Monday, April 16, 2007

A Girl and Her Dog

<>This is a story about my dog, a 10-month-old Boston terrier named Luna, who is, even as I write these words, in the throes of womanhood.

That's right -- Luna is in heat.

That beautiful moment when a girl becomes a woman with the onset of menses is probably going to lead to divorce. "What is all this on the floor?"

"I think the dog is in heat."

"Oh my gosh! Are you serious?"

Now, it was no secret when we bought the dog that she was a girl. How anyone expected us to avoid this without planning a hysterectomy, I'm not sure. It's not like the dog chooses to humiliate herself.

In some cultures, women take that one "special" week each month and wander into the wilderness until it's all over. We've adapted that custom somewhat for our dog by putting her in a small kennel with some dirty towels. If she understands our language at all, she probably thinks this special time in her life is called "Don't touch the dog!"

I've skirted the issue for about a week now -- a LONG week -- but the questions have become rather direct. "But why does she have to bleed?" "Why can't we take her outside?" "What's growing out of her bottom?"

I'm not sure, but I think some of these might be loaded questions. Bait, if you will. And the only reason I think this is because I was once one of those kids.

When my mother sat me down to explain menstruation, she didn’t make it sound enjoyable for me -- no “beautiful” this, or “miraculous” that. Only monthly cramps and 30 years of inconvenience. So I didn’t make the talk easy for her.

Like the smart aleck kid in the back of the class who asks obvious questions of an unsuspecting substitute teacher, I led her to believe I knew nothing so that I could ask everything.

She cleared her throat a lot, and I learned that the woman can’t draw her way out of a paper bag. I watched helplessly as she sat on the edge of the sofa, holding a pencil and notepad and crafting a crude and somewhat pitiful drawing of the female reproductive system – an asymmetrical uterus flanked by a pair of what must have been ovaries connected by thin straight lines that, I know now, must have been the fallopian tubes. To the untrained eye, it looked remarkably like a kite that had hit one too many power lines. With the final pen stroke, she exhaled and said, “There."

“There what?"

“This is how you get your period.”

“What do you mean, ‘how you get your period’?”

Now I knew darn well that she was trying to have “the talk” with me, but would a 12-year-old with occasionally severe social issues let her mother off easily? Not likely. This was sport.

She resumed her rehearsed speech and drew some more. “…and then the blood comes out … here,” drawing a squiggly arrowed line from the uterus and downward.

“Why?” I tilted my head for effect.

“Well, to make room for the baby.”

“What baby?”

Wow – this was one wacked-out interpretation of womanhood.

“You have to clean this out,” she said, tapping the uterus with her pen.

“Every month? I have to make room for a baby every month?” It seemed an overwhelming premise that a 12-year-old girl could have 12 babies every year. “Well, I’m not going to do that.”

“You don’t have a choice.”

A few days later, she bought a box of sanitary napkins and told me to keep them in my bedroom closet. I’m not sure why. I walked to the hall bathroom and opened the cabinet and pointed to a box of tampons. “Then what are these for?”

If memory serves, I was approaching 13, for Pete’s sake, and was surrounded by menstruating girls. None of them used tampons because I tended to hang with “nice girls,” and we all know “nice girls” don’t wear tampons. But I wasn’t so na├»ve that I didn’t know what they were. It was like seeing a joint, knowing what it was, but being smart enough to walk away from it.

Her eyes darted, and she started to turn. “Those are for married ladies.”

Five years later, my mother entered nursing school. Perhaps it was there that she learned the objective of menstruation and how, in some people, it leads to STDs. I know this because I have a sister who is nine years my junior, and when she started her period (she was out the gate with tampons, by the way), our mother felt led to pull out the nursing books. She showed pictures of STDs and all the horrible things that could happen to your body if you weren’t “careful.”

Our mother had certainly come a long way from pencil drawings and “making room for the baby.” As they say, knowledge is power.

I’m all grown up now, and through the years my body has “made room” for four babies, despite the sex ed delivered by my mother. And every month, I am reminded of my womanhood. And occasionally, so is my husband, usually from behind the bathroom door. “Hey! Can you go to the drugstore for me?”

He sighs and gathers his wallet like he’s Husband of the Year, but then usually offers a biting remark, like “At least I won’t cut corners like you do when you buy my deodorant,” just before walking out the front door. That’s right. Don’t buy anything that will sting.

We’re all looking forward to when I enter menopause and the beauty and wonderment it will bring. The hot flashes … the mood swings…

I should probably call my mother and ask her what I can expect.