THE countdown to summer freedom has begun. Actually, my son has been marking the days off on his calendar for at least a month. But before students across America can celebrate their independence from school, books and teachers' dirty looks, they have to turn in lots of projects, attend even more year-end events, and, in some cases, get what may be their first introduction to the facts of life.
For decades, it has been customary in my kids' elementary school for all fourth grade girls to watch a video dealing with "growing up" and all the physical ramifications thereof. So much for an uneventful end of the school year.
The school sends home a note with the girls explaining what will be covered followed by a question and answer session with the school nurse. Parents have the option of withholding their student from participation but the note acknowledged that discussing topics like menstruation with your daughter "sometimes presents a communication problem for both of you," - a classic understatement if I ever heard one.
It was recommended that all girls see the I Got It film to be aware of the changes taking place in their body before they actually experience them. I knew this was coming, just didn't expect it so soon.
I've heard people say that girls nowadays have a need to know about the body changes that accompany puberty much earlier than we ever did. I don't know why. But in advance of my own daughter's rude awakening, I thought some preparation might be a good idea to lesson the shock.
Armed with The Body Book for Girls, an American Girl manual for preteens heading into full blown adolescence - and a big glass of wine - I proceeded to have "The Talk" every parent dreads. It can be a tricky proposition knowing what to say, how to phrase things, and how much to divulge at one sitting.
Seriously, a 10 year old can only handle so much stammering from her mom about the privilege of belonging to the sisterhood and the nonnegotiable conditions that come with the honor. With a book chapter titled "Big Changes" I commenced with an overview of the female anatomy, which somehow came across like a football coach diagramming a play.
OK, this body part does this, and this one over here does that, and then, this happens. Any questions? I'm starting to sweat the next play, er, part, when my child pipes up about some of the cool games Dad has on his cell phone. I haven't even gotten to the good stuff yet and I'm losing her.
We resolve to concentrate better on the subject at hand and move on to The Basic Facts. While I'm carefully constructing the big picture, if you will, my increasingly restless tweener tells me to cut to the chase. "Mom," she says, rolling her eyes, "I already know how it works. You fall in love and you have a baby."
Oh, boy. "First of all," I hear myself sputtering, "that won't happen for a long, long time. Maybe when you're 30 we'll talk. Second of all, the whole baby thing comes after you're married and in a committed, stable relationship for life." I have become my mother.
Right about now I'm thinking of winding up our little chat about the physical mechanics of becoming a woman and maybe a mother when another question from the preteen indicates we're not quite finished. "Let me get this straight," she starts, "when I start making an egg every month does that mean I'll have a baby?"
"No," I answer my daughter, racing to find the right words, "something else has to be added to the equation for that to occur." Wrong words. More questions. Since there's no diagram of the male anatomy in The Body Book for Girls I improvise with a rudimentary one in the margin.
Not good. I'm confusing her more. Clarification is in order. No, it is not called a peanut. Yes, it does have a funny name. What? We'll talk about getting pierced ears later, let's focus, shall we?
Finally we agree to give it a break, and just in time. The Jonas Brothers are on TV and soon my little darling is in a catatonic state watching. The Talk is probably the farthest thing from her mind.
But I need another glass of wine to ponder the parenting bridge I've crossed, clumsily or not. Veteran parents, restrain your mirth, and newbie parents, just you wait.
Marilou Johanek is a Blade commentary writer.
Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org