Are You There God? It’s Me, Jason

Do I look like Judy Blume? To those of you who do not know the Judester, many a female growing up in the 1970s and 80s can rattle off the books that they read and re-read and passed along to girlfriends with dogged ears (the books, not the girls – as far as I know). One book, in particular covered a lot of girl ground.

I had no idea who Judy Blume was when I was the age that the girls in my class were secretly passing her books around. You see, good readers, the boys were kept in the dark about those things. I don’t know when the practice started, but I remember the day in fourth or fifth grade when all the girls were herded into a classroom and told great and wonderful and disgusting secrets. The girls were also specifically told not to tell the boys what they had learned. Until the end of time, there will always be that girl who leaks the secrets to a boy.

The security breach is never in the name of pure sharing of newly acquired scientific information, but instead to try to gross out the boy and drive home how easy boys have it.

“Oh, yeah, Tommy! Well someday in the next year or two we all just start bleeding in the area down there, for just no reason! You think you’re so tough. You wouldn’t be able to deal with that!”

I remember hearing some of the scuttlebutt on that sunny school day in 1976, but I didn’t really want to know much more about that. After all, I didn’t think there was any way it could affect me, in any way – ever. I had bigger things to think about. The coming summer was the Bicentennial celebration. I was busy collecting all the 7-Up cans with different images that made up the entire United States. I also had to start thinking about what kinds of fireworks to get for the Fourth. The first two hundred years only comes around once every – well, I guess once.

I moved forward through life with the basic knowledge necessary. I was on a need to know basis. At every stage of my life I figured whatever out when I needed to know. I was like a detective. No information was ever given to me –outside some awkward 8th grade health classes. I sleuthed my way through puberty, picking up kernels of half-truths and stumbling upon solid leads on information. I lived in pre-google times. I had to gather information about girls the old-fashioned way. It was referred to as ogle.

I was given no birds and bees talk by my parents. I lived on a farm. My friends who grew up on farms always talk about not needing any talks with all the animals on the farms always “moving their agendas forward” in plain sight. My problem is that I grew up on a potato farm. Potatoes did not “Get it on”. I learned nothing from watching the potatoes. Actually that’s not true. Potatoes exposed to the sun turn green. The green on the skin of the potato is sunburn. That’s what I knew.

Recently, our ten-year old daughter has been asking questions about the kinds of things that, in the olden days, Judy Blume could take care of. Why these incessant questions? There must be a parent out there with too much time on their hands. A parent who wants to make up for not being told something themselves. A parent who can’t keep their mouth shut for just another year, and they start singin’ like a canary, see. Either that, or some damn farm kid putting two and two together, with all their blessed nature exposure. You can only tell a ten-year old girl the mesmerizing fact of a potato and its green sunburn skin so many times.

Let me be straight with you, furrow browed readers, I can talk to my daughter and we have open dialogue on many matters, but let’s not get crazy. I push as much of the girl talk stuff as I can to my wife. My wife – let’s refer to her as Cynthia – is good at talking to Lila- the aforementioned ten-year old.

By luck of the draw I picked up Lila and her friend Annie from school last week. I had no idea what was coming my way. I got out of the car and met them at the curb to hear Lila with utter exuberance announce, “We had puberty class today.” I smiled and said something like, “oh.”

Lila and Annie bounced past me into the car, riding a new knowledge high. I was proud of Lila for being able to openly talk about this, as I thought back to the days of my youth being embarrassed by the word “public” because it was too close to the word “puberty” and only a scant one letter away from the other word.

They immediately launched into talk about getting periods. Annie was very concerned and planned to start carrying pads and extra underwear effective immediately. Apparently, Lila was less concerned about the surprise attack because of her conversation with her mom. She said, “You just have to deal with it.”

I couldn’t drive fast enough, fueled by ten-year olds on some kind of puberty knowledge speed. Nothing applies indirect pressure to a gas pedal like, “Why would you use a tampon. That’s totally gross. Putting that there… Does mom use a tampon or a pad….can you brush pubic hair…What happens to boys…. What’s the white goop that comes out of them? ” Lila said. “Has that happened to you?” her best friend chimed in, suddenly drawing me into the vortex of the tornado – minus the calm feeling.

There. Down for the count. Officially speechless and unable to understand what just hit me. I have absolutely no responses for them, and I’m confident that I won’t, even if they checked back in ten or twenty years.

I had a vision of being stopped for speeding. If I were stopped I would ask the officer to come and sit in my car and have the girls talk their new talk. The officer would quickly get out and give me a siren and lights escort home.

There were too many questions. All I could think was that – potatoes turn green when they are sun burned. I felt my skin turning green from the extreme over exposure. I wanted to get home and try to find my old 7-Up can collection. I wanted to know the closest place to buy fireworks. I would buy them just like it’s the bicentennial. Maybe that could distract them for a few minutes.

I wanted to turn back the clock and make my little girl three again, but I realized this would then happen again, seven years from now – when my current three-year old would be asking the same questions, possibly in unison.

Oh, well, all I can do is answer the questions as indirectly as possible in an effort to diffuse some of their joy of discovery and harbor just a touch of unbridled embarrassment that may keep them away from the boys for an extra couple years. Note to self: Clue the mother in on my plan.

By the way, the answer to my very first question, at the beginning, is – No. No, I do not look like Judy Blume. But I wish I had dog ears, like her books. That way I could only understand the tones and inflections of ten-year old girls, and not the specific puberty laden words and sentences.

Sadly yours,

Jason Spafford

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