It was a rainy Saturday afternoon, and Callie hoped shed be able to catch her mother alone for a few minutes. She was nervouswho wants to ask their mom embarrassing questions about their bodies?
It was a rainy Saturday afternoon, and Callie hoped she’d be able to catch her mother alone for a few minutes. She was nervous–who wants to ask their mom embarrassing questions about their bodies?
Even though Callie knew all about “the facts of life,” she was experiencing things that felt, well, a bit weird. Why did she sometimes feel like crying for no reason? Should she start wearing a bra? And why, unlike a lot of her friends, did she still not have her period?
“Geez, don’t be in such a rush,” Callie’s older sister Tanya told her earlier that morning when Callie brought it up. “Trust me; you’re not missing out on anything.”
Tanya was sixteen, and acted like a real know-it-all. Callie’s moody moments had nothing on her older sister’s. For a couple of years, Tanya seemed to fly off the handle at the tiniest things.
Anyway, it was easy for Tanya to say–she’d gotten her period before her 12th birthday, and Callie would be 13 in a few months! Callie was pretty sure when her big sister was “having that time”: she’d complain, spots would appear on her otherwise smooth skin, and cookies would disappear from the cupboards with mysterious speed.
Callie was now working at the dining room table on her school art project, a series of clocks of all shapes and sizes. She thought about how she might start a conversation with her mom, but before she could work up the nerve, Aunt Barb stopped by for a visit. Callie loved Auntie Barb; she never treated Callie like a kid, she took her out on cool trips, and she told her things about life that no one else did.
Mom and Barb sat in the kitchen, chatting while they had tea. Callie pretended to be engrossed in her work but kept her ears open.
Aunt Barb and her husband were trying to get pregnant, and she was frustrated. “When I went off the pill a few months ago, I thought, oh, this will be easy!” she said. “It’s made me remember why I went on it in the first place–to deal with my cramps. Now I’m in misery every month. I’ve had to call in sick to work a few times, it’s been so bad.”
“You were always bad with those, even when we were kids, remember?” said Callie’s mom.
“Yeah, and remember how I couldn’t wait to get on the pill when I found out it could make your periods easier? Anyway, I’m just hoping I get pregnant soon, because if this is my ‘natural’ state, I don’t want any part of it, thanks.”
“I hate to say it, Barb, but pregnancy isn’t always easy. Knowing your luck, you’ll have morning sickness, swelling, tiredness?
Barb laughed. “Yes, but at the end of it, at least you get a baby! Besides, Joan, you’ve always had an easier time with your lady troubles than me.”
“That’s true,” she agreed. “But you know what’s waiting for me around the next corner?
“Oh, don’t even say it. You’ve got ten years before you have to start worrying about that.”
“I guess…when did Mom have it?”
Aunt Barb laughed again. “Like she told me about it! Can you imagine her even saying menopause? All I know is that there were a few years when she was either dripping with sweat or freezing to death. Sometimes, I’d come home late and she’d still be up, sitting in the living room, staring at the wall.”
Her curiosity having finally gotten the better of her, Callie wandered into the kitchen and poured herself a glass of milk. “What’s menopause?” she asked, trying to sound casual.
Barb turned to her niece. “Menopause is when you slowly stop having your period, Callie. It’s a hard time for a lot of women, because it can make you feel really tired and yucky, and sometimes it’s hard to sleep. Also, some women have other problems, like with their skin or their bones, and then there’s this thing that happens that’s called hot flashes?
“Oh, Barb, you’ll scare her half to death. She hasn’t even started yet and you’ll get her worrying about when it ends.”
“Mo-omm!” Callie yelled. Her mother could be so embarrassing!
“It’s okay, honey, it’s nothing to be ashamed of,” said Aunt Barb. “I didn’t get my period until I was nearly 15–a late bloomer. I think you and I have a lot in common. Just pray you don’t inherit my cramps.”
Callie slumped against the fridge door. “Is it too late to just change my mind and become a boy instead?” she sighed.
Her mother and her aunt exchanged meaningful looks. “Sweetie,” said her mom kindly, “we might joke about it like it’s something dreadful, but really, being a woman is something very special.”
“Well, what makes it so ‘special' Callie asked. “How do our bodies even know how to do all that stuff anyway?”
Aunt Barb pulled out a chair for Callie to sit down. “Basically, kiddo, our whole system is run by hormones. They’re are like our bodies’ little messengers, and pretty much every living creature has them–even boys! They work together to control a lot of stuff–our organs, and growth, and some hormones even control the work that other hormones do.”
“But are hormones the things that make us feel bad, too?”
“Yep, sometimes they are. There are times in a woman’s life when her hormones make some pretty serious changes–like in puberty, or when she’s going to have a baby, or when it’s time for her period to stop. All those kinds of changes can take some adjusting to, and some are harder than others. But, hormones can make you feel pretty good too!” Auntie Barb explained that new mothers produce a hormone that helps them bond with their babies, and that hormones can help the immune system. Hormones can also help the brain function and work to keep bones strong.
Callie’s mom snapped her fingers. “You know what it’s like, Callie?” she said. “It’s like your art project, with all the clocks! Your hormones are like a series of very complex clocks inside your body. These clocks tell your body when it’s time to become a teenager, when it’s time to have your menstrual period each month, and so on. When they’re working, everything is going normally. But every once in a while, one or more of those clocks gets out of sync, and it needs to sort itself out. But without them, our bodies would never know what was going on!”
The women stopped talking, sensing that Callie had probably taken in about as much information as she could handle in one sitting.
“I guess that explains why Tanya gets so weird sometimes,” Callie said, finally.
“You know, I’m not entirely sure we can hold hormones responsible for everything!” said her mom, grinning.