I knew from the sound of my 9 year old’s voice, she wanted to know something. She was in the backseat of our car on the way home from their grandparents’ house with her sister. My wife and I were up front.
“What’s up Hannah?” I was expecting something mundane like changing the song or asking to stop for ice cream.
“Daddy, why don’t boys get periods?” I was not expecting that.
Before I could say anything, the 6 year old chimed in, “Daddy, what’s a period?”
I blame my wife for this. She took Hannah to a seminar for young girls and their mothers at the hospital. The seminar was on menstruation, becoming a woman, and what I could only guess were the details of a ceremony that involved waterfalls, harps, and someone combing my daughter’s hair. As luck would have it, cruising down the highway after a nice meal with my in-laws, the particulars of that seminar popped back in to my daughter’s head.
I don’t get shocked or taken back to easily. I’ve been surfing the World Wide Web since the mid 90’s, I’ve seen, heard, and read things that would make milk curdle. But the questions posed to me by my children, threw me for through a loop. A loop lined with poisonous barbs and crackling with fire.
I looked at my wife, “Why did she ask me?”
My wife could barely look at me. Her eyes were tearing up as she held back her laughter. She shrugged her shoulders and told me, “I don’t know, but they asked you. You had better answer them.” Sometimes I think that woman likes to see me squirm.
I did my best to answer the first question, “…why don’t boys get periods” but ended up more like Rick Perry during a GOP debate. I’m not sure the exact answer I gave but I know the word ‘penis’ was used more times than I really felt comfortable with. For the second question, “…what’s a period” I used the word uterus more times than I really felt comfortable with. I tried to stay anatomically correct as my brain raced back to my junior year in high school when I learned about all of this. My wife’s nod of surprise when I was finished told me I did pretty well.
At the end of each answer, I got responses from each kid. Hannah, the 9 year old: “Boys are lucky.” Emma, the 6 year old: “That’s gross.”
That was it. Like kids have the propensity to often do and satisfied (if not somewhat put off) with my answer, were on to something else. Their questions lingered with me though. Actually not so much their questions, that part of it (awkward, fumbling…) had faded, it was more of a question of why me?
It wasn’t as though my answer opened some sort of doorway to enlightenment. I answered from what I learned about this topic from Health teacher, Mrs. Wolf, 17 years ago. Now, as a credit to her teaching, I was able to extract the major points from her lessons but why wouldn’t they ask their mother? The woman has years of experience dealing with this. I’ve merely been a bystander.
But the more I thought about it, I realized, my kids have never shied away from asking awkward, embarrassing, or tough questions. Maybe because I have always tried to answer those questions honestly (yet tactfully) and to the best of my knowledge. Sure they have thrown some fastballs at me (case in point, menstruation) but I have been always willing to answer. Even if I’ve had to compose myself before answering.
I have talked to my kids about things as simple as why eating crayons, though not fatal, isn’t a great idea to understanding why their Grandfather is never coming back to what will happen to the dog when she dies (Heaven was the consensus in my house). I’ve talked to them about the dangers of running blindly into the street, why we don’t talk to strangers and what we do if a stranger talks to “us”. They know what a DUI is thanks to Mitchell Musso and what salvia is thanks to Miley Cyrus. I have had to explain to them what happened on September 11th, 2001. They know drugs hurt you and there are bad people in this world. They know bad things can happen, even if they don’t think about it much more than a passing thought during the day. And all after they have asked me (except for the crayons, I thought that was important just to know).
So I eventually came to this conclusion about why they would ask me about periods. Because I want them to ask me. The last thing I need to happen is for them to come home from school with information Sally shared with the class at recess about menstruation. Because if I ever expect my kids to be honest with me then I need to be honest with them. Because when they have asked, I have answered. Because as parents, we need to be ready, even though we never can be, for any question posed by our kids. Because they’re my kids and because I’m their dad. That’s why.