Me and Susan (right) getting on the bus to camp, 1966. My sisters and I all have a recurring nightmare where someone has tricked us into getting on the Waldemar bus again and we are helplessly hurtling toward camp, doomed for six weeks with no hope of rescue. ("How did I let this happen?")
My sister Susan and I were sent to summer camp every year. My mother would begin carefully packing our trunks weeks and weeks in advance. She would have a checklist: canteen, flashlight, clothes pins, and so on. Clotheshorse that she was, she would make sure we had enough matching shorts and tops to last through two entire laundry cycles. And she would fold it all up perfectly, everything tucked neatly in.
We loved this ritual. Except for one thing. Every year, she would take us aside, each alone, and demonstrate how to load a sanitary napkin into a belt. Just in case. She would tell us what to do and how to do it in this overly platitudinous tone of voice (the vocal equivalent of blue liquid), liberally laced with genteel Southern drawl. We would grit our teeth and pretend every time it was the first we had heard it.
Eventually, of course, the red came and we didn’t have to endure the little pad demos anymore. I remember that my first period came early in the morning on a school day. Coping through school was mildly painful and embarrassing. I came home and told my mother that I did not want to have my period again. I knew it was a pointless wish, but that is how I felt. She said something not-terribly-sympathetic to the effect that this was going to happen every month and I may as well get over it.
Having a period at summer camp was a whole other issue. The counselors were these female thug types who wanted to make you keep swimming, horseback riding, and such even during your period. Back in those days, most people still thought you should go to bed or something during your period–certainly you did not ride horses. No telling what kind of damage that would do. So, whenever your period came, you would trudge up to the infirmary, tell the nurse your problem, and she would pull out a permission slip to miss activities. Where it was supposed to say what was wrong with you (e.g., poison ivy, upset stomach), she would draw a big X. So, among the girls we went to camp with, everyone called it “having X.” As in, “why aren’t you swimming today, Susie?” “Oh, I have X.”
All these memories came flooding back when I clicked just now on a link my student, Mary, sent me. It’s a funny, funny commercial about a little girl becoming the menstruation expert at summer camp. My favorite part is where she leans over one of her cabinmates, who is miserably lying in pain on her cot, and whispers, “Suck it up and deal with it. This is your life now.” Yes! That is how it really happens! (See the commercial below.)
But there was an extra kick of irony for me on this one. The commercial is meant to advertise a service called “Hello Flo.” Here’s what they do (get this): they pack little menstrual care packages for moms to send their daughters at camp. The tampons and pads are packed all cute with candy and stuff. OMIGOD, my mother would have killed for such a thing.
But then I remembered. When my own daughters went off to camp, I pulled each one aside and showed them how to stick the maxipad in their panties. I was so afraid they would get their periods at camp and be all alone and not know what to do. When they finally really did get their periods (in the middle of the night, at home), I volunteered to show them what to do again. Each one in their own time rolled her eyes and said something to the effect of, “Mom. You have shown me this a thousand times. Go back to bed.” (I wonder if I used the blue liquid voice?) [Note: Liza’s update here.]
What goes around comes around. Here’s the spot. It’s a hoot.