Thursday 18 April 2013

I Had My First Period With the Ladies of Coffee Talk

I recently discovered this Youtube channel called Crankytown, which (according to their description) is a "transmedia property about menstruation" which is a fancy way of saying "These videos are about periods, yo!".  Many of their videos are just women's stories about their first periods being told  by puppets.  Awesome!  Watching their videos inspired me to share my own period story, so here goes.  (Sorry, no puppets.)

First, a little background.  Between the ages of 12 and 13 I was a straight up asshole.  My poor mother.  I hated her.  Recognizing that there was just no way she could ever win with me she just kept right on being her usual awesome self, probably hoping that someday I'd come around.

Why did I hate her?  Partly because I think this is a rite of passage for most teen girls.  Partly because my mother's usual awesome self often involves a certain amount of public humiliation and I had not yet learned the trick of not giving a fuck what other people thought and just having fun.  Also, hormones.

Anyway one of the things that used to really bug me about Mummy was the fact that she was always making a ridiculous big deal out of all things puberty.  There was the time she bought me my first bra and then told like, the whole world (my aunties at a tea party) about it.  (Mom!!!)  There was the time she found out about my being teased for being flat-chested and so she thoughtfully went out and bought me padded bras (Mooooooom!!!!!).  And of course there was The Talk.  (Mooooooooooooooooooom!!!!!!)

My poor, poor mother.  I realize now she was just giving me the attention she likely wished she had when she was going through puberty.  She was making sure that one way or another I had all the information and womanly accoutrements I needed and that she probably didn't have.  Knowing my Gran the way I do, knowing there was probably no sex-ed in school and knowing that my mother was an "early bloomer" I now understand that puberty must have been a big confusing mess for her.

So Mummy, (I know you're reading this) I owe you a very big apology.  You were the best and I didn't deserve you.

Anyway I was worried about the big deal she was going to make when I finally got my period.  I didn't really want my period and I certainly didn't want anyone making a fuss about it.  So I promised myself that when I got my first period I would keep it secret for a while before telling her.  I felt like all this puberty stuff was out of my control and that if I could just keep this secret, even for a little while, it would be like getting some control back.

It was August of 1989 and my family was getting ready to go on a vacation with these richy-rich friends of my parents.  Apparently they "had a place" up at Manitoulin Island and they invited us to spend a couple of weeks with them there.  As we were packing up I became aware that I wasn't feeling so good.  I started to get worried that I was going to get vacation diarrhea.

When I was 9 years old we took a trip to Disneyland and while my brothers and cousin were off enjoying the happiest place on earth, I was stuck in a hotel room with my Dad because I had diarrhea.  He made it up to me by taking me out for seafood (which he loved and I hated) and then nick-naming me Dolores Diarrhea: Queen of the Bathroom.  A nick name that stuck for years after.  (Dear GOD! Why IS this man SUCH an asshole?)

That not-so-good feeling intensified throughout the day, eventually seeing me on the couch curled up into the fetal position with agonizing cramps.  At one point the cramps drove me into the bathroom where I discovered that I seemed to have had a little accident without even realizing it.  I groaned knowing that I was in for the world's shittiest long car-ride (literally!) and likely having to endure taunts of "Dolores Diarrhea" every time I had to make them stop for a bath room.  I cleaned myself up and went back to the couch.

My mother noticed me not helping to pack the car.  When I told her I was sick she smiled mysteriously and said, "Maybe not.  Maybe you're getting your period."  Ugh.  This woman just never quits with the puberty stuff!  But I didn't want to tell her I already shit my pants so I let her think her thoughts.

A side note that is important to the visualization of this story.  Imagine, if you will, my mother in 1989.  In 1989 my mother and her contemporaries (fashionable and moderately wealthy women) looked remarkably like Linda Richman et al. from SNL's "Coffee Talk".

Oversized sweater adorned with shiny beads and jewels?  Check.  Big-ass shoulder pads and large jewelry?  Check.  Big glasses and teased out hair?  Check.  Long painted fingernails?  Check.  I swear, my mother actually owned the sweater you see Linda wearing in this video.  Even their mannerisms were similar, which I believe is a common side effect of wearing those long fingernails.  This is all very amusing to me now since she's gone back to her hippie roots.  The 80's were a hell of a decade.

We arrive at the Richy-Rich's late at night because they strategically decided to do most of our traveling while the kids were sleeping instead of being driven nuts with the whining, fighting and the incessant questions.  If memory serves the drive to Manitoulin is about 8 hours long.  The first thing I do when we get to the Richy-Rich's is ask where the bathroom is.

When I get in the bathroom I see there is another mess in my pants only something is not quite right.  Yet again I had no sensation of anything happening and, as the fluffy little unicorn said, "Usually when you shit your pants, you know that you've shit your pants."  Also, there was no smell.  I really had no idea what was going on here.

But I knew it wasn't my period.

Because I thought my period was going to be like the shower scene from "Carrie" minus the tampon throwing and chants of "Plug it up!".  I thought I was going to get this trickle of bright red blood down my leg or there would be bright red blood in my underwear.  And this was dark brown.  It didn't look like blood or smell like shit and I didn't have a fucking clue what was happening to me, so I got my Mom.

But I became sure of what was happening to me the instant I saw the look of triumph on her face.  I had started my period and my Mom was the FIRST person who knew.  Literally.  Because she knew it before I did.  Here is the scene that ensued:

She was verklempt.  

Just like Linda, she put her hand on her heart and stifled a happy tear.

Then she hugged me tight and told me how proud she was of me.  Then she suddenly developed the strangest speech impediment that prevented her from saying the last word of all her sentences.  She would start each sentence with whispered excitement and then just mouth the last word silently.

"My baby girl has finally turned into a....(silently mouthing) woman!"  (I think she actually made a "squee" sound after this)

"I'm so...proud of you!"

"My little...girl!"

It gets worse.  Since it was the middle of the night and my mother was not expecting her period for weeks we had no choice but to turn to Mrs. Richy-Rich for help.  Gah!

My mother dragged a thoroughly embarrassed, 13 year old me into the kitchen.

"Baaaarbara (she added the Richman-esque lengthening of the first syllable), do you have any.....(silently mouthing) pads?"

(Not too quick on the uptake) "Yeah sure, why are you - ? " finally noticing the look of elation on my mother's face, "Oh.  Oooooooooh!  Aaaaaah."  Then giving me a significant look while adopting my mother's strange speech impediment.  "Of course!  Let me just go....upstairs."  And off she ran, looking a little verklempt herself.

While she was gone my mother hugged me some more and offered me congratulations and probably some other stuff I wasn't really listening to because I was kicking myself for the blunder I had made while facing this inevitable Festival of Mortification.

I prayed, "Dear God, I'll endure this and so much more if only you could please get her to not tell my Dad."

When Mrs. Richy-Rich returned I went into the bathroom as they giggled and hugged each other holding their hands up in that signature way women with very long fingernails do to avoid skewering each other.  I hid in there for a while trying to make myself feel better by saying "Well, at least it's not diarrhea!"

My mother was awesome through the whole thing.  She told me everything I needed to know.  She got me my own pads and some Midol for the cramps.  And if she told my Dad I never knew it.  She was kind and loving to me and when I finally did get diarrhea (nobody told me to not drink the tap water) she managed to get my Dad to lighten up with the Queen of the Bathroom stuff.

Looking back, I'm so glad I told her.  It meant a lot to her to be there for me when I needed her but didn't fully appreciate that fact.  After that I eased up on her a bit and stopped being such an asshole.  She might embarrass me and all but my Mom is totally awesome.

Friday 12 April 2013

Uke Can Change Your Life!

If you've been following me on facebook you'll know that I recently acquired a ukulele from Mummy Dearest as an early birthday present.  And OMG, it's the fucking best!  (Thank you, thank you, thank you, Mummy!)

It all started with a casual, "Y'know I'm thinking about getting a ukulele.  How hard could it be?"  And now I'm all, "How did I live without this for so long?"

As much as I love and live for music I could never have anticipated how much joy I am getting from this teeny tiny guitar.  I can easily understand how ukulele enthusiasts make the claim that the ukulele can change the world.  Amanda Palmer speculates about what might have happened if people like Sid Vicious or Lizzie Borden had played the ukulele:

(I found out about this song because of Jo Eberhardt from The Happy Logophile, a terrific blog for aspiring writers.  Go check her out!)

Ms. Palmer is totally right.  Everyone should play the ukulele!  Here's why:

Physical Therapy

The original reason I wanted to get a ukulele is because of my arthritis.  I play bass guitar and I've been trying to play more of it lately before my arthritis gets worse and I can't play it at all.  The problem with my bass is that it's heavy, needs a heavy amplifier to go with it, and is therefore not very portable.  I figured a nice lightweight little uke might be the answer to this problem.

What I didn't anticipate was the therapeutic benefits.  Ever since I started playing this ukulele my fingers feel better.  They are stronger and have more dexterity.  This is amazing for someone who experiences pain just by wringing out a cloth.

Mental Health

Another fun thing about arthritis is that living with chronic pain makes my anxiety worse.  Yay!  I am not medicated for anxiety so I have a list of coping mechanisms that are usually pretty good at getting me through day to day living.

Unfortunately after a whole winter of dealing with the pain my coping mechanisms just aren't working anymore.  I figured I was just stuck living with it until the summer came back and the sun made me feel better.  I say this with no hyperbole whatsoever: with just one strum of the ukulele my anxiety disappeared.

There's just something so light-hearted and euphonic about the ukulele that it is impossible to fear and feel sick.  I would have wept with relief if I hadn't been so damned happy.  This is something that not even my bass playing does for me.  And even if it could, my anxiety is most unbearable at night when the kids are sleeping and I worry about waking them up.  But the ukulele can be nice and soft and quiet.  It doesn't bother anyone.

It's just the happiest little instrument in the world!

Now, every time I start having dark and terrible thoughts I pick up my uke wherever I am and they just vanish.  The benefits to my mental health were so amazing that I looked into it and apparently lots of people play the ukulele for therapy.  This ex-naval officer uses it to treat his PTSD.  There a good number of pediatric hospitals that ask for donations of ukuleles for bedridden children and there was this study that showed how playing the ukulele improved the quality of life for senior citizens by making them feel more positive and in control.

You can get these benefits from playing other instruments, it's true, but the ukulele is so easy to play that you don't have to have much skill or talent to enjoy it.

Mood Regulation

Here's an amazing thing I tried yesterday.  I could see that Frick was close to melting down over a homework project.  He was breathing heavy and trying to calm himself down and his eyes were full of frustrated tears.  I could see I was in for a struggle.  The day before I taught him the chords for "Let It Be" so instead of arguing with him about the homework I handed him the ukulele and told him to play it.

And he did.

It was like magic.  Instead of melting down his frustration just melted away.  We were able to sit there and come up with better strategies for tackling the homework.  Instead of having to issue a series of timeouts for him to get his emotions under control, listening to him hurl abuses at me through a door because I'm so rotten for making him do his homework, he hugged me and thanked me for helping him.  He was happy.

But you know, you don't have to have health issues to enjoy the ukulele.  Get one and you can be the life of the party, local park, city bus, camp fire, or wherever.  You can play anything you want and you don't even have to be good at it.  Did you know that learning an instrument helps improve your memory and reduce stress?  Did you know that kids who learn an instrument have higher IQ's, better math skills and improved coordination?

I can't believe you're still sitting there reading this.  Go out and get a ukulele already!  Go to your music store, buy one second hand from Kijiji, hell you can even make your own from an old cigar box.  What are you waiting for?