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Between Mothers & Daughters: The Dreaded TALK

by Tanya Cromartie-Twaddle

An e-mail from my sister. My 11-year-old niece got her period. “She’s a woman now,” it read. I panicked with the realization of my oldest child’s approaching birthday. She’s turning 10 this month. Horror stories of 9-year-old getting their periods and pre-teen pregnancies raced through my head and I found myself dizzy with insecurity. Girls develop so fast these days. What if she gets it and doesn’t tell me? Should I talk about this now? Did I wait too long! What will I say? Why me? My Momma had four daughters and two sons to raise. I can understand the need for what she called nerve pills and times she spent whole days in bed, daring us to come to her room. But perhaps the hardest time for her was when we got our periods. That so misunderstood and feared red business. I don’t remember the “talk” like you see on TV. You know…the loving mom sitting on the corner of her daughter’s bed sharing in a gentle voice the facts about the birds and the bees and how to use a tampon…a loving hug as the camera fades. Not for me. It was a gorgeous Florida afternoon when she rounded her crew up for the big talk. The day got ugly quick. “Your sister is pregnant and you better not have sex or it will happen to you.” She threatened that she could tell if some boy had us walking around with our nose “wide open.” “You better not be having sex and if you are you better tell me!” To my pregnant teen sister, “You think you’re grown now that you can smell yourself!” I never understood what she meant until my late teens. I blossomed late and it made sense. She couldn’t handle four grown women in her house. At least I gave her a long break. I was almost 17 and pretty much out of her house before she had to worry about me poppin’ up pregnant. It’s a sad reflection on the state of womanhood when the most natural phase of growth is a dreaded fear and not a celebrated rite of passage. Menarche should be a beautiful coming out party. I wasn’t so sure I knew how to approach it. A close friend of mine says her talk was a graphic threat describing sex and having a baby as absolute torture. Her mom’s approach was incredibly cruel, but she credits it with keeping her a virgin until adulthood. I wonder what other women thrust into motherhood without guidance and good feelings about their own health and sexuality are telling their daughters. That e-mail… I responded with some kind of insecure Hallmark comment. I didn’t know what to say to my little sister mother just yet. I collected myself, drank lots of chamomile tea, and called a couple of older sister-friends. I sought counsel from a male co-worker who has taught sex education. I called my big sister with her own house full of girls. She laughed and said it wasn’t a big deal. “My girls aren’t hot in the pants or sneaking around with boys. Girl, RELAX!” Through conversations with older women and sister-friends, I realized the most important step was for me to examine my own attitudes about sexuality and growth. I’ll have to be confident and communicate my values and concerns in an age-appropriate manner with sincerity. Not fear. Celebrate the transition. Let her know that it is sacred journey and she can come to me because I have been there too. Laugh. Deal with the new hygiene issues. Of course books and resources on the subject are abundant, but nothing beats talking to another woman. I thought about how I wish “the talk” had been with my momma. Funny, when I did get it I never even told her. Now she’s got a bouquet of five granddaughters and is a bit removed from the stress. Meanwhile, I’m looking for a Mothers of Pubescent Daughters Support Group. Seriously. I’ve got two daughters to guide along this journey. For some reason, I feel like when I get over this hump, I’ll have this motherhood thing down pat…on lock. It should be smooth sailing after this. Right?
by Tanya Cromartie-Twaddle