This is one of those blog posts that should really feature a question mark in the title.
How to talk to boys about periods? No idea. How about you?
It only struck me this week that it was a conversation I would have to have at some point (twice), if (adopts pompous voice) I want my boys to grow up into the kind of men I hope they’ll be. I’ve always known, of course, that it will come up sooner or later with my daughter; probably sooner, if the general trend of questioning from school friends with older sisters is anything to go by. Hopefully it will be more successful than when my own mum told me; after a long pause, when asked if I had any questions, I apparently replied “will I be able to do cursive writing?”
They’ve already got a hazy but fundamentally sound grasp of human biology. They know that daddies have seeds and that babies generally come out of holes in mummies’ bottoms, unless they’re like No1 and fail to ask for directions en route. We’ve so far magically avoided the issue of how the seeds turn into babies in mummies’ tummies in the first place, and how seeds work where there are two mummies or two daddies, but hopefully when we fill in that gap (so to speak) it won’t be quite as much of a shock as if they’d thought storks or cabbage patches had ever been involved.
So: sex and reproduction, yes. I knew they were on the parental to-do list eventually, together with the whole attempt to instil some peer-pressure-proof conviction that bedroom gymnastics are better not first attempted on a pile of coats in combination with Diamond White, or whatever fuels teenage parties these days.
It probably says a lot that I feel ickier about approaching the topic of periods with my boys than I do that of sex. I’d like to say that I don’t think they’re somehow dirty, but I think perhaps the truth is that I do, or at least I have done.
In the decade or so since I stopped taking the pill and have seen my body conceive several times and go on to grow, deliver and nourish three children, I’ve developed what I can only call a hippy-ish fascination with its cycles and seasons. I’ve discovered and brought myself to use mooncups; I can, with a moment’s pause, have a good guess at where in the month I am, even though I always forget to star my dates discreetly on the calendar as my mum taught me thirty odd years ago. I rather like it. It’s all quite clever, really; a rational, orderly progression, not the chaotic, hysterical, hormonal tyranny that a woman’s body is so often painted as being. Having learned to understand and appreciate what my body is doing and why, the messy and inconvenient business of menstruation has ceased to feel embarrassing and alien. It’s not that I count down the days with glee, you understand; more that I feel increasingly disinclined to be ashamed or resentful of it.
I am some way from announcing what my gran called “daisy time” with pride. I can’t see myself holding a party to celebrate my daughter’s first period, but I don’t want her to have to hide it all away from her father and her brothers either. A small but bolshy part of me argues: if she has to learn to manage the discomfort and bleeding and mess, her brothers should also be aware of what her daily (or monthly) existence involves. I don’t want to fall into shielding their sensibilities by demanding that she keep it all secret and hidden. I don’t remember ever openly talking about period pain in front of my brother or my dad. If my daughter is feeling rotten for any other reason she lets us all know: I am determined not to induct her into the language of euphemism and insinuation which turns womanly woes into a kind of secret code, the only way to mention the unmentionable in front of men. Nor do I want my boys to grow up thinking that women have to hide away their bodily realities to avoid embarrassing or inconveniencing them.
My boys – all my children – already know about periods of course, they just don’t know that they know. They have seen sanitary protection around the house (my 3 year old stealthily unzipped my handbag and, sitting on the floor behind me, waved a pair of Tampax above his head for several minutes during his sister’s Christmas show). At present, they just know that they are mummy’s special tissues (and yes, I know that I am thereby setting myself up to find a child with a tampon inserted nasally). They haven’t yet twigged that when they accompany me to the loo at certain times of the month there will always be a fast moving spider on the ceiling at one given moment. We talk all the time about children following their parents into the bathroom, but the sleight of hand involved in changing a tampon in the presence of an all-seeing toddler is one of the great unspoken triumphs of motherhood.
They are still little, but my eldest is at the age where girls in his class may well start their periods over the next year or so. I can’t change all the boys those girls will come into contact with, but I can do my best to make sure that mine, at least, doesn’t snigger or smirk or make things even more difficult for them.
I don’t know yet quite how I’m going to talk to my boys about periods. I just know that I will. I suspect that, after all, it will be pretty much like talking to my daughter about them. As it should be. And that they’ll be fine.