Last time I told you about the absolute horrors of teaching 100 4th grade boys about their bodies. The burning red faces- students and teacher alike, the awkward vocabulary words like “erection” and “wet dream”, and the unfortunate fact that I faced as a teacher. I didn’t know what I was teaching. I didn’t have the”background knowledge” or the “experiences” and I sure as heck wasn’t confident in teaching these boys about erections.
Total train wreck.
The next year, I felt prepared. I had the girls. I’ve been through puberty. I know what a pad is. I know how to insert a tampon. I’ve experienced pimples, body odor, and the unfortunate hair growth. “I’ve got this” rang in my head on repeat. The questions were easier, the faces were less red, and mentions of words like “mensural cycle” and “vagina” were a lot easier spit out than “penis”. As I was teaching and encouraging conversation, something happened to make this year’s puberty lesson even HARDER than the year before.
I had the experience.
I had the stories.
I had the pads and tampons that they got to see and touch for what seemed like the first time in their life.
I had the special glittery bag that says “Girls Rule” to show my girls how to conceal their feminine products so they wouldn’t get embarrassed when they had to go to the bathroom.
I gave my girls a code word, “pineapple”, that they could use in case they ever needed a pad.
I had the relationships with these girls to make this uncomfortable conversation a lot less uncomfortable. They felt safe. They opened up. They listened to each other and were comfortable talking about this topic that should NEVER be uncomfortable.
But, I still didn’t have enough.
While these girls had me, that’s all they had. They didn’t have to supportive mom to run home to and talk about their day. They didn’t have a church group to go to after school where they felt a sense of community. They didn’t have cheer practice, or basketball practice, or a coach that they were supported by.
They had me. Just me and I was about to find out how hard that would be on them.
Especially for one little 4th grade girl.
One Tuesday a few weeks later, one of my girls came up to me with big tears in her eyes. “Pineapple” she whispers as she swallows her tears back and I jump into action. I grab my “Girls Rule” bag, I hand it to her, and she looks down and the flood gates open.
“I don’t know what to do.”
Those words stung me not only as a teacher, but also as a woman. I know the feeling of feeling lost and it was not what this girl was going to experience if I could have something to do with it. Luckily, I was able to have my neighbor teacher watch my kids for a moment so I could sneak away and help my poor tearful girl with her first ever experience with mensuration. I walked her through what to do with a pad through a closed door, trying to talk as quietly as I could so that others couldn’t hear, but also trying to talk as loudly and calmly as I could so I could be heard through a 3 in thick wooden door in hopes of actually being helpful and supportive as I know how alone she was feeling.
She came out of the bathroom still crying but needing the biggest hug I could give her- and that’s what we did. I hugged her until she was ready to let go. “Thank you” she said like I was trying to do her a favor. I reminded her that she never needs to thank me for caring about her. Before I sent her back to her math class, I told her that when she got home from school she needed tell her mom that she has started her period and that she needed to go to the store so that she would be prepared for the next 3-7 days.
Once she was ready to go back to class, she snuck in one more big bear hug and we averted a major life crisis. Or so I thought.
What happened the next day was when my heart broke for the first time.
To be continued.