Monday, June 04, 2007

Parenting Issues, New and Old

Every time a child does something annoying, you can count on an adult to say "It's just a phase. They'll grow out of it." Which is horribly annoying when you are the child--you aren't being treated like a human being, but like a lump of random whims, none of which are important until you reach some magical (and undefined) age when you are no longer in a "phase." At which point, perhaps, you are dead, since we are all growing and changing all the time.

This is now a new phase for me--and it might even be peri-menopause. I'm certainly old enough--bifocals anyone? And I have just had three months of glorious, period free existence. Until about yesterday, that is, and suddenly, it's back. I just hope its not like after being pregnant, I don't want several months worth all at once, thank you very much.

But it leads me to thinking about this new birth control pill, just approved by the FDA. You just take it all the time, and never have a period. Wow! I mean, sign me up! Except that I seem to be getting there all by myself now.

But really, think of it--never having to deal with the whole PMS thing, never having to worry about accidents, or getting caught somewhere without supplies, never to have to do all the damn laundry, never having to think twice about planning events, or going swimming, or anything! Sure, tampons help, but they aren't fail safe, and there is the little fear of toxic shock. To never ever have to worry? Priceless!

I look at my daughters, and think that all the hassle and discomfort and frank pain in the ass-ness that a period is--they could avoid it! One pill every morning, and hey voila!--no more period! I myself used to get such terrible cramps that I'd vomit from the pain--I lost about 10 days a year to cramps--and there was no controlling when they happened. I was taking a major final exam in college when I got slammed by cramps, and the pain was so bad I had no idea what I was doing. I read an entire essay question, and somehow didn't think it was a question and I almost didn't answer it. I wouldn't have, except the professor made a comment about what he meant the question to be--because someone else asked about it. I finished the exam, and then had to walk the 2 miles back to my apartment--which was heroic, if I say so myself.

It was particularly hard when I was in junior high--I was painfully shy and absolutely clueless about what to do. For about the first 3 years of my period, I used an actual belt--technology that was as out of date as a Model T, really. And I had an impossible time talking about it, and so I went for years hiding my pain, using ineffective supplies--and suffering debilitating shame about the whole thing. Look how much happier my life would have been with something like this.

But there are still risks, aren't there? And there is the whole question of what is normal--medically, culturally, socially, historically. And how do I/we/women/girls feel about their gender? In high school, I could only see the limitations put on women, and I desperately did not want to be one. All those period related limitations and hassles were part of it, for sure, but so was the sense that you had to act dumber than you were, in order not to scare off the boys. I was a debater, and it just angered me beyond reason that I was sometimes criticized for gestures that would have raised absolutely no comment if a boy had done them. Being female even into college was about limitations: liberal arts professors would routinely say things like "men think logically and sequentially, women think organically" and I would fume. Women are perfectly capable of thinking and writing both logically and sequentially, and stop being so patronizing.

It was only in law school that I started to recognize that it was okay to be fully a woman. I had enrolled in a class with a newly hired professor, who was supposed to be a legal genius. He may have been--I could not understand what the hell he was talking about. Ever. We had two weeks to try classes and drop them without penalty, and as the two weeks passed, the class fell from about 50% female to 20%, to 5%, to two women left in the class. I was one of them. And on the second to last day before the drop option closed, I realized I was only still in this class to prove that women could succeed at this class.

Was I enjoying it? No. Was I really learning anything? Not yet. Did I need to make the point at my own expense? Maybe not. Maybe it was just as important to show that women can make an independent judgment that this so-called genius was a terrible teacher and that women were willing to drop a useless class. Women were not imprisoned by their egos to test themselves against a reputed genius. I dropped the class.

Maybe by then I was finally becoming comfortable in being a female--I saw a different way of being, not just as "almost as good as a man, but not quite" but as "perfectly wonderful and not a man at all but something different that is--to be frank--more fulfilling."

How much of this is tied up in understanding my body, my brain, my self as a woman? Is a period a symbol of that difference? Is it a symptom of it? Is managing one a way of learning to manage the other? Certainly by the time I had children, I had learned a lot about accepting my body and its functions as both normal and amazing.

So, the question arises--how do I parent my daughters? Should I help them through the monthly hassle? Can I even do that at all well, given my own difficulties? Do I offer them the option to opt out entirely? Do I strongly recommend it? Is this one of the tough things about growing up that we are better for enduring, or would it be kinder to put it off until the girls become independent enough to handle it on their own. (Face it, it's a lot easier to manage a period when you can drive to get what you need, and can pay for it too. Relying on putting it on a grocery list is just asking for chaos.)

And so I'm back at the parenting question I have asked before--when do I make things easier for my kids, and when does it do them more good to struggle through?

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