I was first introduced to the notion of menstruation like any good Catholic girl usually is: half-naked, with the fear of God instilled in me.
My mother is a wonderful woman. She is clever, wickedly funny, with an unwavering fortitude. She holds a Master’s degree, she is married to the best man alive, and to top it off, she will take none of your malarkey – mine included. I could begin to expatiate all of her accolades but we’d be here for hours – and I just don’t have that long of an attention span. Who knew that for all of her wonderful gifts and talents, the maternal duty of explaining womanly menses would be too much for her to bear alone? Instead, she made this a tag team effort and called in the Big Guy, his Holy Divinity, my Yahweh and potentially not yours: God.
I had just gotten out of the shower, and my eleven year old self had big plans that most likely involved hostess snack cakes and repeat viewings of “Scrubs”. As I made my way back to my room to change and get cracking on these big plans, my mother caught me at an impasse.
“Erin, can I talk to you right now?” she asked, her tone of ambivalence striking me.
I tightened the towel wrapped about my body as her urgency did not afford me time to dress. I had no idea what she wanted to talk about.
As we sat next to each other, my mother looked rather uneasy, sighed and began, “So…Erin. When God…”
* * *
For reference, I was no stranger to the Big Man upstairs. I attended Catholic school for 9 years and the idea of his Divine Holiness was a quotidian part of my existence. I played the Virgin Mary in my first grade production of the Nativity (Things have just really gone downhill for me ever since). In the third grade, because no one else was interested, I, a female, had the privilege to play the Pope when our class recreated the city of Rome (which is hilarious and shocking that no one stopped it considering the sexist undertones of the Catholic Church. But, I digress).
I’ve received all four sacraments that a single, healthy, non-clergy person can receive. In the seventh grade my principal, a former nun, made the paramount announcement to my entire class that not only was my report on the Great Schism of 1054 erroneously inaccurate, but was also blasphemous (Que the Papal Conclave meeting to discuss if I should be excommunicated. We’re still waiting for a verdict). Countless times I’ve had to recite from memory the 10 Commandments, The Beatitudes, and the 7 Cardinal Sins, not to mention a litany of prayers to different saints and with different intentions.
Once when I received communion, I dropped the Eucharist, watched it roll ten feet away from me, picked it up and ate it. My parents & the priests watched on in absolute horror. MY BAD FOR DROPPING JESUS. In 8th grade, my class had a mandatory field trip to a celibacy workshop, never mind that in school we never talked about sex – ever. By the end of that workshop, I was less concerned about being eternally damned for premarital sex, but was filled with sympathy for the nun who said she figured out she was called to order while on a trip to Rome with her FIANCÉ at the time. Poor guy, “I’ve met someone else….and his name is God.” There is actually no competition there. Homeboy should have just taken her to Paris instead.
Just the other day, my dad was telling me that his new workout routine is great, and that those “genuflections are pretty tough.” The man was referring to LUNGES. It’s a surprise that the navy and red plaid from my school uniform didn’t transfer onto my skin, a permanent tattoo serving tribute to my pious and hilariously traumatic adolescence.
* * *
So, when my mother invited God into the mix, all I could think to myself was, “oooooh nooooooooooooo, she bought God into the mix.”
“When God,” continued my mother, “wants a woman to know she could have a baby…”
Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand that’s when I blacked out. Dealing with his divinity on the daily at school? Sure. Sitting through Sunday morning mass? Alright. But telling me, a 12 year old, pre-pubescent girl that a large, omnipotent male presence somewhere in the sky has control over my bodily functions was enough for me to mentally excuse myself from the situation. Tap me out, I can’t make this maladroit mother/daughter life bonding moment.
The conversation lasted all of 2 whole minutes. None of the following was mentioned:
a) The basic definition of “menstration”
b) What causes it
c) How to deal with it (ie, feminine products)
d) Any and all biological and scientific information.
And with the conclusion of her Joel Osteen-inspired ways of womanhood sermon, she contently patted my leg and went off….probably to pray.
There I sat, with too many questions and zero answers. To this day, if you showed me an anatomically correct sketch or sculpture of a women’s reproductive organs, it’d be basically like me looking at a map of the Eastern Hemisphere; Confused, not sure what is what, and hoping Kim Jon Un is in no way involved.
Recently, I asked my mom if she remembered this conversation. She got wide-eyed and said no. Turns out I wasn’t the only one who tried to block it out. After explaining the conversation she let out a huge laugh and cried, “I went the God route?!” Yes Mom, you did.
“Well,” she continued, “I think I panicked because one of your friends had gotten it and didn’t know what it was. I was just scared and didn’t want that to happen to you.” We both laughed, thinking about horribly awkward that was. “You’re not 12 anymore,” quipped my mother, “Thank God.”