Although mine did not feature some of the HelloFlo’s now-viral video’s most delightful components (I especially enjoyed the uterus pinata), my mother did throw me a party when I first got my period. Alas, there was no vagina cake and we did not bob for ovaries. There was no “vagician,” although I’m sure if such a thing existed, my mother would be a huge fan.
Somewhere around age 12, I had managed to unfortunately time getting my first menses with a school camping trip -- not an ideal setting. Camping while menstruating is always annoying and school trips are by nature awkward and unwieldy. The combination of teachers and parents, all trying to negotiate their overlapping authority in an unfamiliar setting is rough.
I wrestled out of my ruined underwear in the vague privacy provided by my tent.
My mother, delighted by the news, tried to remain somewhat composed at first. “Do you have any questions about what’s going on with your body?” she asked me, hardly able to keep the excitement out of her voice. My mom, who had already years before bought me my own copy of “Our bodies, Ourselves,” continually endeavored to stand in contrast to all the mothers who made their daughters feel ashamed of their sexuality.
I did not have any questions. Having been raised using the words “penis” and “vagina,” instead of less accurate anatomical terms, I was by no means ignorant of what was happening. Mostly, I didn’t want my male classmates to find out what was going on with me. She wanted to talk about it. I was less enthused. My plan was to primarily ignore the whole thing and possibly to take some Advil.
For her, this new development was the cause of great celebration. She is not a religious woman, but she is deeply spiritual. As the bridge between girlhood and womanhood, this life cycle moment was to be treasured (my mother loves the term “life-cycle"). She invited a good dozen of her girlfriends, women who themselves were closer to menopause than girlhood, many of whom had known me since birth, to come and share with me the joy of the occasion.
“My baby is becoming a woman!” she crowed over the phone in call after call. The day of the party, a river of ladies wearing earth-toned linen (OK maybe this is just how I remember it) flowed into my living room. I received many long sincere hugs.
The conversation circled around women’s mysteries, herbal medicine and the sacred feminine. As an adult, I can dig how amazing and new age my mother’s community was, but back then it made me itchy. At that point I still had some attachment to the concept of normalcy; this was still a year or two before I’d embrace my freak status. In their attempts to subvert the patriarchy and empower me, they had veered too far away from the mainstream and it made me uncomfortable. I was alright with getting my period but the rest I could have done without.
One woman brought me a coloring book full of vaginas, of all shapes and sizes; resplendent in their diversity.
“So you know there’s no such thing as normal,” she whispered.
Not in my life there isn’t, I remember thinking.
As additional gifts, I got a garnet ear cuff and an earful of advice. I sat in a chair with them all gathered around me. I heard stories of when they had each gotten their period and how their mothers had reacted; how frightened and lonely they’d been. One woman described being slapped across the face when she told her mother what had happened.
In the hilarious ad for menstrual supplies, the whole point of the party is to embarrass the young girl. In my case, while that was not my mother’s intention, that was certainly the effect. I am thankful her co-workers, my grandparents and my friends were not in attendance, but even just with my mom’s friends it was painful enough.
Period parties are the sort of thing that is much more appealing to grown mature women than they are to insecure pre-teens. Now the idea of celebrating menstruation doesn’t sound so bad to me. In retrospect, I can appreciate the love behind my mother’s actions, although I don’t know that I would replicate the event for my own daughter. I do want her to have a positive relationship to her body and I do see how our culture turns a natural function into something dirty and shameful.
I like how, in the HelloFlo ad, the young girls are proud amongst themselves of having their periods arrive. They refer to a “cherry slush club” and proclaim themselves “blood sisters,” and they have each painted a pinkie fingernail as a marker. I’d want to support any efforts my daughter made in claiming her womanhood but I’ll try not to impose. I can’t make any promises for her grandmother, though.