What My Mother Told Me About My Body

August 15, 2016

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Scientists discovered some time ago that infants don't recognize the boundaries of their body. That is, they don't know that their arms and legs are under their control, or that their being is confined to their body, and doesn't extend to their crib, the floor, or their parents. Only gradually do we as humans begin to realize that we have a body, and over the next several years we learn more and more about what that means.


At the age of three, I fell on the concrete patio in our backyard, skinned my elbow and cut my chin. It was painful, of course, but once that passed I became very interested in the fact that, according to my mother, the skin would grow back together, and I wouldn't be able to see the cut anymore. I watched myself heal every day, only to one day find that she was right. My body went back to the way it always had been.


At the age of five, I lost my first tooth. My mouth bled some, but I was far more scared than injured. My mother rinsed the tooth off and handed it to me, and my fear became wonder. I tried to put it back into its spot – not out of ignorance, but curiosity. But it didn't want to stay. It wasn't part of me anymore. My mother said that our bodies are always changing, and little teeth need to make way for big teeth.


At the age of eight, my mother told me – preemptively – that my body would start to change again soon, in a big way. I was disturbed by the idea of growing hair in strange places, but positively baffled by the idea that I would start to bleed every month. I asked a dozen questions, and her responses only seemed to get stranger. This happened to all girls? I would wear special cotton pads in my underwear to catch the blood? She must be slightly crazy.


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At eleven, I found out once again that my mother had been right. But now that I knew other girls who had already gotten their periods, it didn't seem quite so crazy.


At twelve, I had had enough of this whole 'period' thing. I'd started getting cramps and feeling lightheaded, and felt deeply wronged by the universe. “The Curse,” sucked, I complained to my mother one day, getting at least a small amount of pleasure from my wallowing and self-pity.


Then my mother told me something. She told me not to call it a curse, no matter what anyone said. She told me to think of it as a right and responsibility. Not a gift, because gifts don't come with pain. But something I would have to earn. Cramps and other minor discomforts were the price I should be glad to pay for the chance to be a part of the cycles of the earth, and one day be a part of Creation itself.


At twelve, I didn't have a response for that. But now I understand that, once again, she was right.



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