Sunday, March 7, 2010

One for the Women

My little girl is growing up.

Yes (as you may have guessed by the title and the first sentence), her first period started today, just over halfway through sixth grade.

There was awkwardness and tears (from her), and smiles and encouragement and a rather long-winded explanation of the function and proper deployment of various pads and tampons (from me), and some stocking of her bathroom and her backpack with the necessary items, and some excitement about my little girl growing up, becoming a woman, developing just as she should . . .

. . . and then a tinge of regret from both of us about a childhood so fleetingly gone. As she phrased it, "Whatever happened to second grade, when I had nothing to worry about? Nothing! Second grade . . . good times." And she shook her head slowly and wiped away tears. I hugged her.

Then we realized neither one of us could remember her second grade teacher's name, even though we both could rattle off the teachers' names from Kindergarten, first grade, third grade, fourth grade . . . . Funny how that works sometimes, for both kids and adults. You declare it the best year ever and then figure out it was only the best year because you don't really remember it; you've forgotten all the heartache.

But second grade was a good year; I know it was because I remember most of it. It was back in the days when the boys could still be, simply, her friends; when the kids still had in-class birthday parties with cupcakes and little hats all 'round; when recess was still a time to hang upside down from the monkey bars and skip rope and play in the sand instead of a time (as it was by fourth grade) to stand around looking awkwardly at the boys who, suddenly, inexplicably, acted like they didn't want to know you anymore.

We pulled up digital photos of her from second grade. We found a photo of my little girl in her second grade classroom, wide eyed and happy and standing with her teacher, who was telling the whole class to wish her "Happy Birthday." Her teacher was wearing a name tag. Aha! We zoomed in to read the tag. No luck - just a fuzzy-looking smear where the letters should have been. I guess my digital camera wasn't the best back then.

We laughed a little about how we could remember all the other teachers' names, about how her first grade teacher had pulled out her first loose tooth at school one day ... and how her second grade teacher, Mrs. ..... ? who? ... had also pulled one for her...

It suddenly seemed the most important thing in the world to know this teacher's name, this kind and young and beautiful woman who now stood for everything that was innocent and carefree and wonderful about childhood. I dug through my files of old progress reports.

And then, laughter again. My beautiful baby girl - the one who, at birth, weighed just barely over five pounds and was so utterly dependent on me; the one who, when she was a few years old, looked at me with such sweet, loving, admiring eyes; the one who, up until fourth grade or so, thought I was smart and kind and pretty and the best mom ever, and wanted me to come visit her classroom - yes that beautiful baby girl - she had the gall to laugh at me for being such a pack rat. "Why do you even keep all that stuff, mom?" she asked, a little too self-righteously I thought, for a girl whose room looks like a tornado hit it.

But I keep these little mementos - the random progress reports, the school event programs, the science fair ribbons and soccer team participation certificates - for just these moments, when we need, right now, to remember a name, a place, a moment in time....

Wouldn't you know it? I had various mementos from kindergarten, first grade, and third grade, but nothing from second grade in my little girl's school file.

Tears welled in her eyes again, as she thought of the beautiful and kind teacher from second grade whose name was now lost forever from our fickle stupid memories.

And then, just when it all seemed hopeless, finally, success! I pulled the second grade teacher's name from the dark recesses of my brain: Mrs. Slattery!! And my baby was happy again. And I was, for one more shining moment, the smart and wonderful mom that she used to know. And we both smiled and laughed. And she went to bed content, if a little nervous about what tomorrow will bring, at school, with this new problem to handle.

And I am left here, sleepless, with my memories and with my tears for her vanished childhood ...

and, if I am honest, for mine.


Green said...

Dear Legal Daughter,

My mother stepped on my foot and slapped me in the face when I got my period (claiming it was some tradition), and then didn't let me sit on the furniture and instead made me drag a folding chair into the den while I watched tv (claiming some shit about how I needed to learn how to sit so I wouldn't leak). Even if your mother couldn't remember some obscure teacher's name, she did not do what my mother did, so please appreciate that.

Also, since becoming an adult (a real one, not the metaphoric one you become when you get your period), I have used makeup cases to store pads and tampons when going to school or work. Nobody will ever think it's weird that you're bringing a makeup case to the bathroom, and that way you don't have to hide a tampon up your sleeve as you leave class.

Raine said...

Thats a great post :D

Johnny Yen said...

When my daughter had her first one last year, she came running into my wife's and my bedroom excitedly shouting about it. I told her that she should repeat it a little louder-- that several of the neighbors hadn't heard it.

My oldest one turned sixteen and got his driver's license this month. That made me feel old. That and all my grey hair.