Male readers beware: this post is about menstruation. This post is about what happens to me right before I get my period. This post is about the day or two during the month that I am a hot mess.
The medical profession calls this phenomena PMS or Premenstrual Syndrome. Symptoms include bloating, headache, food cravings, constipation, difficulty focusing, cramps, clumsiness, fatigue, breast tenderness, mood swings, forgetfulness, irritability, poor judgment, sleep problems, lethargy and a bunch of other extremely inconvenient physical and emotional changes that signify the body’s unrelenting attempts to get knocked up.
My mother was my first and remains my strongest example of femininity. I vividly recall her getting ready to go to a party with my father when I was a small girl. I watched her curl and pin her hair, apply lipstick, maneuver the clasps on her bra behind her back, expertly roll her pantyhose into place from her neatly painted toes up to her thighs, push earrings through the permanent holes in her ears, slip a dress over her head before calling my dad in to zip her up, step into her elegant heels and check herself in the mirror with the same pat-on-the-hips move she does to this day. I had been granted access to the ritual of womanhood that is getting ready for a party. She was so beautiful. The dress was soft pink and sparkly and I was convinced that my mother was a princess and my parents couldn’t reveal this information to me because they were possibly in hiding from unnamed evil forces in faraway kingdom.
I also remember my mother always smiling at strangers and answering the phone in an up-beat tone. She was always volunteering for things and being helpful. My mother was kind to the cashier at the grocery store and chatted easily with other parents at school or at church. My mother cooked us dinner every night and kept our home clean and organized. She helped me make a dress for my teddy bear and sang me to sleep. Through her example, I came to understand femininity as beauty, grace, kindness, selflessness and service to others. Being a woman was about looking good and making other people’s lives more comfortable.
It wasn’t until I grew up that I realized my mom wasn’t always thrilled to be cooking and cleaning and organizing and driving and folding and helping. I learned later that she put many of her dreams on hold to raise her four children and support her husband and was often left frazzled and stressed from taking care of us at the expense of nourishing herself. I didn’t realize until I became a woman that my mom was creative and driven, hardworking and intelligent.
Before my mom shared her secrets with my sister and me – namely that she wasn’t superhuman and had feelings and needs of her own – I caught glimpses of my imperfect and human mother one or two days a month.
When I was in sixth grade, my mother sang the entire theme to the Star Wars movie using the f-word. I had never heard my mom cuss before, so it was rather unsettling to hear her raging through the house, screaming, “fuck — fuck —- fuck-fuck-fuck-fuck —- fuck.”
I think she was upset because she had asked my older brother and I to fold laundry – which usually meant holding up my mom’s underwear and laughing at how ridiculously large they were – and we had taken way too long to complete our simple task. It wasn’t our fault. We weren’t used to taking care of ourselves. Human mom had demanded we do chores and normal mom would return soon and she would fold the laundry and let us go watch tv.
There was also the time that she smashed a dish so hard into the dishwasher that it shattered and cut her hand. The crack in the dinner plate seemed to coincide with a crack in my mother’s grip on reality. In these moments, I saw her humanity and it was unsettling. One or two days a month, my mother had a wild look in her eyes. I would catch her crying, clenching her fists or grinding her teeth. Usually in these moments she would mumble something about not being appreciated or feeling overwhelmed. She might retreat to her room and slam the door with extra oomph. My mom has always been a master of containing her feelings.
“We’re sorry, Mom,” my sister or I might say… although we were probably thinking that she did our laundry and cooked and cleaned last week and we didn’t hear any complaints so what’s the big deal now and we hope she feels better soon because we really want to go to Skate Ranch later and before we go we are going to need her to wash our favorite outfits that we can never find and are always dirty.
“It’s okay girls. I’m okay. It’s just PMS. You will understand someday,” she would state as she pulled herself together and started picking up the house.
As a child, I raced toward adulthood with Olympic speed and could not wait to become a woman. I was excited to ride a bike, wear makeup, walk to school with friends, wear a bra, get my period, kiss a boy, drive a car, drink alcohol – I wanted to do it all – but I never really got excited for PMS. I never thought, “I can’t wait until I am older and get PMS and get to smash dishes and give my husband the silent treatment.”
And then it happened to me… PMS. It starts with the nagging cramps in my thighs and a desire to eat every carbohydrate and piece of cheese in site. I may feel a bit weepy but my PMS arrives with a big old bunch of rage.
A perfect example of my personal brand of PMS occurred when my husband and I were living in a cramped little apartment on Kits beach in Vancouver, Canada. I was using the computer and he grabbed the mouse to click something. Hot boiling venom rose up within my body. I stated something hurtful about him being selfish and went into our 2 foot X 2 foot kitchen to simmer and there my world imploded upon me. I had no love in my heart. The world was a stupid and terrible place. I hated everyone and everything. The nerve, THE NERVE, of that man to take the mouse and click the maximize window was too much, TOO MUCH!! As I fumed and slammed dishes, I took a glass in my hand, held my arm out vertically and grinned as I released my grip and let gravity take its course. The smashing and shattering of glass was the perfect audible representation of my internal chaos.
This irrational behavior startled my husband who asked, “what the hell are you doing?” To which I screamed something unintelligible, ran out the door while pulling on my boots, and proceeded to walk the beach for hours in the cold rain – too stubborn to come home. A snapshot of me in the moment before I ran for the door would capture a woman with wild eyes and gnashed teeth, mumbling and seething and erratically banging about. I’m pretty sure I looked a lot like my mom the night she cut her hand on a broken dinner plate.
My new venture into parenting with PMS struck me this week. On the heels of the terrifying events of my daughter’s health scare, I was hit with some of the most intense PMS I’ve ever had in my life. A week ago, I was praying over Lou’s paralyzed body, promising a God I don’t understand that if she could live, I would be the best mother and person possible and love her absolutely every waking moment of my life. I forgot to add in the caveat – except the two days a month I have PMS.
Fortunately for Lulu and unfortunately for my husband, Jim is usually the target of my premenstrual rage. Feeling all the tell-tale signs, I made an announcement on Sunday: “I have PMS.” Jim knows this means to steer clear and don’t say a word and do everything I command and have a damn positive attitude about it too.
I will be Lulu’s example of femininity. I hope to show her that women are strong, athletic, compassionate, fierce, hardworking, honest, kind, creative, powerful and magical. I hope that she will have memories of me getting ready to go off to work and be inspired by my passion for my livelihood. I hope she will see my brain in action and appreciate the way I feed my body and keep myself active. I hope when she looks at me, she thinks I’m the most beautiful woman in the world, as I thought of my own mother when I was a girl.
One day, my daughter will probably think my underpants are way too large. Lulu will inevitably see my PMS in action as well. In addition to the virtues in the preceding paragraph, large underwear and PMS are also part of my femininity. I have been thinking a lot about the fact that there must be an evolutionary basis for PMS. Roomy underwear just makes sense without explanation but PMS must serve a purpose. The rage and strength and power and impulse of my PMS has to be there for some reason other than to make me pissed and miserable.
I am on a mission to find a really good definition of PMS for my daughter and to help her understand this change and how to harness the emotional energy contained in these days. Women used to be sent off to live in a tent during menstruation. It’s as though the villagers said, “hey cranky lady, get out of here and come back when you’ve stopped bleeding and started acting nice again.” Popular culture seems to accept the answer that “bitches be crazy.” I am disappointed in myself that I’ve internalized a lot of this thinking and feel lost in my PMS and like I need to hide out until it ends. I want my daughter to view her monthly cycle, both the physical and emotional rhythms, as a part of her femininity not to hide from but to embrace.
Wish me luck because I have yet to figure these things out for myself.
If you refer to the symptoms in paragraph two, “difficulty focusing” is among the list. I apologize if this post has seemed a bit all over the place. If you didn’t like this post, please don’t tell me because I might cry or yell at my husband or smash something!