My daughter is crying. Like most toddlers, she has big feelings about snacks, which books to read when mommy or daddy should be allowed to leave the room, and what I, her mother, should wear.
On this occasion, she’s sad because we’ve run out of her beloved granola bars and I’ve yet to make it to the store to replenish our supply. Fortunately, I know what will make my 2-year-old feel better.
“Would you like to hold your tampon?” I ask.
The answer to the above question is always, “Yeah!”
For the past few weeks, my daughter has taken what we call her “emotional support tampon” everywhere. For example, the tampon made it to soccer practice and accompanied my kid while creating chalk drawings at the park. It occupies the same role in her life as a “binkie” or a “blankey” does for other kids. The only difference? My child’s “emotional support tampon” attracts far more side-eye than a pacifier.
My kid’s relationship with her tampon began when she saw one that had gotten loose on the counter in the bathroom. “What’s that?” she asked, admiring the multi-coloured wrapper.
“It’s a tampon,” I said, matter-of-factly. Next, my child wanted to know what it was for. I hadn’t thought about when and how I’d introduce my offspring to the concept of menstruation, but I made the game-time decision not to start with a lie. In case she remembered this conversation years from now, in the recesses of her mind, I wanted to be as truthful as possible.
“Um, it’s sort of like a Band-Aid for the inside. People who have uteruses bleed sometimes, and tampons help us deal with that.” Do I think my child understood this explanation? Definitely not! Nonetheless, I liked the precedent it set in our household ― one of openness about menstruation.
Of course, not everyone approves of our family’s decision to be so honest about periods.
Once, at the park, a 5-year-old boy sharing the swing set with my daughter pointed to the tampon and sweetly asked what it was. I looked over at his father with an expression that said, “Is it OK if I tell him? Or would you prefer to do it yourself?” Unfortunately, Park Dad’s answer was this: “I think kindergarten is a little young for risqué subjects like that.”
I didn’t push the “menstrual products” conversation with Park Dad. After all, becoming persona non grata at a playground is the worst possible fate when you have a 2-year-old. But I did wonder how anyone could think explaining the purpose of tampons was risqué? It’s not like I was recapping the plot of an erotic thriller.
Indeed, the attitude that menstruation is a dirty secret that should be kept from children has real consequences. Keeping kids in the dark about body changes and reproduction can lead to real confusion when puberty begins. Research reveals many young people do not know what is happening when they get their first periods. How terrifying is that?
Suddenly bleeding out of your vagina ― and not knowing why ― is a traumatic experience. It might even make a kid think they’re injured or dying.
I went through early puberty. When I was 10 years old, I was the first of my pals to start my period. While I technically knew what it was, I was too embarrassed to tell anyone. As a consequence, I walked around with bloody underwear for days.
Sometimes I wonder whether I would have felt less humiliated by my period if the culture surrounding menstruation hadn’t been so secretive. I can’t remember the women in my family or my friends’ families speaking openly about topics like PMS, periods, or menopause. And the men I knew were even worse! I once saw an older male relative have to leave the room during a maxi-pad commercial. He was a father of two, but I guess the bleeding part of the reproductive journey was too much for him.
During puberty, my friends and I pieced together snippets of information from Tampax ads we saw during Oprah’s commercial breaks. But my daughter’s fascination with tampons has inspired me to be transparent about things period-related.
I believe the cultural discomfort surrounding menstrual products ― and the periods they exist to deal with – is a symbol of our general discomfort with the idea that our children will one day go through puberty, grow up, and explore their sexuality. But children of all genders will be affected by menses ― either because they’ll one day have periods, or because they’ll know people who do. Shouldn’t they be prepared?
I hope that by never making tampons a taboo, my daughter will feel more empowered to discuss menstruation, puberty and sexuality in general. I hope she’ll feel confident enough to ask any question that comes to her because I think it’s important to prepare kids to become sexually healthy adults.
It is simply my goal to raise a kid who is familiar with the language of menstruation from day one. I’d rather not raise a person who worries they’re bleeding to death when they reach menarche or who is afraid to ask for a tampon like I was. Instead, I’m happy to be raising my little tampon enthusiast. Long live the Emotional Support Tampon!