Monday, January 16, 2017

Dread, Hope and Bonnie Bell Lip Smacker

I got my period on my 49th birthday. This filled me with dread and hope.

Dread because, enough already, I'm ready to not have my period anymore.

Hope because, hey, I'm still getting my period, that means I'm still on the young side of the hill.

Who's grossed out so far because I have now mentioned my period four times?

Well buckle in 'cause we're not done.

It is quite possible that this harbinger of my 49th birthday is a cliched Nicholas Sparks symbol of the passage of a life.

As a preteen, we young girls, for the most part, can't wait to get our periods. In hindsight, I'd like to call myself an idiot for this wish; but, at the time, I couldn't wait for what it heralded. All the excitement of young womanhood, make up, bras, proms, combs in my back pocket, Bonnie Bell Lip Smacker, to be taken seriously; this smorgasbord was promised on the other side of getting my period. Never mind the reality of rummaging around in the linen closet looking for what I was supposed to use, and not telling my mom, because she had never prepped me for this moment, so it was not a part of our mutual lexicon. Never mind any of that, I was on the cusp of womanhood.

Again, what an idiot.

The lesson quickly, if unconsciously learned, is that womanhood is complex. It comes with cramps, the need to think and pack your purse ahead of time, a 28 day reminder of a lifetime of responsibility and consequence, and the assumption that we can handle it and nobody wants to hear about it.

Then you hit the milestone of purchasing your first feminine hygiene product. As you walk up to the cash register, how you hope and pray that the clerk is a woman, and it almost never is. So you both act like it's no big deal as you fumble in your pre-packed purse for your wallet, all the while never making eye contact for fear of confirming what you both know: that you currently have your period, are about to get it, or are just a sucker for a good sale. You exit the store relieved that that moment is over and struck with the discovery that being an adult is not nearly as sexy as you imagined.

You meet your old friend at the drugstore a few years later when you buy your first pregnancy test, once again averting eye contact to avoid judgement, because you both know in that moment that you're hoping for a no on the stick. You are hoping beyond hope to be back the next day buying tampons and fumbling in your purse all over again.

Some years later, you greet your friend again at the cash register, this time making full on eye contact as you buy your second pregnancy test. He doesn't seem as excited as you about your hopes of becoming pregnant, but perhaps that is because he is still working the cash register at CVS after all these years.

Soon you don't even notice you're buying tampons with the gift card for your son's friend's 5th birthday and the Monistat triple pack because your husband never really just wants to give you a back rub. It's all just a matter of routine, like when you reach for a pen to endorse that check to deposit so your cable bill won't bounce and you grab that forgotten slightly crushed and weathered reminder of your womanhood instead. At this point you don't even feel like a person, much less a woman.

A few more years tick off and things start to get weird. Your trips to CVS become less predictable since things start happening more frequently and less frequently, and you go through a homeopathic phase, and your old friend at the cash register plays it cool because he never really knows what to expect. He remains neutral as you grow your hair out, and cut it short, and test the rarely successful waters of skinny jeans as you spar with time from your body's now sporadic reminders that though time is infinite yours is not.

And then on your 49th birthday, you plunk down a box of Tampax and a peanut butter Twix, take a deep breath, smile ambivalently and pay cash. Because you now live in the world of "of course."

  • Of course you got your period on your birthday. 
  • Of course life isn't always fair. 
  • Of course life is still possible. 
  • Of course change is the only constant
  • Of course 49 is no more significant than 48
  • Of course this poor guy still hasn't made manager (see of course number 2)
Being a woman is a burden and a privilege. It is complicated and rewarding. It is gross and routine. it is full of dread and hope. It is so much better than my Bonnie Bell fantasies. It requires a fortitude I often take for granted and do not celebrate because everyone assumes we can handle it and nobody wants to hear about it. 

In five days I will take part in the Women's March on Washington in Philadelphia. I cannot go to Washington because I have to work that night and I'm 49 now and get tired faster. I'm going because not only can I handle it but because it's time people heard about it.