Sunflower (11) was in tears. Daddy didn’t know why and she didn’t want to tell. They both looked at me. Perhaps this was a time for step-mum to step in. Oh boy. I sensed ‘The Talk’ might be looming.
After gulping down the tears Sunflower told me that the health teacher would be coming in to school to talk to all the girls soon and she didn’t know whether she should go or not. Was it something she should know too? I sensed a hint of conservative African attitude coming through, residue of her past perhaps. We don’t like to have taboos in our new family and I tell the girls we can talk about anything. Anything? Gulp.
My mind immediately jumped to my own experience of ‘The Talk’, back when I was on the receiving end.
Does anyone remember this book from their own time of puberty?
It’s a corker; a timeless book that speaks to all young women about what it feels like to be growing up. It speaks frankly about body changes, emotions, life as a nearly-adult… All experienced by Margaret and expressed through her chats with God, the only one who seems to be listening. A copy of it passed around all the girls of our tiny village primary school in the eighties like it was the holy grail of what our parents hadn’t quite got round to telling us yet. A classic written in the 1970s and still devoured by young girls across the globe today.
I remember, towards the end of primary school we had a health visitor come and hand out booklets to the girls. The boys were very suspicious and intrigued, wondering what we were all up to in the school hall. I think this is maybe the point when boys start to form an interest in girls, wondering what magical mysteries we’re talking about on that momentous day.
I took the booklet home and nervously noticed that my mum had nervously noticed. I read it avidly that night, from cover to cover, and then again. Then my mum came into my bedroom and our ‘Talk’ went something like this…
Mum: ‘I saw you got a booklet from school’
Me (flushing red): ‘Yes’
Mum: ‘Have you read it?’
Me (clenched toes): ‘Yes’
Mum (probably also with clenched toes): ‘Do you have any questions?’
Mum (relaxing said toes): ‘OK, goodnight.’
I also seem to recall a story about the perils of a girl she knew who put on her sanitary towel upside-down, but other than that, that was pretty much it.
But this was only Part 1 – the periods and body changes part. Part 2, The Sex Part hadn’t come into it yet. I found that out later thanks to Usborne’s disturbing pictures of a man robot and a lady robot making love. I remember being horrified at what I saw! And still to this day cannot get the image out of my head. Well could you?!
This general coyness of parents and teaching materials alike could explain why my friend, now in her thirties and bearer of a child, only found out she had three holes ‘down there’ at the ripe old age of 26! The mind boggles!
But anyway, back to Sunflower and her 2011 ‘Talk’ with nervous step-mum.
Before meeting my husband and getting married I didn’t think I’d have puberty-age kids for at least another 12ish years, but, always one to do things differently, here I was having skipped the nappies and breastfeeding and gone straight to the birds and the bees.
And so… the next weekend, Sunflower came to sit on our bed, Daddy was downstairs and Part 1 began. I made sure knowledge of the three holes was sorted first! No more of that misconception! And eyes widened when the tampon came out… Perhaps I should rephrase… When I took a tampon out of my handbag!
‘These are for when you’re older,’ I said. ‘You would start out with towels first’.
But I showed her how a tampon works by dipping it in some water and I found myself repeating the story of Grandma’s unfortunate upside-down friend.
There were a few questions and I think she felt better afterwards. I know I did. In fact I think I felt more grown up than she did when it was all over. I’d managed to get through it without seeming nervous and it was actually good fun and nicely girlie.
More recently I bought her the Judy Blume book, some pads for her school bag, just in case, and a pretty protective tin to put them in. The book was gobbled up in one weekend. It’s now circulating her friends at school. Good old Margaret.
I’d like to say that that was that. But there’s one thing I chickened out of and that was ‘Part 2’ of ‘The Talk’ – Check me with my euphemisms; Miranda Hart is right, us Brits are rubbish at saying ‘sex’. There, I said it.
I have resolved to check the level of understanding in the area of sex shortly and will endeavour to talk it through. Any tips on how to go about this next step though would be very much appreciated! I’d rather she hear it from me than through whispers in school or on TV or Heaven forbid, those crazy Usborne robots!
Are you there God? It’s me. Can you help?!