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The Red (Velvet) Carpet

Date - June 11, 2014     By Dana McDole

I had been anticipating my daughter’s first period for about a year. A few women – older than me – smugly warned me that the “change” was about to happen…they saw the signs. “It is usually 6-8 months after she needs a training bra.” Well, that is the polite way to say it. A neighbor referred to this breast stage as “sunny side up”… but made sure I knew Chloe was still “sunny side down”…so I had a little time to prepare. I was happy to be watching the impending development; rather than living it. Suddenly there were more frequently closed bedroom doors and hushed giggles. Soon came a request for a padded bra that she could pick herself. I wasn’t sure about the bra – she really didn’t need one, at all. By buying one, was I ushering in the wrong kind of attention? Wouldn’t her sports bras be adequate for a while? Chloe had a few older friends – so at a point I stocked her bathroom with feminine products for “her friends” if they needed them…or if she had any questions…just in case. My invitation for questions was declined. “Oh, no, mom…we totally covered this at school…I got this.” One month went by, then two…no “Aunt Flo”. The mood swings and sapped energy were starting to cramp her style. Cravings for salt and chocolate; comfort foods; and a heating pad kicked in. In the mean time, I would keep building up menses resources and wisdom – just for Chloe – then she could be the source of knowledge for budding classmates and cousins. The keeper of the pads… For skin: use only Pond’s Cold Cream, and you’ll develop less than a blemish a year – the wipe off kind. All other promises of clear skin are wallet vacuums – designed for temporary clarity, dependence, and confusion when all of the good stuff nature makes is stripped from your face. For hydration: coconut water – it has twice the replenishing electrolytes as sports drinks, is only 50 calories, and metabolizes naturally. Flushing – from my Aunt Ruth: easily flush out toxins with Miso soup. Aunt Ruth Beard nursed me to health quickly by ushering out a virus with natural miso soup (check for and avoid MSG – primarily in dry packaged junk Miso soup). Diuretics – move fluid along by drinking natural diuretics such as peppermint/licorice root tea. Read warnings about natural products, though. Some can cause kidney stones, etc. Midol – if all else fails, Midol is your friend. Caffeine, pain reliever, bloat control – it is magic. A third month went by with no sign of “activity” and by this time and I had started writing myself out of the script– no drama – no awkward request for hygienic products. I was determined my girl would be prepared and could transition easily, with dignity and independence. We’ve all had a few unforgettable period moments…when your face flushes to reveal that time of the month. Maybe a jean leak. Perhaps a surprise start-date. I have had about 20 – half for myself and half for others – and a lack of resources simply stinks. I’m sure you’re wondering about my worst experience – but period horror stories can’t be rated, just categorized. I went on a trip to Canada with a friend to a remote cabin and started my period there. My friend brought tampons, but was very stingy with what she had – and I’d never used them. I did not want to ask her parents to make a drug-store trip, much less the other 10 adults in the house out barbequing and chasing each other. I tried to get by with bunched and layered toilet paper, but the toilet was on septic, and was an overhead toilet tank. This was my first experience with both, and I almost overflowed the system with the makeshift pads…almost. I did have to water-down a small red spot dripped on to the light carpet. I waited for an accusation about this, but nothing happened. At a point over the weekend, lacking provisions, I made a decision. I stole a washcloth and used it as a pad. That’s right! In that moment, I became a common linen thief…but nobody dared go looking for that washcloth; so I was safe. The guilt was steep, but at least I survived the weekend. During month four I decided I wanted one last “hoorah”. Chloe was scheduled to go to sleep- away camp in the summer, and the list of supplies included “feminine comforts”. More information followed. “Often the stress and excitement of being away from home triggers a hormone change, and girls begin menses.” I decided “no camp”. Instead, we would have “one last hoorah” free of menses and baggy pants. There would be no holding tea cups over our lower bellies, no Brad Pitt (now Zack Efron) double features. The crowning moment of planned pre-pubescence was a visit to Kalahari Waterpark with all of Chloe’s friends. I came prepared – just in case – but I wanted this moment to remember. A gaggle of flat-chested girls more interested in kangaroos than boys…all able to go in the water at the same time. No time for cell-phones or vampire series marathons; enough energy for 19 trips on the Zipcoaster. And then I saw it – a sign? A ride called “Flowrider”. Now, I’m sure not everyone out there sees signs, but I do, plain and simple. Signs do not always appear – I have to look for them – but this could not be ignored. I was prepared. I brought a maroon-colored beach towel and kept it under all of the others. I hung back at our table “ready for anything”. An old diaper bag served as my “war chest”. By mid-day, it was clear that the group of girls in my charge were going home waterlogged and carefree. I watched the girls from a central seat as they caroused in groups. Always coming back to “base” at timed intervals, or if they needed something. We were approaching our last hour at Kalahari, and every last girl was exhausted – ready to pack up. It was that sweet hour where the rides were empty and a new flux of visitors were dropping luggage in their room. I looked over at the “Flowrider” and breathed a sigh of relief. A moment later, I spotted a young girl. It was hard to tell her age because she was 60% heavier than she should have been at that age; which I would estimate at about 8. She had full floppy breasts – larger than mine – maybe a D-cup. Her dad was letting her swim in the wave pool wearing only a white shirt – no bra; and flowered underwear. They were clearly having a good time in the waves, and it looked like this trip was not something they could easily afford. I tried not to look or judge, but it was really disturbing to see this girl’s form, including some pubic hair, so clearly. She was developing early because of a lot extra calories. I simultaneously hoped someone noticed – or nobody did. I got the feeling she could easily be manipulated sexually…not by her father, who seemed oblivious; but by someone else who would assume neglect. I made sure she was not in danger, eventually gathered the girls, and went home. The very next day Chloe and I went shopping for padded training bras. The only sign worse than a bra when you need one is no bra. I am glad I realized keeping Chloe “young” was not protecting her. Back to impending menses – which I’m sure you are wondering about. I thought I’d keep you guessing, so you feel a little of what I felt. 4 months went by, 5, 6, 7…8. A year went by, and I noticed some of her friends had acne, and sometimes did not go swimming. I was sure it would be any minute! By this time, I had moved from overt to subtle wisdom. I made sure I put maxi pads in my purse and center car console – in eyeshot of Chloe, so she would do the same. I also changed a pad or two in an adjacent room so she could half-look at the process without staring, asking, etc. I made sure to roll the pad properly and wrap for disposal. Surely at this point, she would be able to handle the material aspects of menses. Finally, one day, I just let the idea of her starting her period go. I decided not to worry about it. It was going to happen one way or another. I had enrolled her in dance and gymnastics classes at 18 months – and maybe she would develop late. Some gymnast friends did not hit puberty until age 17. I mentioned this to my husband, who was concerned about her moodiness, and he brimmed at the idea of her developing late. He insisted we double her dance classes and make it a huge priority, despite the cost. School started in the fall and I relaxed. I

went about my days happy to know my daughter had escaped menses for a few more years because of my diligence driving her to activities. I patted myself on the back many times. I made sure all of my friends knew that I had found a puberty loophole. Chloe made me proud dancing in Debbie Allen’s Hot Chocolate Nutcracker that winter. California was a chance for us to really bond. It was such a gift to be on our own. We also learned Chloe had fairly severe dyslexia earlier that year, and spent time developing ways to accommodate this. I was on a mom-high. What couldn’t this young girl do? We came home before Christmas, and Chloe started back to school and dance during the second marking period. About 2 weeks later, Chloe complained about her foot, and we shortly learned that she would need foot surgery. She stopped dancing and – 2 weeks later – was standing over me during a nap. Tim had picked her up from school, and she was feeling “sick”. I was groggy and barely listening. She leaned in and said, “I started my period”, and was starting to tear up. We both cried a little. I hugged her and said “it happens to the best of us, baby”. It was all I could think of to say. She went to her room, and curled up with a bunch of blankets on the floor. I went up with a heating pad and some water. I told her I’d be back, soon. I went out, half-dazed, and thought desperately about how to mark this day. I had planned and anticipated for so long. Other cultures have traditions – some barbaric, some community-involved. I wanted this to be a private ceremony between Chloe and I. I found my centerpiece at Costco – a beautiful (and affordable) ready made red velvet cake. I swiftly bought it, her favorite snack (fried pickles), and a $1 bottle of twist-cap red wine. We celebrated together with a small feast…both sipping the cheap wine from the same cordial glass; and nibbling then poking holes in to the red velvet cake. Private and shared drama and period horror stories are hers to share with her gal pals as she grows up. But for myself and Chloe, an unexpected private moment filled with sweets, salty tears, and a tiny bit of alcohol – was the perfect way to usher in an unwelcome friend. A year later we were enjoying red velvet cake at a wedding and Chloe looked up at me. We both smiled at each other and poked holes in cream cheese frosting with the top with our fingers.

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