Do you remember what it was like before you began to change?
You know…before your body began to respond to the hormonal surges that turned you from a child into an adult?
How much do you remember about the carefree body of your childhood?
The NPR piece set my mind to thinking about my own experience – not only with puberty and the changes it brought, but before.
Before – when I was just a little girl and my biggest concern was what Momma would have for dinner and if I would like it.
As a late bloomer, I had many more years of carefree body life – far more than children who enter puberty at 4, 6, 8….
But, try as I might, I found it difficult to remember what it felt like to live in a prepubescent body.
Oh, I remember the fun…there was a lot of fun. From daylight until dark, days were filled with fun.
In the summer I ran around shirtless like the boys and thought it wasn’t fair that I couldn’t pee on a tree like they could.
I remember the last time I allowed Mom to bathe me, but not how old I was. She was always careful to make sure I was clean and her manicured nails scratched my delicate skin as she washed between and within. I’d had enough – “I’ll do it myself,” I insisted.
Surely I could part and wash between and within that part of my anatomy far better than she. My fingernails were short and my fingers small. A quick swipe with a soapy washcloth was all I saw a need for. I had no idea there were folds and bits and pieces of me that were unseen and needed to be clean.
Apparently they weren’t aware either.
My mother had breasts. So did my grandmothers and aunts. And, my female adult neighbors did, too. In fact, all the women I knew had breasts. They were evident on their chests…bumps or humps or lumps that protruded and got in the way most of the time, especially when they tried to hug you, but they sure did make nice pillows for sleepy heads.
I had a chest. No breasts on me. And, as far as I knew, no breasts for me. I was a girl – not a woman.
My grandmother once told me, “One day you will have some, too.”
My reply was “No, I’m a girl – I’ll always be a girl and girls have chests…they don’t grow breasts!”
Free to be and at ease with my body, I had no problem being naked…in my backyard, in the wading pool, in the tub, with my family…with my friends. Why would I need clothes? Why would anyone?
And, why would anyone want to cover up what they had? I knew there were rules that applied to how people dressed and acted, depending on where they were and who they were with. I didn’t know what social norms were but I knew what was accepted by my parents and expected by others. I just didn’t know why…or care why.
Until a friend who was three years older than I visited me for a day of play.
On previous visits, at the end of a long summer day of play, we had jumped into the bathtub together and splashed away until Mom declared us clean. The only difference in us was our ages and height.
This visit, as daylight dwindled, I was left sitting on the porch while my friend bathed.
“Why can’t we get a bath together like always? Why do I have to wait? There’s plenty of room for us both!” I whined.
Mom said, “She wanted to get a bath by herself this time. Sometimes girls want privacy.”
Privacy! That’s what people asked for when they were in the restroom stall and little kids peeked under to see if the stall was occupied.
Why would my friend need privacy to get in the tub?
“Is something wrong? Is she mad at me? Why doesn’t she want to play in the tub with me?” I quizzed mom.
“One day you will understand,” Mom said. And, with a kiss to my furrowed brow she left me to ponder her words.
And, ponder I did. It was a great mystery and I would be the great detective and set about to discover why it was my friend preferred a boring bath alone to a continuation of playtime.
So, I did what any great detective would do…I tried peeking in the bathroom window. And, yes, Mom caught me before I was able to solve the thing that puzzled me.
And, now, here was a new thing. My mom was guarding the privacy of my friend and keeping me from her. Surely, I had done something horribly wrong and upset my friend, causing her to reject me and the friendship and openness we once shared.
Our friendship did change from that point onward. I didn’t understand the change until years later, of course, and assumed I was the cause of it. I mourned the loss I felt and hated the walls that were erected between us.
Age became an issue. I wasn’t “old enough.” Again…I didn’t understand.
It wasn’t a matter of age. It was a matter of maturity, of puberty. My friend had become self-aware and sought to hide herself in a cloak of privacy.
I, on the other hand, had no such encumbrances. I had no such burden to bear. I was free to be – me.
There was nothing about me that I thought to hide. My freckled face…my chest…my arms and hands…legs and feet…there was nothing scary about them and no need to hide them. Everyone had them, except for women, who had breasts and there were laws about letting those bad girls loose in public. I knew…my dad had told me so. And, I could see why there would be. Those things could be dangerous…could poke a kid’s eye out or get tangled up in the steering wheel or worse.
I felt sorry for my friend, and for other friends as well, who lost their freedom to be and enjoy unburdened days of childhood. Mom’s words would come to me time and again, “One day you will understand.”
That day came rather unexpectedly. I had stepped out of the tub and was drying myself when I felt soreness on my chest. And, it seemed the soreness was directly centered under one of my nipples. There was a lump there. My chest was swollen a little there as well.
“MOM!” I yelled, and she appeared instantly in the bathroom door. “I think I hurt my chest today. I must have run into the corner of something.”
Mom moved in for closer look. “Ouch!” I said as she touched my chest and put gentle pressure on the tender lump.
“Are you certain you ran into the corner of something? This is directly beneath your nipple,” she stated with an odd look of concern on her face.
I didn’t recall hurting myself but I had been quite active that day and anything was truly possible and I told her so. “Do you think I have…cancer??” I asked her.
“No…and I don’t think you injured yourself either,” she offered as she felt the other side of my chest and asked, “is that sore, too?”
I shook my head “no” and assured her it was just the one side. She nodded and said we would keep an eye on it but she was sure it was nothing to worry about.
(NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT? REALLY?)
Over the next few days I watched and waited for a bruise to rise to the surface but one never did. And, the lump didn’t go down…it got bigger and even more tender.
Instead of going shirtless, I was instructed to keep my shirt on. And, not only that, but I was given an undershirt to wear as well.
It became shameful to be shirtless.
Suddenly I became self-aware and sought to hide myself and my body. I was embarrassed and confused.
Something was wrong.
And, I was alone.
All of my peers had moved on years before and those I now played with were younger than I and wondered why I had become aloof and secretive.
My grandmothers delighted in the fact that I as “growing boobies” and said so…to me. And, they also said that I was “becoming a young woman.”
“GROWING BOOBIES??!!!??? A young WOMAN? ME???”
For the first time in my life I wished I knew curse words.
And, I wished I were once again 3…4…8…10 so I could throw a tantrum and act my age…the age I still felt at times…when things weren’t all mixed up and felt so weird.
“Now that you’re becoming a young woman” became the most hated phrase anyone could say. Why? Because each time I heard it, it spelled the end of one of my childhood pleasures.
Grow up? Me?? For what reason? I was fine just like I was, thank you very much. Become an adult? A woman? A Mommy? Um…why?
For the first time in my life I saw growing up as an obstacle to being me.
From my earliest memories, when someone would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up I would say “a doctor…a nurse…an explorer… a writer….” Becoming an adult was not even on my radar and certainly not on my horizon. I saw no need for change…or to become. I would just be.
And, I would be…me.
And, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I began to answer “free.”
Free to be me – that’s all I wanted.
And, now, it seems that I’m coming full circle. (No, I’m not taking off my shirt and running around the neighborhood half naked – laws haven’t changed.)
I’m rediscovering the me that existed before becoming encumbered with the burden of “becoming a woman.”
Do your girls a favor –
- Prepare them EARLY, explain to them, don’t be secretive.
- Be open – with your own experience, with age appropriate information.
- Make “the change” a normal part of THEIR growth…explain, explain, explain.
- Help your girls see that it’s about becoming MORE who they are and not a time when they lose who they were.
- Don’t force them to embrace an identity they are unfamiliar with and one that makes them uncomfortable, secretive and embarrassed.
- Growing up is confusing enough as it is. Don’t make things harder than they are.