My daughter was not happy.
The families of fifth grade students at our synagogue are offered a six-week course called "Rites of Passage," from an outfit called The Birds and the Bees Connection. That's right -- I signed the both of us up to listen to a registered nurse talk about such subjects as puberty, hygiene, reproduction... the whole enchilada.
I was delighted, as this got me off the hook when it comes to starting the conversation. My nearly 11-year-old daughter was dreading it. She breathed a sigh of relief back in November, when there weren't enough girls' families signed up, and it was decided that the boys and their fathers would take the course first. I think she hoped we would never get our chance, much as I think she hopes her lithe little body isn't ever going to change.
Our opportunity came last month. The course organizers partnered us with girls from another temple group, and the first session (for mothers only) was held in January. This was an introduction to the course; we received materials (a book for the parents and a book for the kids), a course outline and scheduling. I discovered that most of the meeting dates coincided with Megan's gymnastics meets, which was not necessarily a problem, as she has a 50-50 chance of competing on Saturday instead of Sunday. Which is how we ended up attending the first mother-daughter session the day after a competition.
Megan was tired and grumpy, and learning about puberty was the last thing she wanted to do that day. In fact, all the 10, 11 and 12-year-olds in the room had the look of someone facing the gallows. I have never seen so many clearly unhappy little girls together in one room. Their miserable little faces were a great contrast to the merry demeanor of their mothers.
The RN who is presenting the course began with some ice breakers to see how well the mothers knew their daughters. (I am proud to say that I did pretty well predicting Megan's answers to questions about her favorite TV shows, etc. The only one I got wrong was about the person she most admired. I said "Carly Patterson" when her newest hero is Nastia Liukin. Close enough.)
For the next exercise, the girls were invited to peruse several flash cards featuring words that might come up in the class, and decide which were important to learn about. Stuff like "shaving," "flossing," "menstruation" and one most of them could not define...
("Honey, Megan learned a new word today... 'erection'." This announcement made my husband wince.)
The class concluded with a video -- a cartoon that depicted the changes a child's body undergoes as it matures. It covered both girl parts and boy parts -- which caused many of the girls to shield their eyes as they watched. They were mortified. The moms remained jolly. After all, we were all off the hook -- now, we all had a basis in which to pursue the topic with our daughters.
The second class was held this past Sunday. Again, Megan was dreading it -- but she at least knew that she had a few friends there, and that they were all in the same boat. This time, the topic was hygiene... menstruation... and women's reproductive organs.
There was a lot of discussion about getting your first period and how to prepare for it. The mothers shared their stories (many told how they got little or no information ahead of time from their own moms). The daughters were more engaged this time; probably because some of them are already dealing with this or have friends who are. It seems more real, and I think it seemed less frightening. Those of us old enough to remember having to wear a belt to hold a pad in place laughed about how horrible it was... and how impossible it is to keep from leaking 100% of the time. I think this was an important point for the girls.
But for me, the most interesting part of the discussion was when we were going over the diagram of a woman's reproductive system. The RN matter-of-factly described sexual intercourse. It was obvious that this was new information to some of the girls (surprisingly, to some of the most mature-behaving ones). I leaned over to my daughter and whispered, "Did you know that already?" She nodded yes. She had actually read the book I'd given her a couple of years ago when she started asking me where babies come from. This was news to me, because whenever I tried to discuss it with her, she told me she had not yet read it.
Megan also learned another new word on Sunday: "orgasm."
My husband is still wincing.