Boys don’t have a mini, poor loves.” (vag positive, see?)
Not too shabby, I reckon. But the bits that get me right in The Feels are the emotions. Bleeding every month from her vagina? NO PROBLEMO. Feeling inexplicably sad? OH GOD I CAN’T COPE.
The very thought that my daughter will have to go through the same kind of dark days and feelings of hopelessness that I had when I was going through puberty breaks my heart into tiny little pieces. I’m 42 years old, but can remember the emotions of those years with the same absolute clarity as the day my bully punched me in the face. Or when my breasts grew bigger than those of my friends and I was labelled a slag through no fault of my own. I shed so many tears of anger, frustration, confusion, sadness and shame. And felt absolutely alone.
Blessed is the woman who wafts through puberty with nary a zit, let alone an eating disorder or self-harm scar. My peer group and I were littered with all three. I felt like I was breathing new air the minute I walked out of my hellhole school, received my first payslip and saw that the world was so preoccupied with itself that it didn’t have the time or inclination to give me shit. But I still bear the mental scars of 12-18 years old, and I suddenly understand the homeschoolers in wanting to keep my perfect, smiling, bouncy girl close to me, so I can protect her from the world.
At nearly ten years old, she’s staring down the barrel of secondary school and the daily gauntlet of her feelings. Already, she gives me the eye-rolling emoji glare if I try to hug her within a ten-mile radius of her friends. Her relationships and view of the world are beginning to take on a new, emotional quality and it scares the shit out of me. Suddenly my cuddles and reassurances might not be enough. Or too much. What if I don’t have the answers to her questions? Or worse – that the answers don’t exist.
I remember wailing at my Mum “Nothing I ever do is right!” It never occurred to me that she probably felt the same way.