I was thirty-four years old when I began trying to figure out how to have “the talk” with my oldest daughter, who was turning ten that year. I felt at a total loss on how to navigate the conversation in a way that would give her the information she needed to have and not leave her feeling overwhelmed and as if someone had just sucked all the air out the magical balloon of childhood for her.
In the Barnes and Noble store in downtown Flagstaff, Arizona I found my answer, American Girl had a book called, “The Care and Keeping of You”, a girls guide to understanding all the changes that were coming her way. I remember picking up the book, thumbing through the pages and feeling like God had heard my prayers and answered them. American Girl had somehow normalized what felt so traumatizing in my own mind, as I remembered “the talk” and how I felt after my mom left the room. I sat on my bed rocking back and forth hoping that she was wrong and that what she had told me was some sort of bad nightmare.
I bought the book and put in my dresser drawer, waiting for the right time to have “the talk”. I remember calling Katy in to my room and having her sit on the end of the bed. I pulled out the American Girl book and tried to talk slowly as I showed her some of the pages and told her about the changes that would begin happening in her body. After I felt like I had covered all the essentials I asked Katy if she had any questions. She cocked her head slightly and looked at me from behind her wire rimmed glasses, “Yes, Mom I do have a question.” Wow, she had a question. “Sure Katy, what is your question?” “Can I have a fudgesicle now?”
And with that the first “talk” was over.
Two years later I had “the talk” with Allison.
There many other “talks” after that with both of my older girls, but having the first talk about what it means for your body to become a woman’s body felt like a critical test of my mothering. I wanted to show up well and offer them helpful truth and create a context that would leave them wanting to come back to me to talk more.
When Libby was born a decade ago I remember thinking that I would probably be facing new changes in my own body when it was time for “the talk” with her.
I was planning to have that talk with her this summer before her tenth birthday. And then two weeks ago she came home with a paper from school announcing that her class would be having their first sexual education class. The paper explained the content and the date for the class.
I was not expecting to have her facing that class in fourth grade, things continue to come earlier and earlier it seems.
I got on Amazon this time to search for the American Girl book. I ordered her copy and a book on “feelings” to go along with it. The books arrived and I put them in my dresser waiting for the right time.
One afternoon the house was quiet and Libby was sitting on the couch reading and I called her into my room.
As we sat looking through the American Girl book together I was holding my own awareness that while her body will soon experience the changes that indicate she can birth life my own body is beginning the process of shutting down that possibility. As we came to the end of the book and I asked her if she had any questions she had some very practical concerns, like whom should she talk to if she has questions and I am out of town. Her innocence and genuine curiosity were sweet. She knows she is one of the “big girls” now. Armed with her newly purchased deodorant and books she climbed the stairs and disappeared in her room for an hour, reading through her new books.
I’d like to think I am getting better at this, but the truth is that it felt just as important to get it right as I talked with Libby as it did fifteen years ago when I talked to Katy.
Sharing the news of what it means to become a woman, to birth life, how it happens, the changes that it brings, is to put words to the ambivalence of being female. You can birth life, and it will be bloody, regular, uncomfortable and emotional. It is glorious and awful. It is the best and the worst. It is a blessing and a curse. How do you tell a ten year old all of that and let them know it’s going to be ok. This time I felt myself giving Libby my eyes and that seemed to let her know it was going to be ok.
I am not done having “the talk” yet, one more girl to go, two years from now. I wonder where I will be in my own process of change by then.
I live in the Red Tent. There is estrogen everywhere, women of varying ages and stages. The process of discovering what it means to be a woman at ten, a woman at twenty two, a woman at twenty five, a woman at forty nine continues to unfold for all of us.
Tracy Johnson is a lover of stories and a reluctant dreamer, living by faith that “Hope deferred makes the heart sick but when dreams come true there is a life and joy” (Pro. 13:12). Married for 26 years, she is mother to five kids. After nearly a half century of life, she’s feeling like she may know who she is. Founder of Seized by Hope Ministries, she writes here.