My Little Red Book, edited by 18 year old Rachel Kauder Nalebuff, is a wonderfully diverse collection of nearly 100 short essays written by women of all ages from around the world about when they got their first period. The stories come from famous women such as authors Erica Jong and Meg Cabot as well as regular teen girls and everyday people. It’s a timely little anthology for me since I have two preteen daughters on the verge of puberty.
Some of the stories are hilarious, like the one about the little girl mistaking a mom’s tampon for a hotdog on a string (Why does she store them up there? Are there more?), or the one where a 6 year old girl uses her mom’s maxi pads as babydoll mattresses during a dinner party, or the one where the girl flushed a pad down the toilet at a friend’s house during a sleepover and it bloated up to the size of a phone book.
Some of the stories made me so grateful; grateful that I don’t live in a culture where women are separated from their families, even their children, during their cycle, or that my daughters won’t have to grow up like the girls in rural Africa, who have no supplies and must miss a week of school during their ‘time of the month.’ And my heart went out to the young girl about to be strip searched by the Nazi’s during her first period.
Some girls lied to their friends about getting their periods before they actually did, some lied that they hadn’t when they actually had. Some prayed that they would get it and not be the last one in their group of friends to be ‘grown up.’ Many had feelings of confusion, fear, and embarrassment.
Some mothers celebrated their daughter’s ceremonial passage into womanhood with odd customs like a slap in the face. Others made a big deal out of it and announced it to the whole family, while others couldn’t bring themselves to talk about it at all. The best way of handling a daughter’s first period that I have ever heard of comes from “As Simple as Salt, 1967 and 2008” in which author Jacquelyn Mitchard compares her own first period with her daughter’s experience. This is what she tells her daughter:
“…I told her, “This means your body is getting ready to be a woman, not that you are a woman. When you become a woman is up to you. For now, you can be a happy sixth-grade girl and still love sports and have boys who are friends and wear your ratty jeans and your Toledo Mud Hens tee shirt.”
At ten and eleven years old, my girls are not women, and they won’t be even if they have their first periods tomorrow, next month, or next year. I’ll be borrowing this little exchange from Jacqueline Mitchard when the time comes.
This is a great book that I will share with my daughters. I loved these emotional, heart-felt stories and related to so many of them. It would be a fabulous selection for a mother/daughter book club, provided the girls were the right age.
For more info about My Little Red Book, check out the website. Proceeds from the book will benefit charities devoted to women’s health, including several organizations that help women in rural Africa.
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