I'm wary about menarche parties, whether they involve cheesy themed partyware and "Pin the Ovaries" games or Native American folk songs and flower garlands. I'm all for girls feeling empowered rather than embarrassed about getting their periods, and I love the idea of parents celebrating and supporting their daughters, but I hate the concept that your period is a one-way ticket to womanhood. And if you were anything like 12-year-old me — a baby-faced late bloomer whose brain was light years ahead of her body — I bet you know just what I mean. It's painful enough if you're the last one of your friends to french kiss or buy a training bra, but at least those monumental adolescent milestones are somewhat under your control, if you have the courage to suggest a game of spin-the-bottle or a trip to the mall. A period, on the other hand, is like a stamp of approval from nature that you're an official woman; that you've arrived. So what happens if everyone you know gets approved before you do?
My obsession with getting my period rivaled that of Judy Blume's Margaret; visions of sanitary pads (I was scared of tampons) danced in my head starting in fifth grade. Why did I want to menstruate so badly? I think it was mostly because I looked very young while, in a cruel twist of fate, my elementary school class was oddly, overwhelmingly comprised of girls that looked at least five years older than they actually were. I was already the baby of my grade – my preschool teacher had skipped me ahead since I was one of the first in my class to read, a decision which my mother bemoaned every time I cried about my height. Being surrounded by all those Amazon-limbed girls didn't help. Many of them got their periods in fourth and fifth grade, while I was still occasionally mistaken for a first grader and barred from going on even the kiddie rollercoasters at Disneyland. I checked my body every day for signs of aging — hair, height, curves in new places — but I got nothing. In middle school, my peers were more diverse, but my grade was tiny, which meant that every time another girl got her period everyone would know about it by lunchtime. We'd all gather around the lucky bitch, who would answer our questions ("Where were you when it happened?" "Did anyone notice?" "What does it smell like?") with a newfound air of maturity. They would preen, and I would seethe with jealousy.
My tween angst didn't subside after school let out. Every trip to the doctor's office would conclude with a tearful reading of Our Bodies, Ourselves, as my physician tried to convince me that everyone matured at their own pace. Her efforts were in vain, because I didn't buy it — I found it grossly unfair that I had no say in how quickly it all happened. It didn't help that my doctor told me I would likely have to wait until I was 16 to get my period, since I was still waiting to lose my last few baby teeth at age 12. SIXTEEN!? I would rather have died. My mom tried her best, too, constantly reminding me that having your period is a pain and that soon I'd be longing for the years I was menses-less. I told her she didn't understand — the ungrateful woman got her period when she was only 11.
Then, one day in 8th grade, when I was bathing-suit shopping over spring break, I noticed a brownish stain on the bikini bottoms I was wearing. It took me a few hours to realize what had happened: I got my period at age thirteen, pretty spot-on average for an American girl. Finally, I was an honest-to-goodness woman. But the theory that getting your period means you're feminine fucked me up for years. I still can't walk into a doctor's office without remembering the desperate, desolate feeling of wanting to be someone else. When I sit in a waiting room, I can't help but imagine ghosts of my former selves, stomping by in platform tennis shoes or wiping tears from their eyes, looking down at the carpet as they walk as fast as they inconspicuously can to the safe haven of the elevator, a place they can cry in peace.
So, if I ever have a daughter, I'll definitely celebrate the day she gets her period with her in a special way — perhaps not with menstrual trivia or "a small clay statue of the Goddess of Menstruation" — but we'll figure something out. More importantly, though, the womanhood festivities won't start or end there. I'll do the best I can to make sure she knows that there's way more that makes you a woman than bleeding out of your vagina once a month.
Image via MariusdeGraf//Shutterstock.