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Puberty was rough for me.
OK, it's rough for everyone, but from what I've gathered from friends and acquaintances who have been willing to share their puberty stories, some are rougher than others.
In middle school I always envied my friend Eileen. She was the youngest of three really cool sisters, and her mom was that magical combination of being both warm and generous, while at the same time honest and utterly no-nonsense. In my memory, Eileen's mom always smelled like fresh baked cookies.
Having this squadron of women at her disposal, Eileen knew all about boobs and B.O. and periods and stuff. I never caught a whiff of embarrassment over these things on her (whereas I stank of it -- literally).
Like many adolescent friendships do, ours ran its course and basically ended in 7th grade. There was a new girl in school who was her perfect friend match. They were both pretty, sassy, and totally unabashed by their burgeoning womanhood.
I, on the other hand, was completely baffled and at odds with what was happening to my body.
While my liberal-minded mom was enormously understanding about my artistic leanings and "freedom of belief" (we tried on several religions and belief systems for size while I was growing up), she was always very tightlipped about all things pertaining to sex and body. I don't know if it was a holdover from her strict Chinese upbringing, but when it came time to deal with my period, she pointed me to the pads she kept under the sink, and I was on my own.
Eileen and her family had been my lifeline in adolescence, and with that friendship gone, I was figuring out that territory on my own.
I was never the "confirmed" stinky kid in my class, but I suspect that everybody knew something was up.
Writing this, I realize that 7th grade, 12 years old, is a little old on the stinky kid spectrum, but coming across this post about a teacher sending home a note about the stinky kids in her class reminded me of the troubles I had when I was growing up.
In my 7th grade year, my periods started coming regularly and they were really heavy. "Gushage," as a friend later on in high school dubbed it. The shame I felt about my inability to control my body lead me to hide much of my period troubles from my mom.
Every month when my period came, I'd have anxiety attacks of how I was going to deal with it. A pad would get all wadded up in my underwear, leading to ruined underpants and leaks. In an attempt to control it, I started using two pads at a time -- one laid on my underpants the way it was supposed to go, and one crossed over the middle in a "T" shape. My version of wings.
This usually worked, but on extra heavy days, I would still leak through and end up with a red spot on the back of my pants or skirt. People started to notice.
Not to mention there was A SMELL with all my out of control flow. "What the hell is that?!" I remembering thinking, believing that I was the only girl in the world to have an odor "down there" and that there must be something wrong with me.
Once while sitting on the floor for an assembly, with my knees pull up to my chin, the girl next to me waived her hand in front her faced and gave me a disgusted look. "Louise, what IS that smell?" she asked. I died a little and ran to the bathroom to freak out.
The bathroom was my haven for a while, the place where I could lock myself in a stall and hate my body for a little bit in peace, before having to rejoin my classmates and pretend that nothing was happening.
This all changed one winter day.
I woke up one morning to an extra heavy period. Going to the cupboard under the sink, I found no more maxi pads, and only a box full of panty liners.
With my mom yelling at me to hurry up from downstairs, I grabbed six or so liners and scurried to the bathroom. There, I did my best to construct my "T" pad, layering lots of liners on top of each other going each way. Even then, I knew in my gut that no good could come of this.
As I went throughout my morning at school, I could feel the gushage. I just prayed that my contraption would hold up until lunch, when I could go to the nurse to feign illness and hopefully go home.
Right before lunch we had announcements. My homeroom teach was very strict, and demanded absolute silence. As the announcements went on, I touched the back of my skirt and felt a warm wet spot forming. SHIT. I had bled through, and it was worse than ever.
Not knowing what to do, I felt a panic attack coming on. What was I going to do when I had to stand up? EVERYONE WOULD SEE. EVERYONE WOULD KNOW.
As my panic mounted, I felt nauseous and felt myself starting to black out. Feeling truly fearful at this point, I started to say, "I don't feel so good," but was quickly silenced by my teacher.
"DETENTION," my teacher said and pointed to me, while the whole class stared.
Now, feeling doubly embarrassed, I started to cry, and when we were dismissed for lunch, I waited until everybody left the room, then ran down the hallway to the bathroom.
As I was running, I encountered one of the girls from my class and when I started to ask her for help she only cackled and ran away.
When I got to the bathroom, I ran into a stall and lifted up my skirt to survey the damage. There was blood everywhere. My underpants were soaked, my skirt was soaked, my thighs were red. I sat down on the cold tile floor and cried.
After the first bell signaling lunch was over, I made my way to the nurse's office and told her I was really sick, had thrown up in the bathroom, and needed to go home. Seeing the state I was in, she wrapped me up in a blanket and called my mom to come and get me.
I managed to trick my mom into believing I was sick the next day, too, and I was able to stay home and bleed in my own bathroom.
When I did return to school, everyone kept a wide berth around me. Nobody was actually unkind to me, but nobody really talked to me.
The school bathroom was also no longer my sanctuary after my meltdown. When hiding in my stall, I overheard other girls on more than one occasion talking about "What Louise's deal was" or older girls from the adjoining high school saying, "Oh, yeah, there's that 7th grader who always has blood on her skirt." (It was a small school and everybody knew everybody, or was related to everybody.)
So I started avoiding the bathrooms. I avoided the bathrooms to the point where I wouldn't pee if I needed to. As the year wore on, I started having bladder control issues, and on more than one occasion I left P.E. hoping nobody noticed the wet spot on the front of my shorts.
I knew I smelled, but desperately hoped nobody noticed.
The worst and best day of my 7th grade career came when the nurse, somehow alerted to my "fluid control" issues, contacted my mom and filled her in on what was happening.
We had a long overdue chat about what was going on, and I started to feel a little less freakish. I was still embarrassed and horrified at all that had happened, but my mom took to arming me with not only all the pads a girl could ever want (and later tampons), but also with a "FUCK 'EM" attitude. I'm not sure if that was the best attitude to impart on your 12-year-old daughter, but in the moment it helped.
Things didn't get better overnight; I still worried profusely about my incoming period every month. But going into my 8th grade year, I was able to feel a little more in control. A little more "normal."
I managed to make a couple good friends, and open up about our bodies. It turned out I wasn't alone. I had been so focused on what a freak I was that I didn't notice the other kids going through similarly awkward transitions. I started going to the bathroom regularly at school (often with a buddy), and I stopped bleeding through my clothes.
As an adult, I wonder where my teachers were when I was obviously going through some traumatic stuff. If so many students in my very small school noticed that I was "stinky" or perpetually having period "accidents," most certainly the teachers should have noticed, too? Or at least noticed sooner?
I don't think a teacher sending home a note complaining of smelly kids, as in the before mentioned article, is handling the matter sensitively or appropriately, but I do wonder how the matter -- for those children and for myself -- could have been effectively approached.
I realize my problem was not the worst that could happen to an adolescent, and it may not be entirely unique. But what I do realize is that a little kindness, a little understanding, would have perhaps saved me a lot of self-loathing.
Were any of you the so-called "stinky kid"? Did any of you have such issues as an adolescent? How did you cope?