Several months ago, I began the process of becoming a big sister with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. A few weeks ago, I got the call that I'd successfully navigated all the red tape and would be matched with a 10 year old girl, Olive. Three weeks ago I met Olive for the first time--she's shy and pensive and very girly. The last two Fridays since then, Olive and I have met up and spent a couple of hours together. Usually, I try unsuccessfully to draw Olive into conversation and she quietly considers what I've said and after more thoughtful consideration, she generally replies with, "uh huh," or some other quietly uttered and concise statement.
I blame myself--I have a track record of not being that great at real life conversation, once having told a girl at a party, "uhhh...I don't know how to talk to you." Not because of any language or philosophically based barriers but because she was giving me things that I wasn't sure how to respond to. Anyway, I'm not great at talking.
This problem is particularly exacerbated when I'm talking to someone who is outside of my own age bracket. I realized this recently while working at a local high school and having to scrape the deepest depths of my conscience to come up with ways to appropriately talk to my pupils. (Inappropriate conversation, it should be noted, is my forte; a student once asked me with wide eyes, "does size matter?" Without hesitation and almost without forethought, I responded, "only rarely." "How do you know?" asked the boy beside him. "I've seen my fair share." "I KNEW IT!" chimed the first boy).
If I'm being honest with myself, part of my motivation in becoming a big sister (outside of never having had a sister of my own, nor anyone younger with whom to pass on my wealth of phallic knowledge), was an effort on my part to become better at communicating with kids, in case one should someday slip past the goalie and I find myself expecting.
So anyway, yesterday when I went to pick up Olive, her mom said to me, "I hope this isn't too much information but Olive just got her first period last night. She's been feeling a little out of sorts, I just thought you should know." Having recently spent the better part of my 192nd menstrual cycle hiding in my house with the curtains drawn, wearing sweat pants, and sobbing intermittently and without provocation, I can totally relate.
We were pulling away from Olive's home when I decided to try to talk to her about it.
"So...your mom said you got your first period."
"I'm sorry. I know it's no fun. But it gets better."
"Do you have any questions about it?"
"Oh. Okay...Are you sure?"
"My mom gave me a book about it."
"Oh. Cool. Do you have questions about the book?"
"Did you understand the book?"
"Oh... You know what I always thought was cool? You know how the moon is sometimes a big circle, and sometimes it's just half a circle or a little sliver? Well, the moon changes on a 28 day cycle and you get your period every 28 days..."
"...umm, I guess what I'm saying is you become part of nature when you get your period. Part of the cosmic order."
"Okay, I'm not doing a great job at this. Is what I just said weird to you? Or confusing?"
"I'm sorry. Let's shelf this until...later. I'm going to figure this out & explain it better."
When I was little, I saw this episode of Roseanne where Roseanne gives a moody Darlene the same speech only it makes sense and is received better. I resolved then to someday give that same talk to my kid, which as calamitous as this test run may have been, has got to be less mortifying than my mother's reaction (she handed me a pad and a copy of the Vagina Monologues). I can't say for sure though because I didn't ask Olive how she felt about what I said since I didn't want to make her relive it.
So yeah...a little tweaking to this speech is in order, I guess.