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Not What We Expected

It happened on the day of my 8th grade class trip to Hershey Park. A quick restroom visit before boarding the bus to head home revealed that I had crossed the threshold to womanhood, a.k.a., I got my first period. Without cramps or much fanfare, there it was.

I had expected at least a lot of pain, but what I got instead was a sinking feeling in my stomach as I started to think about how my life was going to be different from then on. It was a quiet, reflective ride home for me on a noisy school bus full of kids amped up on Cokes and Hershey kisses.

What I realize about that moment now was that I was actually grieving for my “little girl” life that I knew was ending. Was I ready? I had so many doubts and apprehensions. All I knew about the process was what I learned from the requisite 6th grade “health” film for boys and girls of a certain age. This big change was pretty much glossed over at home.

Upon telling my mom, I also got a response I was not expecting. I got a warm hug. (While my mother is a loving person, hugs were not a daily thing.) This demonstrative display of emotion signaled to me this was a big deal. And then she said the thing that would stick with me as the seminal conversation from the event, her voice catching, she said, “Oh, you’re just getting started, and I—am at the end.”

She was referring to menopause. I was a late-in-life child. My mom was 53 and explained that she was going through “the change” at that time. Wow. That was a lot for a 13-year-old to take in. I did some math, so that meant that I would be in this new life mode for the next 40 years and that she was at “the end.” This sounded harsh and arbitrary. While I was not particularly happy about my situation, it seemed to me that hers was decidedly worse. Suddenly that 40 years of having my period seemed like a good thing, AND that it would be an eternity until it was “the end” for me. Phew!