On Becoming a Woman

One of my best friends did something really cool recently. Which really shouldn’t surprise you all that much because I have really cool friends, who do really cool things, but this one really knocked it out of the proverbial park. So my friend’s daughter was recently inducted into the Sisterhood. Yes, that Sisterhood, you know the one I mean, the one most little, middle school girls get inducted into eventually. It wasn’t that all shocking to my friend and her daughter that it happened, but still when it happens, it’s always a surprise. My friend had prepared her daughter, as one does I assume. Listen, I have a son, and I’m not going to even pretend to know how to handle something like that, but if I had a daughter I’d want to do what my friend did.

My friend sent an email to her closest friends (all women) and told them the news. Then she asked them for any advice they might have for her daughter. She wanted to inundate her daughter with goodness, and calm, and love. She wanted the sisterhood to share from its collective experiences. And I was amazed and awe-inspired by my friend and what she did. How cool of a mom she is to do something like that for her daughter. How lucky her daughter is. And if I’m being honest, I was super jealous.

Here’s what I got on the day before my 11th birthday when I woke up to stained sheets: “Oh no!” Yeah. That’s for sure what my mom, then my sisters, then my friends all said to me: “Oh no!” Or something like that. Then I got a very brief, very messy introduction to how maxi pads work (never tampons because my mom was convinced I’d die of I used them) and I was sent on about my day. That was it. Someone may have mumbled something about, “Becoming a woman” but certainly didn’t elaborate, which meant I spent years thinking that becoming a woman meant screaming at people once a month to “get the hell away from me I don’t want to talk to you!”

So that “Oh no!” followed me all through my life. Every. Single. Month. Oh no! I eventually taught myself how to use tampons, learned my own anatomy from a book, and asked enough of my friends what the signs of my period looked like, but still for the next 28 years of my life every month (save the months I was pregnant) I had a sinking Oh no! feeling. And I really wish that wasn’t the case.

So I started thinking, after being an honored recipient of this email from my friend, what sort of wisdom I could impart on her daughter. And I realized that I probably didn’t have any more wisdom than her obviously cool mom has, but that I did have a lot of feelings about this transition. Feelings that I have been hauling around with me for a long time. Things that I wish an adult woman would have shared with me when I was younger. So I decided to tell Little Missy all the stuff I wanted her to know. What follows might not be “wisdom” or even helpful, but it’s what I wish I had known way sooner than when I figured it out.

Dear Little Missy,

You are amazing! Like for actual real. Amazing. The limits to which your body will be pushed is astounding. Men could never handle what we go through. They just aren’t emotionally and mentally as strong as we are. Always remember that. Weaker sex? I don’t even know how that’s a thing. I mean sure their muscles might get bigger allowing them to lift heavy objects, but uh, lifting heavy objects isn’t gonna be as big a deal in your life as they say it will. It’s like stop, drop, and roll, or 9th grade algebra. Turns out you don’t need to worry all that much about it. I’m not bashing men here, just stating facts. And here are some more facts for you.

— It’s important to always have chocolate on hand. Like, always.

— Periods are erratic at first. It’s nothing you are doing wrong, it’s just your body trying to figure it out.

—Speaking of erratic, let’s talk about your mood. Girl, there are gonna be some rough days. Like, some days you may want to hide in your room all day, but chances are you won’t be able to because of school, or work, or practice, or family obligations, or because your gerbil died and you really need to get him out of that cage and buried in the backyard before he starts to smell. What the actual hell is wrong with you, Missy? How long has that gerbil been dead? Listen, the point is that you will have to push through. And you will push through. And this will be the beginning of a lot of bullshit you will have to “just push through” in your life. Welcome to being a woman!

— Middle school girls are weird. They sometimes have dead gerbils, okay. And sometimes they don’t like to shower. And sometimes they forget to brush their teeth or to put deodorant on. But you gotta try harder, Missy. You don’t want to be that “stinky” girl. Especially now, when once a month your underwear looks like a murder scene.

— So that’s another thing. You are trying to navigate this weird middle school world and this even weirder you are “becoming a woman” world and the two worlds are itchy and they don’t mash up well together. Please know that EVERY SINGLE OTHER MIDDLE SCHOOL GIRL is going through this EXACT same thing. You are not alone! Well, maybe you are alone with the dead gerbil thing, but the rest of the stuff you are not alone with. Some girls however, are like really good at pretending that they aren’t bothered by any of this. Some girls have mom’s who are actually, for real, models, or actresses, or just women who know how to contour their make-up. But even so, those girls are still going through exactly what you are going through. So be nice, but you know, take no shit.

— There are bound to be accidents. You will totally and completely bleed through your maxi pad in 6th grade science class on a rainy Tuesday afternoon. Always keep a sweatshirt in your book bag for this very instance. There is no shame in tying that thing around your waist until you can get home and change your clothes. And shower. Remember, ahem, what we said about showering.

— I know, I know, you have no desire to have children. Today. But one day you might. So stop looking at this as a negative and start looking at it as a positive. This is the magic you were born with. This is what allows you to create an actual human being inside of you. You do that, girl! And trust me, joining the sisterhood may seem rough, but it is nothing compared to joining the ranks of motherhood. You are going through all this bullshit now to prepare you for the real shit later. Believe me, you will thank your body, over and over again. One day. Today though, it might be easier to lock yourself in your bathroom with a king size Twix bar and cry because you weren’t born a boy. But one day, one day you will be proud. It just takes time.

— Be kind to yourself. It’s so easy for you to be kind and nice to other people, especially other girls because you know they are going through the same thing, but you need to learn to be kind to yourself too. Some of those other girls will not reciprocate that kindness. Some of them will tease you because your belly is round, and your legs aren’t smooth, and you don’t know how to apply eye liner. But trust me, they don’t matter. The people who truly matter to you come when you are in the pits. When you are thumbing your way through your chemistry textbook for the fifth time and you still can’t figure any of it out, and you lock eyes with that cool, goth girl across the library and she gives you the, “What is this stuff even?” look and the next thing you know you are both under a table, eating Cheese-Its, talking about how much you don’t know. That’s when the real friendships form. In the meantime, you have to learn to like you. To treat yourself right. To love all your parts. Even the gross ones. The smelly armpits, and the bleeding vagina. The crooked toenails and the innie belly button. Just be nice to yourself, okay?

— Your body is not betraying you! Man, it feels like it doens’t it. It’s like the first time you run into your favorite park after school and suddenly you don’t fit into the little hole that starts the tunnel slide. You are dumbfounded. Didn’t your mom just bring you to this park like three months ago? Didn’t you used to run across that rope bridge without feeling unsteady on your feet? Oh your feet! They are huge now! And these boobs, what are they even?! Why did they have to pop up? I know this all feels so uncomfortable, but it won’t for much longer. You know when you are on a car trip, and it’s really long, and you keep checking your iPad to see if the hours are going by and the hours are just not going by and you honestly think you will burst if you don’t get to the dang beach already! It feels like that I know. This weird in-between space. But trust me. You’re gonna get to the beach one day. And you’re gonna rock a slimming, appropriate, one-piece swimsuit. 🙂

— Swimming. The beach. Pool parties and sleepovers. Vacations. Graduations. Your birthday. Special occasions. These days will all happen and the calendar Gods will not line up your special occasions with you being period-free. Those days suck. Did you remember that we started our period on our 11th birthday? Yeah, it started out rough. Don’t let a little blood dampen your spirits! Pun intended. Bring extra underwear. Always have a tampon or a maxi pad in your purse or book bag. It’s annoying, but it will save you in the future. However, just know that if you ever forget, or if Aunt Flo ever unexpectedly comes, it is totally normal and okay to ask any woman in the vicinity if they have anything. Someone always does, and no one ever judges you for it, cause we have all been there, sister.

— Google tampons and Maxi pads (know the chemical they use in them), Diva cups, that super, cool new underwear that you don’t even need to wear anything with! Learn about all of it, try them all. Try different brands and different “fits,” don’t get stuck with the same old mentality. Times changes, be willing to learn about your body and what works best for you. Don’t just use your mom’s same old brands. Branch out!

Okay, wow, I know I have said a lot here, and I have more to say. Many women do, if you just ask them. Never be ashamed or afraid to ask them! We will talk for hours about things. Not all women, but the really cool, nice ones will. And you never know unless you ask.

So I will leave you with this: There is no right way to be in your shoes. There is also bound to be uncomfortable days. They will happen. It doesn’t matter how prepared you think you are. How many Google searches you’ve read. How many times you have planned or packed, or re-packed, you will have surprises and hiccups along the way. But as long as you keep to your own truth, as long as you always strive to be the kindest, most badass version of yourself you can be, as long as you remember that what other people think of you is none of your business, well then, girl, you will be better off than a lot of us.

Oh, and remember what I said about the chocolate.

Welcome to the sisterhood. We are happy to have you.

Sending hugs and love. ❤

M.

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