Periods, Puberty and 'The Letter': Mom's Life Lessons

Last week my 10-year-old son brought home from school "the letter." You know the letter -- the one that makes every pre-pubescent mom's heart miss a beat and wistfully wonder where the past decade has gone?
05/06/2014 04:23 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Last week my 10-year-old son brought home from school "the letter."

You know the letter -- the one that makes every pre-pubescent mom's heart miss a beat and wistfully wonder where the past decade has gone?

The letter that makes you realize it really is time to throw out the last tube of crusty, expired, diaper rash cream languishing in the back of the bathroom cabinet and replace it with pimple cream.


The letter that strikes panic at the thought of possibly even considering talking about "wet dreams" as opposed to "sweet dreams" and buying real razors for use by children, as opposed to the adorable plastic red ones you can buy in the toy aisle.

The letter that uses the word "menstruation" instead of period or, more realistically, pain in the ass.

Yes, last week that letter from the school informing me that my son's grade would be learning about puberty in health class came home to my house and after the initial shock wore off, it transported me back 30 years to the time I brought "the letter" home to my mom.


My mom handled the letter with grace, even though I was her first born child and she was probably just as terrified as I was about how to approach it.

Prior to the health-education class that my sixth grade teacher gave, my mom took me out to lunch to pre-empt me about the letter.

At that special lunch between mother and daughter, in an old opera house in Connecticut, my mother taught me about being a woman.

I still remember some of her words today.

Your period is not a period.

In explaining to me what menstruation was, over bites of quiche and sips of tea, my mother made one point about the monthly cycle perfectly clear: life does not stop because of your period.

I was not going to be one of the girls who would get an excuse note from home to sit out of gym class because I had my period, she warned. Life goes on even with your period.

Her words were solidified a year later when I got my "friend" (as she liked to call it).

My friend appeared for the first time on a day I had Irish dance lessons and had to wear white bloomer shorts. Despite my tears and objections, my mom not only made me go to dance lessons, but also wear the white bloomers.

It is a lesson I am forever grateful to her for, though, it taught me that your period is not a period on any activity.

Your body is that of a young old woman.

While we ate our coming-of-age lunch, there was, by happenstance, a large table of elderly women in the old opera house eatery.

I was embarrassed, at first, that they might overhear my mother talking about "friends" and "privates," but my mother laughed off my anxiety.

They had heard it all and one day I would be one of them, she told fact I already kind of was.


My 11-year-old body, she explained, was that of a young old woman. The body I was in would be my body for life -- take care of it, she told me, respect it -- only share it with others who respected it. Those were good words, important words -- words I heard, but did not entirely listen to until I was a much older woman. I had my bouts of reckless behavior with my body, but always in the back of my mind were my mother's words in the opera house as something to aspire to. I'm proud to say that after nearly 40 years, I finally have.


In the next few weeks I plan to take my nearly 11-year-old son out to lunch.

We will probably dine over chicken wings, not quiche, and, because of his gender, we will not have to spend a large chunk of the coming-of-age conversation discussing periods.

We will discuss his body, though, and how he should always take care of it and show care with it towards others.

We will discuss the changes that are coming in his life and the constants like me being here for him whenever he needs to talk and on whatever he needs to talk about.

There will be moments of embarrassment, I'm sure, but that lunch will bring us closer, even if he doesn't realize it until he is a father and his son or daughter brings "the letter" home in their backpack.