Sunday, March 1, 2009

Why not? Period edition

I have written before about Why Not? the book by Ian Ayres and Barry Nalebuff that has little strategies for thinking creatively. I applied it to teaching children mathematics using subtraction before addition to great effect. I have also written recently about Ian Ayres' accomplished children.

Barry Nalebuff's endorsement adorns the cover of Parentonomics: "Dr. Spock meets Freakonomics. Parenting will never be the same." But he too, it turns out, has an accomplished 18 year old daughter. Rachel Kauder Nalebuff has just released a book, My Little Red Book, that has just been reviewed by the New York Times. And the thing about it is that it looks like it's genesis was a "Why not?" moment:

To understand why Rachel Kauder Nalebuff’s “My Little Red Book” manages all of the above, you need only muse for a moment on the fact that your local Victoria’s Secret, that high temple of undress, has private dressing rooms. Or that “Hair” on Broadway features full frontal nudity on stage and the usual segregated men’s and ladies’ rooms at intermission. Or that sex education still routinely proceeds in single-sex classes.

In other words, for all our public exploration of everyone else’s bodies, our own personal specimens remain quite private. So when it comes to the onset of menstruation, it is the rare girl who will launch an enthusiastic dialogue with family or friends on the subject. Far more typical is she who enters the feminine-products aisle alone (and returns there alone for the duration).

To 18-year-old Rachel Nalebuff, this particular privacy made no sense.
And she did something about it. Her book collects stories of the 'first period' experiences of many women. The NYT endorsement is impressive: "Seldom can a book stretch to accommodate both its author’s and its publisher’s fondest hopes: that it be original yet universal, artistic yet practical, and likely to sell briskly for centuries to come." You can't buy that type of endorsement!

In reading about the book and looking its website, I had my own "why not?" moment. Why do fathers never seem to talk about their daughter's menstruation? So I decided to correct that right here, right now. And in researching this blog (yes, I actually did that) I discovered that the answer to "why not?" may actually be "because."

First, some context. As regular readers know, my daughter is 10 years old. What you may not know, because I have not really been open to discussing it publicly until now, is that she has been going through puberty for about 18 months. (By the way, various permissions to discuss this openly have been sought and approved but as you will see, there is only so much detail I can provide). And if you think that sounds young, you are right. But apparently it is not so young as to be regarded as outside the norm. Apparently, there has been a downward trend in the onset of puberty for girls. I, for one, don't think I'm ready.

This has manifested itself in various developments. I know this by conversations between myself and my daughter and her mother on the other side of a closed door.
"What's up? Can I help?"

"Go away. We have this under control."

"You have what under control."

"Nothing that you need concern yourself with."
And so I was left to not concern myself with it. As I knew that the whole puberty thing was going on, I always figured that her time had come. But actually I was wrong and it hasn't yet come (although apparently that is just around the corner). It was other stuff that I can't describe because I have been removed from the loop.

Other signs have appeared.
"Whose bra is this?"

"Your daughter's."

"Really? Did I miss the meeting on this?"

"Err, no."
I usually expect to have meetings on important developments but apparently not. I don't know quite what I was expecting. Some sort of party. But somehow growing up is going on without so much as a memo.

And the growing up is right. Early puberty means an early growth spurt. My daughter is now the tallest in her class and towers over kids a year or more older. She is wearing her mother's clothes! Boys are hobbits to her. But there is a sad side to this that we can't do much about. Her growth will actually stop very soon and she will spend many years watching everyone else grow past her. Child No.1 won't be really short but the looming prospect of it doesn't thrill me.

On other matters though my knowledge is non-existent. I have broached this with the mother of my young woman.
"You know, what if you weren't around and I needed to do something?"

"What exactly would you need to do?"

"Whatever it is you are doing?"

"Call one of her aunts."

"What if they can't be reached?"

"Reach them or get someone else in."

"Aren't I in the line of succession somewhere?"

"No, you aren't."
Apparently, years of wiping crap off her bottom was just fine but not this. Well, I'll show them. I ordered My Little Red Book and will give it to my daughter. That way I'll be doing my bit. Also, I believe that now you know why fathers don't talk about this stuff. It is just because.