So I teach 4th grade. They're hillarious, annoying and awesome all rolled into one. May is a big month in 4th grade as it is time for....The Puberty Talk! I love the day of the puberty talk. The kids come in so energized and nervous, whispering the word "puberty" excitedly, giggling, asking me if it will be gross. They all deny wanting to go but the truth is, they wouldn't miss this window into their teen years for the world.
Normally, I don't attend the talk. The girls are dropped off in the music room, the boys in the cafeteria and I go on my merry way. But this year, I wanted to see the girls' presentation. I was curious to see how much 9 and 10 year olds would be told. However, I wasn't so sure that my girls would want me there. As I walked through the packed halls first thing in the morning, three of my girls join me and, sure enough, start chatting eagerly about the impending talk. So I ask what they think of me going along and explain that I didn't know if it would be weird for them if their teacher would be there. And you know what they said? "We'd be more comfortable if you went with us!" I am touched. How could I say no to that? Then they ask me if I will sit next to them. I explain that the grownups usually sit in the back in chairs while the kids sit on the rug. They are adamant that I join them on the floor.
As I enter homeroom, my co-teacher tells me that one of my students, Beth, is upset because her mom had to back out of coming to the talk at the last minute. I pull Beth aside, tell her how sorry I am that her mom can't make it and that, while I know it's not the same as having her mom there, I will be going to the talk and maybe that will help a tiny bit. Beth looks me in the eye and responds, "You're almost my mom." I bite my cheeks to keep from crying. Fourth graders rock.
After completing attendance and the lunch order, we all head down to attend the big talk. I join my girls, as promised, Indian style on the floor. The air is buzzing with excitement. All the 4th grade eyes are on the nurse, waiting for the mysteries of womanhood to be unlocked before their eyes.
Nurse Jean starts off the discussion by going over the most basic changes girls go through during puberty. The kids giggle nervously when she says the word period and their eyes widen in horror at the mere mention of pubic hair. Nurse Jean rolls with it like the seasoned pro that she is. The lights are snapped off to watch the video, "Just Around the Corner". A bad actress in her 20s pretending to be a teenaged big sister to all of us starts explaining about the amazing changes we are all about to experience. I look around the room and find every girl in the room engrossed, hanging on every word of the I'm-so-not-seventeen-like-I'm-pretending-to-be actress. And I feel happy. Happy that I can share in this moment with my kids. Happy that I am a teacher. Happy to spend a year with my great group of girls.
Refocusing my attention back on the video, I discover a naked cartoon drawing of a girl on the TV screen. Seconds later, I stifle my laughter as the cartoon girl simply "sprouts" boobs and pubic hair. The kids all chuckle at the sight of this as I wonder if they all realize that their bodies won't change quite that quickly since that little tidbit is never exactly clarified.
The video goes on to explain that your period is important because it prepares your body to have a child later in life. It doesn't talk about sex per se but it does mention that a sperm fertilizes an egg, the egg becomes an embryo and implants in the uterus where it continues to grow. Minus all of the logistics. The video wrapps up with inspiring words about growing up over some spirited, instrumental music.
Lights back on and the girls burst into a tizzy of giggles and hushed comments. While they all look slightly traumatized, this is overshadowed by sheer excitement. Welcome to the big time, girls.
Nurse Jean asks if there are any questions. All talking ceases and is quickly replaced by the sound of crickets chirping. Nothing. She expertly waits it out, coaxing them with reminders that this is a safe place to ask her anything. She continues to wait. Finally, the bravest 4th grader of them all raises her hand to ask the first question: "What if you get it in school?" Nurse Jean deftly fields the question with the assistance of a maxi-pad the size of a 5 subject notebook. I gawk at it in horror. I realize that, at 30 years old, I've never experienced wearing the mountainous-maxi-of-the-school-nurse and don't ever want to. And I am aghast at the thought of 10 year olds trying to fit it properly on their tiny bodies without looking as though they have multiple rolls of toilet paper shoved in their pants.
"Any other questions?" With one heroic soul having broken the ice, multiple hands shoot into the air. I listen to questions about where to keep your supplies, how often to change a pad and going swimming.
"Do you have to get a period?" a desperate voice inquires from the back. From her tone, you can hear that she's hoping for some kind of out, a get out of period free card.
"Everybody gets a period. Everybody, every month, gets a period. You have to." Nurse Jean's voice is gentle yet matter-of-fact. The infertile lion in my head stirs slightly. The girls groan, causing Nurse Jean to repeat her statement. My lion yawns, stretches and then rears her ugly head with the following testy thought: You don't get a period every month. Because you're broken. Remember that time you had to take progesterone to get a period and even that didn't work? See? I told you. Broken.
I try to tame the angry voice, reminding it that I'm in the middle of sharing a special lesson in growing up with my girls, so go away. The lion shuts up, but continues glaring at me.
"How often do you get a period?" a student's voice chimes in. Nurse Jean explains that a cycle lasts 28-35 days and goes into an explanation of how to keep track of your cycles on a calendar. The lion smirks, arms crossed. Coughbullsh!tcough. Remember the 85 day cycle? Not now, lion. I am sharing a moment. A very precious moment that is not about me. It's about 9 and 10 year olds who have no idea what you speak of.
"Why do you have to get a period?" a voice querries from the back. This one just sounds annoyed and grossed out by the idea. Who can blame her? Nurse Jean reviews the portion of the video that talked about how your body is preparing for when you're married and want to have babies. My inner lion steps forward, smoothes her fur down, shoves me out of the way and launches into her tirade that, thankfully, is only for me to hear. Guess what? Ten percent of you will be f*cked when that time comes! That's right...ten percent. That's about ten of you girls in this room. You'll want to have a kid, you'll be ready for it, trying for it and nothing will happen! You'll have blown over $2,000 on completely unnecessary birth control throughout the years preventing something that's not going to happen without doctors, medications that turn you into a sobbing lunatic, track marks up your arms from all the bloodwork and losing your entire sense of privacy! Nice, lion. Real nice. The lion takes a dramatic bow and nestles in to go back to sleep....another special moment jaded by my infertility.