Should I celebrate a child's menstruation? How?
February 1, 2008 12:42 PM   Subscribe

[Ladies filter] My niece just got her first period -- how to celebrate? Or is that a weird thing to do?

My niece (who is living with us semi-permanently) just started menstruating.

I thought it might be cool to celebrate it with something to mark the occasion, but have gotten mixed reactions about it from the girls at work. Besides, so far, I've only been able to come up with a "girls' night out" at a fancy restaurant and don't know if that's just too lame to be memorable.

So, AskMe Ladies, what did your mom (or guardian) do when you got yours?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (111 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I had no celebration, but I recall one of the Judy Blume characters had a special party...
posted by k8t at 12:45 PM on February 1, 2008

Chocolate. Lots and lots of chocolate. You don't need to do anything big, but having a period is a great excuse for chocolate whether it actual helps or not.
posted by melissam at 12:47 PM on February 1, 2008

I got a lesson in sanitary pad and tampon usage and disposal. Woot.
posted by clh at 12:47 PM on February 1, 2008

My mom did some sappy congratulating and gave me a box of maxipads. I think a celebration might be a bit over the top for something like this. If anything, maybe make her a little period relief basket with chocolate, some midol, one of those stick on heating pads, etc., but that's as far as I would go.
posted by necessitas at 12:47 PM on February 1, 2008

I like a "grown up" girls night out.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:50 PM on February 1, 2008

I didn't have a celebration, either, but I know it's a big deal for many people. Some not so much. Either way, it's not strange.

Do something that makes her feel like a grownup. Best way to do that might be to let her decide what she wants to do. Or if you'd like to limit that somewhat so it doesn't get too crazy, then having a girls' night out at a restaurant but letting her pick the restaurant could be cool, too.
posted by katillathehun at 12:50 PM on February 1, 2008

Incidentally - not only did I not have a celebration, but I sat at a restaurant for our usual dinner with my parents while my mother loudly explained to my father that I was, in fact, growing up, and it was most certainly not red skidmarks.

Thank you, Mom.
posted by katillathehun at 12:53 PM on February 1, 2008 [5 favorites]

My mom gave me a ring (nothing especially fancy, just a slightly-nicer-than-Claire's department store ring). I think it was a lovely way to mark the occasion without drawing too much attention to it. If someone complimented me on it, I could say 'thanks, it was a gift from my mom,' and didn't have to go into detail about why if I didn't want to (because, you know, I was 12 and easily embarrassed by stuff like periods). You say she isn't into girlie things, so maybe you could substitute another small gift rather than jewelry. A dinner out might prompt people to ask 'what's the occasion?' which could get awkward and make her uncomfortable. Then again, maybe she'd love it. Depends on the kid. I think it's great that you want to do something for her, though. If you're thoughtful enough to post this, I'm sure you'll figure out something that suits her.
posted by Meg_Murry at 12:54 PM on February 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

room317 has a great idea. Instead of making it noisy like it's her graduation, just another day but hanging out for, even buy her some grown up clothes, jewelry, make up. I think having someone to relate to the awkwardness of it all will help her make easier transition.

Depending on her comfort level after that night out, plan a follow up or introduction of all sorts of information. Too much information is better than not enough. This includes various feminine products....of course it has to be age appropriate.
posted by icollectpurses at 12:55 PM on February 1, 2008

my mom hugged me and said "welcome home, woman" - it was strange. i felt uncomfortable. unless your niece is over the top happy for getting her period, i would just leave her alone and not make a big deal out of it.
posted by barrakuda at 12:56 PM on February 1, 2008 [3 favorites]

I like the idea of a girl's night out, though I'd plan it now and wait till after the first period week has passed. Due to a prior arrangement, I had to go bowling that first day, and I was really anxious and uncomfortable about it.

Otherwise, I'd emphasize celebrating not necessarily being a woman or a grown-up but being her specifically... so if she's not into clothes, maybe a trip to the bookstore or the video game store or art supply store or some other treat would be nice.
posted by xo at 12:57 PM on February 1, 2008

I'm assuming that the asker is the girl's aunt. If not, please just try to be supportive without making her feel embarrased or creeped out.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:02 PM on February 1, 2008

Perhaps this is just me, but I would have found the idea of specifically celebrating my first period unbearably creepy. This may be reflective of the weirdness in my family about such things, though (my mom never got me my first bra or talked to me about my period; that was left up to my older sister and/or the moms of friends. In fact, I didn't discuss my period with my mom till at least a couple of years after it started -- and that amounted to her asking me if I needed any tampons from the grocery store, and me saying yes and telling her which brand I used. To this day, that remains the extent of our discussion on the topic).
posted by scody at 1:03 PM on February 1, 2008

I would have liked a grown-up night out without a parent, so I like the idea of a restaurant of her choice (maybe not a fancy one, unless she's into that). I think a first period IS a big thing and should be celebrated as a step toward adulthood and freedom, not treated as an ailment. When I got my period, I began to think more about my future and look for independent women I could use as role models. Having dinner with one would have been a great start.
posted by PatoPata at 1:03 PM on February 1, 2008

My mother did nothing for which I was truly grateful - I would have been absolutely horrified if she had made any kind of deal about it, never mind anything in a congratulatory vein. Not that I was ashamed or embarrassed about it but I certainly wasn't looking forward to that particular part of growing up and dinner out or whatever to celebrate the upcoming forty years of cramps and inconvenience would really have rubbed salt into the wound.

Like others have said, maybe take your cues from your niece. If she seems happy and excited about it, no reason not to ask her if there's something she's like to do to celebrate.
posted by Acarpous at 1:04 PM on February 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

My mom and I had a little ceremony and planted a tree. It was all very life-affirming and feminist in the best possible way. I was embarrassed, of course, but my mom made it seem so totally natural that my first period was something that deserved celebration. I think the way she handled it helped me get over my embarrassment about my changing woman parts more quickly than I would have if she hadn't made a big deal of it.
posted by yogurtisgenocide at 1:04 PM on February 1, 2008 [3 favorites]

I'm with barrakuda on this one. I was uncomfortable when I got mine. The last thing I wanted was someone making even a small deal out of it. If she seems excited (?) or something like that, take her shopping. I would have been devestated with a dinner. But that's me.
posted by smeater44 at 1:06 PM on February 1, 2008 [3 favorites]

We've come a long way. I've heard of a tradition where the girl's mom SLAPS HER IN THE FACE.

I think any of the ideas in this thread would be better than that.
posted by bink at 1:06 PM on February 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

If it were me, it wouldn't want a big deal made of it...way too embarrassing for an 11-year old. I like the suggestion about a ring or some small gift but going out to dinner to celebrate would have been totally mortifying to me.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 1:07 PM on February 1, 2008

Perhaps this is just me, but I would have found the idea of specifically celebrating my first period unbearably creepy

Thank god, I was starting to think I was insane. A quick poll of my female coworkers confirms I'm not. There are some decent enough suggestions up above but some girls (like me circa age 13) would just find any of them pure torture; please have a think about whether she'd be receptive!
posted by jamesonandwater at 1:08 PM on February 1, 2008

scody -- I'm with you. I mean, it's a great idea if that's the family and culture you have, but I would've died. Just died! (Runs off to bedroom, slams door)
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:12 PM on February 1, 2008 [7 favorites]

Personal anecdote: My first period surprised me a hour before my 2nd cousin's wedding. I was in the bathroom for a bit, and then emerged to tell my mother. She was over the moon about it, and proceeded to tell my father about it at the wedding reception, in front of all of my aunts, uncles, cousins, friends of family, etc (JOY!). It was fairly mortifying. I didn't like being "congratulated" for something I had not accomplished myself, something for which I did not feel responsible. I almost felt like a cad, and a crampy one at that. Menstruation sort of sneaks up on a girl, and being forced to confront it again and again and again in the form of external recognition of one's "physical maturity" is difficult to process. Please don't announce this to everyone (at least, not in front of her; let her reconcile her development with others on her own terms). This is her own event, and as such it is important that she feel a sense of autonomy about dealing with it. I can't tell you how much I resented my mother from tearing that autonomy out of my, um, hands.

If you decide to go the gift route:
Dot Girl has a First Period Kit that is pretty cute. I would have loved to receive this when I first started my period. If you're looking for something to give her immediately, however, I don't know if it would work, as you would have to wait for it to arrive in the mail.

If she is (almost inevitably, I imagine) going to be using tampons, get her a Vinnie's Tampon Case. I have one, and it's great: it protects tampons from becoming smushed or misshapen while floating around in one's bag/backpack, and has a little loop that you can hang on a bathroom stall hook in case there isn't a flat surface on which to rest it. And it's made out of vinyl, so it's really resilient: I have had mine for years.
posted by numinous at 1:13 PM on February 1, 2008 [4 favorites]

As the father of a 12 year old daughter, I am interested to learn what is good or bad in terms of fatherly behavior. My wife says the day is imminent, and every time my daughter says she has a stomach ache or cramp, my wife leaps into action ready to do whatever Mom's do in such a situation. I tend to recommend Alka-Seltzer which make my wife roll her eyes at me.

I have no sisters and am utterly clueless in these areas.

Any suggestions on proper fatherly behavior?

Thanks in advance.
posted by Argyle at 1:14 PM on February 1, 2008

How does she feel about it? I was absolutely morose about getting my period (come to think of it, that hasn't changed) and wouldn't have wanted anyone acknowledging that it had happened. I actually asked my mom not to tell anyone else (of course she did). So if your niece feels like that, just let her suffer in (what she thinks is) privacy. If, however, she has a more positive attitude than that, a grown-up ladies night out would be nice. Or heck, do it anyway, just don't talk about why if she feels weird about it.
posted by bassjump at 1:16 PM on February 1, 2008

One of the most self-actualizing people I met at college told me her father burst into tears when he found out, and immediately gathered the entire family (she was eldest) to go out for as much ice cream as they could eat.

The same man didn't give any of his daughters middle names because they would get one when they got married.

Please pardon this intrusion.
posted by jamjam at 1:17 PM on February 1, 2008

My mother took me out to lunch, and told the waitress that we were celebrating my womanhood.

I wanted to crawl under the table. Funny that sixteen years later, as a relatively enlightened young woman, I still hold a little bit of a grudge about that.

If your neice told you about it and was excited, you might just ask if she wants to celebrate somehow and take her suggestion.

If she didn't tell you herself, she might prefer you didn't say anything at all.
posted by mediocrates at 1:23 PM on February 1, 2008

Celebrating does seem kind of creepy and gross. A period party or gift basket would have been met with a "Mooooooooooom you're embarrassing meeee!" when I was that age.

At the same time, though, I was eager to appear grown-up and sophisticated, and jumped at every opportunity to go to fancy restaurants or plays. I think it's a lovely idea to take her out, just make it about her and not her uterus.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:26 PM on February 1, 2008

Just another perspective: This just happened to my niece last month, same age. And, while she was pleased enough at the "I'm growing up" aspect of it, and was shyly pleased to report to me and another aunt that It Had Happened... after the initial excitement, she was mostly dismayed -- at the whole, "I'm weird now, people can tell, I'm different, can you see my pad, what if it leaks, I'm Changed, this is so annoying, are you kidding me this is going to happen every single month for the next 50 years?????" aspect.

So, while there was a bit of morbid joking amongst the adults about the possibility of a "Princess Menses" party (a la "Nip/Tuck"), in the end, what was most helpful for this particular kiddo was all the ladies around her helping to normalize the event, by not making any big deal of it at all. Other than private high-fives of "hey, you're healthy, way to go, you're growing up," we didn't want to over-dramatize it by implying that periods in and of themselves are worthy of celebration or special recognition or mandatory sympathy. We talked about it from a "welcome to the ladies club" perspective, rather than a "you are a special snowflake in some way." (parilous, I'm definitely not implying that's what you're aiming to do or need to do or that this is the situation that fits all... part of the reason it worked for my family is that we just wanted to be extra-careful because my niece is fairly impressionable and prone to drama anyway.)

But I did want to do a little something to "ease the transition," so to speak, so when she and I were talking alone at one point, I explained how sometimes, since she now will have to deal with pads and such at school now, it's helpful to have a cute wristlet or little purse or pencil case that can hold supplies -- so that you don't have to take your whole backpack into the bathroom, and you can be discreet, etc. So I did take her to buy a little zip bag that could go in her backpack/locker and be the "school stash." But I was careful to make the tone one of, "I'm a female relative helping out with a totally normal situation" instead of "here's a Menarche Gift!"

I agree with the idea that you should do only what you think will make your niece comfortable. Mine was pleased to share her news, and very receptive to information, anecdotes, and of course cute new purses. But when it happened to me personally, I wanted to handle the whole business myself, totally privately, and would have died if anything had ever been publicly discussed or celebrated. Like scody, one day I just began writing the tampon brand I wanted on the grocery list in the kitchen, and that was that.

On preview, parilous, it sounds like your niece is not embarrassed and has a good grounded perspective on what's happening. You definitely don't have to assume she's feeling shame over all this if she's clearly not! So, I would say do a girlie day or evening, maybe a manicure and lunch or dinner. It could be a great time to reaffirm that you are there for her, to answer questions, even weird ones about body stuff, these are things that all women go through, nothing unusual about it, etc.

Argyle, it really depends on your kid and what she's like and what her relationship with you is like. For my niece: her mom asked her if she wanted her dad to know or if she wanted it to be private -- and my niece wanted him to know but didn't want to be the one to tell him, as it felt too embarrassing. So, the mom mentioned it privately to the dad, and then that was the end of it.

I will also tell you on behalf of my niece's father: there was a toilet incident, where that experimentation of learning how much toilet paper is enough during that week of menstruation just put too much strain on the poor plumbing in that particular bathroom. (I also secretly suspect that the girl might have flushed a pad, but she swears she didn't). Anyway, forewarned is forearmed.
posted by pineapple at 1:28 PM on February 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

uh, why not ask her?

i don't think i would have enjoyed that, although i wasn't very close to the women in my family. mostly i just wanted to ignore it.
posted by thinkingwoman at 1:29 PM on February 1, 2008

I never told my mother and she never asked, though I assume that she assumes that it has happened (as I am years out of college). I was very happy that this never came up and would not have liked any sort of celebration. But, you know your niece where as we don't, so I'd go ahead and say this has got to be a case by case detail. good luck though :)
posted by CAnneDC at 1:29 PM on February 1, 2008

I think taking her out to dinner is a lovely and neutral idea. Don't spend the dinner talking about it, or telling anyone else about it, just enjoy a grown-up meal with her. I've met so many women who are squeamish or embarrassed about menstruating and by handling this in a sensitive yet "this is totally normal and millions of women everywhere experience the same exact thing" you'll teach her to not be afraid or anxious about it.
posted by Constant Reader at 1:29 PM on February 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

I just gave my girls big hugs and some Advil. We'd already discussed the mechanics of what to do. I think that they appreciated the low-keyness of it.

If she's excited and wants to mark the occasion, then take her out to lunch.

I think that my girls would have cringed if my husband had made a big deal of it.
posted by Flakypastry at 1:30 PM on February 1, 2008

I think what to do depends on her personality. For me, I've always tried to be as nonchalant about the whole business as possible. When I got it at 12, I was neither happy nor embarrassed, just kind of well, huh, about it. I didn't want to be looked at or treated any differently than I was before it happened. If my mom had made any kind of deal about it, it would have upset me a lot. If she'd pulled any "Oh, you're a woman!" or offered congratulations or a celebration or gift or anything, it would have embarrassed me and creeped me out hugely. But that was me; your niece might feel differently.
posted by mostlymartha at 1:32 PM on February 1, 2008

I think a small care package would be great. I would have been mortified if my mom had gotten me anything else.

I also think I would have died immediately if my dad had said anything at all. But that's just me.
posted by christinetheslp at 1:33 PM on February 1, 2008

I think a celebration would have horrified me. ;)
posted by iguanapolitico at 1:35 PM on February 1, 2008

Yeah, the idea of "celebrating" would have made me terribly uncomfortable in addition to what was happening physically already. Few people I know would have thought, at that age, that the prospect of bleeding every month for a week is something to be welcomed (other than after pregnancy scares...)? Probably best to treat it as just another thing everyone (female) goes through.

However, I think the idea of a shopping trip specifically to help her pick out her own supplies is good. Lots of people I know just default to whatever brand their mother used. You can buy her a clutch-type purse to keep tampons or pads in - still fits in a backpack, and much cuter than a ziploc bag.
posted by casarkos at 1:35 PM on February 1, 2008

I'm actually a little distressed that so many posters here are saying "creepy." As an adult, I used to wear a red wrist band when I had my period, just to sort of celebrate it in secret, even though I had endometriosis and was miserable with pain. To me a period was an important event, and the repeated, relentless pain gave me insight into life at the same time as it sucked. It's possible I have a Big Symbol approach to my periods because the first one came two weeks after my mom died, but it still seems to me that it's a kind of a life-deepening process and not something embarrassing.

Argyle--my dad said, "You're a woman now! Your mom would have been proud." That was the right thing to say. He then said, "I think your mom had some supplies in the closet," which was not quite as right. Avoid references to "hygiene" products.
posted by PatoPata at 1:37 PM on February 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

I think "celebration" is a weird word for it. But she is now a grownup, a woman. And with that there are responsibilities, but also rights. How can you let her exercise her rights?

I've told my daughter she can get her ears pierced, if she wished, once she got her period. Bedtime becomes optional when she gets her period, etc.

Something womanly, not girlie, but heck, a manicure, a massage, a new outfit that doesn't look kiddie (or even a, "Here's $100. Let's go spend it. You pick." would show a lot of respect for her as a grownup). How can you demonstrate to her that she's now your equal rather than a cute little kid?

A new leather diary and a gorgeous pen with her name (Ms. Adult Q. Niece) would be a beautiful way to mark her passage without a, "Yippie! Midol time!"
posted by Gucky at 1:39 PM on February 1, 2008

God, I would have died of humiliation. Even thinking about it brings out the geeky, easily embarassed 11-year-old in me.

I guess every kid is different, and I figure you know your family member well enough to know what kind of reaction she might have. The restaurant idea is a nice one as long as you don't spend lunch or dinner talking about it. Eww.
posted by Ruby Doomsday at 1:40 PM on February 1, 2008

I really like the idea of doing something to celebrate, rather than buying her something (ie, going out to spend time together, vs. buying a Vinnie's tampon case). However, if you do go the route of buying a gift, I think that as an 11-year-old, I would *not* have wanted to tote around something with the phrase "tampon case" emblazoned upon it. (And furthermore, while I have my grumpypants on, please don't buy makeup for someone that young. Jebus.) I think Gucky's on the right track with the manicure idea, though maybe a pedicure would be fun, too.

You can celebrate without icking her out or embarrassing her -- don't bring her red balloons or get a "welcome to womanhood" cake -- but I grew up in a family where it very clear that we didn't talk about these sorts of things (except for one time I ran out of pads and my dad was annoyed that I needed him to go to the store to get "rags," as he called them). There's clearly feelings that periods are gross or dirty, evident by the comments made by even adult women; it'd be great if you could let her know that it's just a part of growing up and it's entirely normal. Therefore, it would totally make sense to have a low-key adult time together. What about an art class or a trip to the museum, if she's into that kind of thing?
posted by runningwithscissors at 1:44 PM on February 1, 2008

Celebrating would have embarrassed me too - especially at a dinner held in honor of my ovaries. However, I think a nice box of chocolates (adult chocolates, not from the drugstore) delivered on the sly, with no more than a wink, would make a very nice memory for any "young woman."
posted by jrichards at 1:46 PM on February 1, 2008

I would also have died of anything other than practical recognition of what happened. Maybe a small practical gift with sweat pants and a movie or something.
posted by Packy_1962 at 1:48 PM on February 1, 2008

My Mom did a very uncomfortable party for all my friends (including male parents, siblings, and friends) and it was horrible. She gave me a gift to celebrate. This was also incredibly uncomfortable. Love the idea, but it so didn't work for me. I was mortified.

Have you read "The Red Tent"? As an adult, I long for that sort of celebration of femininity, but feel like it doesn't exist in our culture.

What about taking her out for a special adult's day- take her shopping for an outfit, go to lunch that she picks out that would be "special" and do an outing that she'd find fun, just the two of you. I wouldn't refer to her period unless she brings it up. This is strongly embarassing for most young girls and teens and they would prefer you just pretend it didn't happen.

If you're concerned that her parents aren't acquainting her with the facts of life, you might give her a little kit with the basics + a short letter enclosed with instructions, promise her that she can ask you anything anytime and you'll never disclose it to her parents or anyone you know.

Perhaps give her the red tent as part of your day out- it is a bit adult for her, but she can start it now and save it for later. Just for an example of how another society would handle this moment.

In a culture where women are encouraged to hide any trace of their fertility and even delay their periods for months at a time with birth control that eliminates periods most of the year, I think it is wonderful to be period-positive and get in touch with that part of life. Of course, this from someone who really likes the fact that her birth control decreases the duration/size of her menses, so take as you will.
posted by arnicae at 1:49 PM on February 1, 2008

I did have a celebration, and I was incredibly happy about it. Maybe celebration is the wrong term - more that the passage of it was marked in a private and happy way with my family. My mom and dad cried a little bit, and congratulated me and took me out to dinner. It wasn't a big song-and-dance, just a marking of the milestone with a few token gifts at home (nothing expressly "womanhood" related) and some time to myself with my parents. I felt grown up and proud and like I was going through a special but completely normal thing.

Maybe it's just my family dynamic, but I would have been immensely disappointed to not have the first adult step in my life acknowledged in some way. I recognize that it is not the Western cultural norm to do something like this, and that is wouldn't have been right for every girl. I'm not aware if my parents did the same for my younger sister, but I assume they did and I would be very open to doing the same for any daughters I may have.
I do feel that my never having any great shame or embarrassment associated with my period or my body is due in no small part to my parents' being always open and upbeat about the facts of life. I was perfectly comfortable throughout my teenage hood asking my dad to pick me up pads at the store, or talking to my mom about the miseries of cramps and doctor appointments.

I would agree with everyone who has said to go off your niece's own reaction as well as the sort of relationship you and she already have. Why don't you ask her? I also like Gucky's idea of other grown up privileges being introduced at this time, that's very appropriate!

As a related aside (and anticipating a possible future question): My mom gave me Girltalk: All the Stuff Your Sister Never Told You for my 12th birthday, which was right before my first period. I still have it, and have recommended it to many other adults with young teen girls in their lives. It covered almost anything that's likely to come up for her in the coming years.

Congrats to your niece!
posted by nelleish at 1:52 PM on February 1, 2008

"Should I celebrate a child's menstruation? How?"
Don't call her a "child" anymore. That's the best gift you can give.
posted by fvox13 at 1:52 PM on February 1, 2008

I have to nth, I would have been mortified if my mum, let alone any other relative had done anything to 'celebrate' my first period. I was embarrassed enough that she wanted to talk about it at all - I didn't tell her but it was kind of obvious from the blood on my skirt - my first period started when I was stuck on a bus in a snow storm for over 3 hours.
All I wanted to know was 'where are the sanitary towels' (at school we had a big Toxic Shock Syndrome talk to scare us all off tampons)

I don't know what you were hoping to get out of this question - the mixed reactions from the girls at work should have been enough to say that this is an issue where opinions are very divided. Some girls will like it, some will die of embarrassment. (personally, I'd err on the side of caution)

It never even occurred to me that some people would celebrate something like that, do you also celebrate a boy's first erection? (or wank)
posted by missmagenta at 1:58 PM on February 1, 2008

My mom called my dad at work and told him and he came home from work bringing me a rose. Which I found embarassing but both my parents were all sappy about me "becoming a woman." I still find that odd. I know it's an age marker and everything, "little girl growing up," but it did seem weird to acknowledge my womb doing something.
posted by agregoli at 2:00 PM on February 1, 2008

I didn't like being "congratulated" for something I had not accomplished myself, something for which I did not feel responsible.

Yes, exactly!! God, I thought I was the only person who felt this way. I hate hate hate being congratulated or put in the spotlight for anything not related to something I've actively done. I can give a speech in public in front of hundreds of people and not bat an eye (and will happily accept any congratulations or compliments afterwards), but if my coworkers sing "Happy Birthday" to me I'll start surreptitiously looking around for a closet to hide in or a blunt object to hit the loudest singer with. So yeah, even putting aside the weirdness in my family about the topic, the idea of "celebrating" someone getting their period seems completely alien to me.

posted by scody at 2:09 PM on February 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

It depends on the kid. I got nothing which was fine for me at the time, but was distinctly jealous that my cousin received a dozen roses. When I reflected on it, though, I realized I probably would have been mortified if my parents gave me roses to mark the event, but that may have been embarassment that my dad and little brother might have KNOWN. Heh, my dad the grocery shopping, and I would get my mom to ask him to buy pads for me.
posted by frecklefaerie at 2:16 PM on February 1, 2008

Getting your period sucks. I remember getting mine and bawling my eyes out - I just wanted to be a little girl forever. I don't understand the reason for celebrating something that messes you up every 28 days FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE (obviously not literally). I would have been mortified had my parents done anything to mark the occasion - just leave me the hell alone! And get me some pain killers!
posted by Sassyfras at 2:20 PM on February 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

I don't think we did anything much about it, since my mom and sisters had all talked about it already, so we knew where to get pads/etc. Thinking back, I wish I would have known about menstrual cups back then. They've made my periods so much easier! So, maybe just an FYI about that and an offer to get her one if she wants to try it would be appreciated.

Menstrual Cup Livejournal Community
posted by heatherann at 2:30 PM on February 1, 2008

Perhaps this is just me, but I would have found the idea of specifically celebrating my first period unbearably creepy.

Nope, I'm with you. My Mom was very open about sex, menstruation and all sorts of stuff [almost in a TMI way as I now think back on it] and when I got my period I asked her where the tampons were and she told me and I was like "okay good, don't tell dad" (the one who was a lot more private and, to my mind, uptight about such things, always relaying information like "jessamyn shoudl wear a bra now" through my Mom) and she said she probably would but it was okay because she was sure he would never mention it and to this day, he hasn't. It was a perfectly appropriate way to deal with it in my family.

I think a "girls night out" however sounds like it would be appropriate without being "YOU'RE A WOMAN NOW" ominous, not at all lame. Depending on the circumstances on which she has come to live with you, doing something that seemed momlike might be good at a time when her mom's absence might be keenly felt. I don't know about your niece but when I was that age I was really young-feeling and it just made me feel ill-prepared for the rest of my life (knowing I'd have a sex life, knowing I could have babies) and I was a little freaked out with the possibilities.
posted by jessamyn at 2:32 PM on February 1, 2008

if any dads or male relatives are scanning this thread for advice: the best advice i can give you is NEVER LET ON THAT YOU KNOW. gross, i would have HATED that.

if you're a close older female relative, you could explain a few key pieces of advice that i wish someone had given me- or put some of this stuff in a care package:

tampons: they will hurt at first, but in a few years' time, they will probably seem like the most convenient answer. for now, find her some junior tampons- small ones with a smooth, rounded applicator tip- and let her start with those for swimming and gymnastics competitions and stuff. the tip to making them not hurt as much is to change the tampon BEFORE peeing. advise the little applicator-free ones for down the road, since they're the most convenient and environmentally-friendly disposable product. and advise her to change them often- you know, toxic shock, blah blah blah.

as for pads: the cottony-dry covers are far superior to the dry-weave or silky-dry covers. those stay-dry covers are perforated plastic sheets, which are hot, sticky, and uncomfortable, not to mention that they're terrible for the environment. the cottony-dry ones are WAY better. long pads are good for nighttime, probably too bunchy for day. and wings are pretty necessary.

she should always keep a few pads or tampons tucked in her backpack, and some advil- teenage cycles are irregular, better safe than sorry!

if she has cramps, advil and a hot-water bottle will help. warn her about the dreaded Day Two crampathon and stock her up on ibuprofen. exercise makes it better, too.

for stains: pour hydrogen peroxide right on the stain, on both sides if possible- then soak in cold water for a day.

and all big girls should own some comfy black panties for that special week.

personally, i wouldn't have liked anyone making a big deal of this stuff, but i wouldn't have minded a nudge-nudge ladies' night out with my cool older cousin and a trip to buy some new black underwear.
posted by twistofrhyme at 2:32 PM on February 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

Since we're all sharing... For my period I got a speech from my mom about how periods were great, especially as a reminder to women to take care of themselves once in a while instead of only focussing on the people around them. I think this said more about her than about periods. I found out later my best friend got the same speech, which was funny because our moms had nothing to do with each other.

To answer the question- I think a private "way to go!" sock on the shoulder ought to about do it. And maybe an ice cream sundae without any mention of why.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:40 PM on February 1, 2008

Oh yeah- black underwear is a good idea though more for a mom to buy than an aunt, depending on your relationship.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:40 PM on February 1, 2008

Buy her some nice grown up silky pajamas.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 2:41 PM on February 1, 2008

This is such an interesting thread!

To parilous: I think since your niece seems excited and wants to tell people about it (she wanted to tell her teacher, after all!), you could float your idea of a grown-up dinner out at a fancy restaurant--maybe take her to a play afterward if she likes that kind of thing. Or if she had something else she wanted to do, you could do that. I don't think your idea is lame at all, and it will probably be very memorable for her, especially if the night out is just for the two of you. But I think since she is happy and excited about it, it's nice to mark the occasion. You're a lovely aunt to want to do something special for her.

When I got my period I was twelve and NOT happy about it. I felt crampy and terrible; I was embarrassed. I told my mom (she had had The Talk with me a couple of years before) and she was solicitious and caring, but she didn't make a big deal about it. She was just extra nice to me that night and let me stay up late to watch a movie with her and my dad. It was perfect and exactly what I wanted, but I was a shy, low-key kid and I didn't want to tell anyone about it. I realize now she probably told my dad what had happened, but not in front of me, luckily. My dad never said anything about it, and that was just fine by me! (To Argyle: I don't know about your daughter, but I know for me I just wanted my dad to treat me the same way he did before I got my period. I didn't want to be treated as A Woman at the age of 12 just because I'd gotten my period. I still felt like a kid.)

Twenty or so years later, I don't mind if people know I have my period, and I feel perfectly comfortable talking about it with anyone who wants to discuss it with me. It's just a fact of life, though for me a cramp-filled, painful one that I don't enjoy. I've had some wonderful and enlightening conversations about menstruation with my friends. I realize now I was even talking about it with my dad the other day! He didn't die of mortification, and neither did I. But it's really different for a young girl--it's such a confusing, challenging time, adolescence.

[I showed my first-year women's studies class a film called Under Wraps, about how North American culture deals with menstruation. Right at the beginning of the movie, there's a segment about a mom and daughter group holding a "first period, now you are a woman!" celebration party. There are a bunch of 10-13 year old girls, their moms, and some assorted family members like dads and brothers and sisters. Some of the girls in the documentary seemed truly happy and excited about the celebration, but there were a couple who had an "I want to crawl into a hole and disappear" expression on their faces. In the discussion afterward, this segment was the one the students talked about most--a lot of them thought the girls weren't as into the celebration as their mothers were (which is probably true), although some thought it was a good idea because it counteracted the tendency toward viewing menstruation as something to be ashamed of. Overall, I think that this class on menstruation sparked the most discussion of any topic over the whole semester!]
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:41 PM on February 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

if any dads or male relatives are scanning this thread for advice: the best advice i can give you is NEVER LET ON THAT YOU KNOW. gross, i would have HATED that.

I disagree. My dad knew and that was fine by me. It was nice that he wasn't freaked out by it or think it was gross and horrible. He knew, and I knew that it was not a big scary issue for him. If you can treat it like a normal thing and not a taboo or an earth-shattering event, then do that.
posted by heatherann at 2:45 PM on February 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

I'm on the creepy bandwagon. There's so much going on with hormones and peer pressure and crap at that age - why risk making a big deal out of something she could possibly be embarrassed about? How about something more private and just for her? I'm thinking tons of chocolate, ice cream, other junk food, a heated blanket, (as a gift and to help with any cramps, and not so obvious as a heating pad), a good book, and some magazines, even? Given with a quick "welcome to the club, yeah this can suck, but at the least it's an excuse to spoil yourself. Here, i'll get you started...."
posted by cgg at 2:46 PM on February 1, 2008

Please don't do anything weird.

Congratulating someone for getting their period is like congratulating someone for losing all their baby teeth. It's not something she earned.

It's just part of life. Besides, she's probably feeling more self-conscious than proud. I wouldn't say anything about it.

Why do grown-ups always try to make a big deal out of this stuff? My mom would alway talk about how I was her little "beginning woman" (Cue smug grin and fluttering eyelids). Ugh.
posted by mynameismandab at 2:49 PM on February 1, 2008

Another vote for "weird, maybe kinda creepy" and "save the celebrations for actual accomplishments, not stuff that happens all by itself".
posted by Quietgal at 2:49 PM on February 1, 2008

Perhaps this is just me, but I would have found the idea of specifically celebrating my first period unbearably creepy.

posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:51 PM on February 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Loosing my baby teeth was very exciting, plus I got money for them.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:51 PM on February 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm with the people who would have found a "celebration" weird and mortifying. If she's happy about having gotten her period, though, I don't think anything's wrong with a casual, "way to go! I'll take you out for ice cream!" A big "and now we celebrate your WOMANHOOD" thing would have just freaked me out. Also, I'm kind of mystified by all the people in this thread who are saying "now she's a Woman. Welcome her to the world of adulthood." Sure, she's physically a woman. And sure, this is a great time to start preparing yourself for the fact that you'll need to start slowly giving her more freedoms in the next few years, but when I got my period I was in 4th grade, and I would have been terrified if someone had told me I suddenly wasn't a kid anymore. This may be especially true for your niece, who has had more than her fair share of being thrust into "adult" responsibility too early.
posted by MsMolly at 2:53 PM on February 1, 2008 [3 favorites]

You should mark this event. Focus on the aging and not the blood, though.

I must agree with the other edict: Men, NEVER admit to knowing about your tween relative's periods unless she volunteers information.

Let me sidebar here:My mom thought I was bleeding for months before the day came. Once I was futzing about with some lipstick and blotted my lips with a tissue and threw in the toilet. She thought I had my menses and made me wipe myself in front of she and my father to prove her wrong.

On the fateful day, she hugged me. Then the whole family talked about it at the dinner table. I threatened my younger brother that I would reveal he was a bedwetter if he told anyone I was a bleeder.

Don't be my family.
posted by princesspathos at 3:01 PM on February 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

Gods, I hated any mention of "growing up". Like people expected me to not be growing up for some reason, and were surprised when it happened! Not to mention that most of the supposed milestones didn't actually come with more rights, just more pain (11 1/2--doesn't matter if she gushes out blood so regularly that you can set your clock by it, she's not going to be treated like even a young woman).

The only gift I would have appreciated would be those tampons where the applicator is collapsed so the whole thing is about half the size until you open it up to use it (Tampax Compak?)... OK, so plastic applicators are bad for the environment. And the ones that are smooshed up in the packet are ridiculously expensive. But you're clearly not going to survive to the end of the week, so who cares about the future?
posted by anaelith at 3:03 PM on February 1, 2008

Putting tampons in is a learned skill. For god's sake, get her the ones with the applicator and never mind the environmental impact. She can get different ones later.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:06 PM on February 1, 2008

maybe a girls night out, pedicures (which are not specifically a girly thing) and a movie...a supply of advil and a heating pad for cramps. fwiw i was afraid of tampons til I was around 14 or 15
posted by meeshell at 3:21 PM on February 1, 2008

Does no one remember the episode of the Cosby show when Rudy got her first period??????? WOMAN'S DAY, people! Claire Huxtable!!!

Yeah I pretty much agree with the girls' night out. I called my mom all excited (oh, the naivite!) and I think she came home with a fruit tart.
posted by spec80 at 3:23 PM on February 1, 2008

Dunno about the kids today, but I wasn't ready for tampons right away at 11 -- that was way too weird and intimidating and I stick what where?!

I think that a grown-up girls night out would be nice, since she's already greeting the news with excitement. Just no announcing in front of other people.

Me, I would'a died if we had "celebrated" but then again, we didn't discuss this sort of thing in my family at all.
posted by desuetude at 3:46 PM on February 1, 2008

Celebrating (with any kind of party, event, or ceremony) a child's sexual development seems very strange to me. Such a celebration seems to suggest, "I'm so proud of you, you can get pregnant now!"

I think celebrating a first menstrual cycle is on par with celebrating a boy's first pubic hair or wet dream. It's gross to celebrate this sort of stuff.

It seems to me that providing a child with what she needs, hygienically, to cope with this new development, is more than sufficient to mark the occasion.
posted by jayder at 3:47 PM on February 1, 2008

Should'a previewed -- totally concur on the teenager vs woman thing. Oh, and tampon training is traditionally conducted through the bathroom door the summer after your first period when you don't want to miss out on going to the beach. Just a head's up.
posted by desuetude at 3:49 PM on February 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

I'm glad your niece is happy about it. I could not even bear to vocalize it to my mother when it happened to me, and strategically placed my laundry so she'd notice. Any sort of celebration beyond the hug my mom gave me would have been horrible.

Everyone's period is different to some degree, and even hers will change over time. I think it might be good to provide her with choices. For example, a lot of people here are talking about tampons, but some women prefer pads, or the cup as one poster mentioned. If you don't think she'd be embarrassed by receiving hygiene-related gifts (and hopefully you can be certain of this), maybe you could give her a gift basket of sorts, with a variety of things to try?

People are mentioning Advil and heating pads and such, but for me, my period was barely anything for the first year (little did I know that by age 14 I'd be in the fetal position on the floor due to the pain, every two weeks, and brought to the doctor, which was really embarrassing at that age...but I digress). It's nice to celebrate it now, but she might need continuing support if it becomes something bad. I'd suggest that however you approach it now, you try to be sure it's normal enough that she can talk to you about it in the future.

Dads, male family members: I think it depends on the girl. But I could tell that my father was uncomfortable with the topic, and so discussing it in front of him would have made me very uncomfortable as well. So I was glad that he never mentioned it.
posted by veronitron at 3:50 PM on February 1, 2008

Another idea: get her a gift subscription to Seventeen magazine or the like. (If you don't like any of the teenage fashion mags, or if she doesn't, maybe something else of her choosing?)

For a few years I used to get my period and my issue of Seventeen on the exact same afternoon every month. It was awesome.
posted by Metroid Baby at 3:55 PM on February 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

desuetude, that is so true it made me laugh! (Except for the summer part, because I liked to swim and bike ride all the time.)
posted by small_ruminant at 3:55 PM on February 1, 2008

When two girls in my bunk at summer camp got their period for the first time, we threw a "period party", which involved red juice and Gushers fruit snacks. I'm sure you can think of more food items of this sort.

When I got my period, though, my mom slapped me. Tradition, she said.
posted by hopeless romantique at 3:57 PM on February 1, 2008

Upon reading the rest of this thread, bink's mention of slapping was exactly it. And I'm the only person in the thread to mention personal experience. Maybe my mom was just cruel.
posted by hopeless romantique at 4:01 PM on February 1, 2008

I think a nice box of chocolates (adult chocolates, not from the drugstore)...

Oh yes, this is a good idea. Maybe Neuhaus or Maison du Chocolat or... well there are plenty others.

I think discovering the joy of truly fine chocolate is another important step in womanhood.
posted by Evangeline at 4:09 PM on February 1, 2008

think letting her lie on the couch and watch TV tomorrow with a little extra babying from me

Please, no. Having your period is not an illness, or an excuse for sloth. Sure, some women have cramps and it's totally appropriate to go the hot water bottle and anti-inflammatories (and/or visits to the doctor to make sure everything's working as it should) but let's not be medieval about this.

My mother was very excited for me, which was rare, and weird. My daughter wanted no celebration or publicising. There was no "the talk", we'd covered all kinds of biological functions from year dot, so there was no surprise for her (except maybe when she educated the other kids at school, and found out they didn't know this stuff). For my daughter, though, we've celebrated academic achievements, and personal growth (facing a fear of flying, for example). But a biological inevitability? No.
posted by b33j at 4:27 PM on February 1, 2008

just know that it is common after girls get their first period for them not to have another one for a couple of months. Mine didn't come back for 6 months. I was 12 and while I was happy that I was riding the crimson wave; the most embarrassing thing was my mom asking me if I was pregnant.
posted by nimsey lou at 4:39 PM on February 1, 2008

hopeless romantique wrote: When I got my period, though, my mom slapped me. Tradition, she said.... Maybe my mom was just cruel.

Nope--it's not just your mom. according to this essay, slapping a girl upon her first period is a Ashkenazic Jewish tradition. Commenters below note that it is also a Slavic tradition. In the movie A Walk on the Moon, the mother [or is it the grandmother?] does this to the daughter.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 5:40 PM on February 1, 2008

oh my god. i would have been mortified. my girlfriend says she would have been mortified. i didn't even want my mom to know i'd gotten my period and i would have been beyond embarassed if she'd told everyone about it at some sort of part.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 5:47 PM on February 1, 2008

To elaborate on my previous comment: to me, it's just a *private* thing, which is why a celebration would mortify me. It's like, going to the bathroom. Wiping my ass. These aren't things you celebrate. They're things you do on the toilet.

I'm not a terribly private person; not at all, actually. I like talking about sex and my salary and all those kinds of things that some people are uncomfortable talking about. But my period is just ... a mess in my pants, for heaven's sake.

I also didn't celebrate buying my first bra. Now, I'll be happy to chat with you about the sexy lingerie and feathered heels I wear when I have a special occasion, but my first bra was, well, white cotton and nearly flat ... why would I want to squeal about it with anyone?

But I find myself wondering why I wouldn't mind discussion my constipation, or my runs, or why I wouldn't hesitate to jump up and down in public a few times after not going #2 for a few days. *That* is certainly something to celebrate aloud, and it's something I do on the toilet. So there's a disconnect in my own reasoning.

I think it's because I've never been a girly girl. I don't identify with squealing over anything. And celebrating my period just smacks of girls getting together squealing in the dark at a pajama party. Sooooooo not anything I'm into.

So, it depends on the individual, clearly. :)
posted by iguanapolitico at 5:53 PM on February 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

And you know what else: at that age, many girls don't want to have anything to do with their parents (or their parents' siblings) and would think that anything like that was really hokey. So many of us would have had a humongous, eye-rolling, "come ON mom this is so STUPID get OVER IT!" reaction, possibly followed by a door slamming. This kind of girl would not want to celebrate her "coming of age" because she has already considered herself very grown up for quite some time.

If your niece is like that, or if she has more male friends than female friends, my advice is to skip it. :) But I should say, it's a wonderful gesture for the right girl and there are many good ideas in this thread.
posted by iguanapolitico at 6:01 PM on February 1, 2008

My first period was such a non-event that it made me a little sad. I would have appreciated my mother springboarding it into a bonding sort of thing, so I think it's nice that you are thinking of this. At 12, to me, a sort of "grown-up" treat like a pedicure, a slightly fancy lunch, or just a special going out together trip, along with a matter of fact we're-on-the-same-level talk about growing up or practical period advice would have been ideal and would have felt flattering and not at all creepy. I think acknowledging this change is the right idea, and along those lines, I don't think treating her as if she's a bit under-the-weather is really necessary, I mean, unless she actually does have cramps badly or whatever, but I didn't have any pain when I had my period, at least the first couple of years; and striking that sort of note, that a period is an inconvenience, rather negates any positive feelings a girl might have over it, that's she's growing up; it might make "growing up" feel scary or undesirable.
posted by Melinika at 6:27 PM on February 1, 2008

Millionthing everybody else here who said they would have died at the thought of marking the moment of their first period. Me, I waited many months before even mentioning it to my own mom because she is exactly the sort of person who would be on the phone to everybody she knew to spread the news. I realize, this is NOT what you're getting at, but personally, I just wanted to get the supplies I needed and never mention it again.

In retrospect of course, if I had had a 'cool' adult who respected my boundaries and wanted to do something very private and low-key to honor the occasion, that would probably have been okay. Like, share a small glass of red wine, or give a trinket that isn't overtly menstrual-related such as a simple ring or bracelet. Something done once, and not a big deal, I think is perfectly OK.
posted by brain cloud at 6:51 PM on February 1, 2008

Please, no. Having your period is not an illness, or an excuse for sloth. Sure, some women have cramps and it's totally appropriate to go the hot water bottle and anti-inflammatories (and/or visits to the doctor to make sure everything's working as it should) but let's not be medieval about this.

I'm glad someone else brought that up. If she feels funny or unsettled by the sensation and wants to chill out and not move around too much, by all means, have some solid couch time. But I don't think it's healthy to make a big dramatic deal about how horribly uncomfortable it is and how you renders you automatically an invalid.

Cramps don't usually kick in for at least a year or two anyway. And you run the risk of sort of invalidating the experience she is having -- will she wonder if there's something wrong with her or if she was mistaken about whether she's really got her period if she's not in pain? (I know at least two girls who admitted that when they were first menstruating they faked cramps/pretended to be regular -- mom and sisters kept asking, and it was easier to join the Sisterhood Of Complaining than ask if they were normal.)

It's easy to forget how deeply weird it is to be eleven and try wrap your head around the fact that blood is going to drip out of you every single month until you're grandma's age so that if you want to have a baby, you can. It's hard for most eleven-year-olds to imagine having breasts, for pete's sake. Turning seventeen is a hundred years away. It's weirder to wrap your head around all of this while grownups are all doing a terrible job of hiding the fact that they're weirded out about the implications of your impending sexual maturity.
posted by desuetude at 7:21 PM on February 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

Your niece may have read or heard stories about mothers congratulating their daughters when they get their first period, or giving them a small gift. Given her circumstances, I imagine that she probably feels a little starved for maternal attention. Therefore I would err on the side of doing something rather than nothing. If she has the idea in her head that mothers do something for their daughters on this occasion, then she won't feel cheated. If she doesn't have that idea in her head, still no harm.
posted by Enroute at 7:31 PM on February 1, 2008

I didn't even tell my mom for six months, and I would have thought it was way weird if she had wanted a party. She encouraged open communication; I just always found it difficult to share personal information like that.

I think it really depends on the kid. If she came right to you and didn't seem bothered by it, then having a girl's night/welcome to womanhood sounds fine (they did it on The Cosby Show, FWIW). Going out for a special dinner or having a sleepover in (pizza, popcorn, movies in comfy pajamas, chocolate/ice cream) are probably the best ideas.
posted by Cricket at 7:41 PM on February 1, 2008

Soon after my first period (roughly the same age as your niece - and on a festive event at that!) my sister got me a book about feminine health and puberty, geared towards younger teenagers. I'm a bookworm, so I LOVED it, and the book was light but educational reading. That was swell.

As for magazine subscriptions - get her Bust, Venus Zine, or Lip mag (Australian but they'd deliver anywhere). There are plenty of interesting indie zines about feminine health too.
posted by divabat at 9:01 PM on February 1, 2008

My mom didn't say word one to me, and looking back that was really just the first in a long line of times my mom has avoided gaining my trust by just pretending the tough subjects didn't exist.

My advice is: make up a little gift bag for her with some of the ideas above. Give her one of these menstrual cups. And tell her straight-up (and in truth) that if she ever wants to talk you won't tell her dad or your male partner. Don't tiptoe around the subject because that will just foster an atmosphere where she keeps stuff to herself because talking about it would just be too weird. Make it not weird by making it normal.
posted by loiseau at 9:22 PM on February 1, 2008

Wow. Really surprising how icked out people are at any acknowledgment whatsoever.

The girl I was would have liked a little gift -- something small and precious, like a ring -- delivered privately, with significance but not ceremony.
posted by ottereroticist at 9:35 PM on February 1, 2008

I keep getting drawn back to this thread because I'm so surprised at the "ick!" reactions. Most of us who say it's good to acknowledge the first period aren't saying "Put it on a billboard!" We're just saying, if the kid wants dinner or a skateboard or whatever to acknowledge that this is a cool step in her growth, then make that acknowledgement, quietly, as two fellow females.

I'm wondering if this is a generational thing. I'm 46, and the younger women I know are sort of "ick" about a lot of things, periods included. I guess "Our Bodies, Ourselves" isn't on every bookshelf anymore.

(Me, I'm saying "ick!" to the suggestions of pedicures, purses, chocolate, and ice cream. One of my favorite gifts was when my mom brought home a chicken heart from the butcher so I could dissect it. So obviously the gift would have to suit the girl. A cool menarche gift for me would have been a trip to a Greek restaurant for flaming saganaki, then a stop at the butcher for some other fascinating animal part.)
posted by PatoPata at 10:05 PM on February 1, 2008

As a father with a young daughter, this thread is a very depressing read. I always thought it would be the perfect time to let her have a first (small) glass of wine at dinner, just to sort of say, "you're a grown-up now".

As for the lack of effort, of course you don't consciously mature physically but I don't see why you can't recognize it as an important milestone.
posted by stinkycheese at 10:38 PM on February 1, 2008

I think dinner or other special "girls' date" with you and other female relatives she likes would be fun. Not with big speeches about womanhood, obviously, but you already know that.

And this is nerdy I know, but: maybe get her a copy of something like Our Bodies Ourselves, so she has somewhere reliable to turn for questions she doesn't feel comfortable asking you? I'm not saying that this should be a Menarche Gift, but just a quiet "just on the off chance it would be useful" low-key thing.

On the buying-supplies front:
I remember reading a study long ago which said that women pick a brand of tampon or pad etc when they first get their period, and then pretty much never change. That might be a bit different these days, but still -- it would be nice for her to be able to try out a few different kinds of pad or whatever, before she settles on one. Brands of pads do differ markedly in their characteristics. You might get her a 20 pack of several types and let her try them out as she likes.

If you're buying pads but you don't normally here's a tip: buy ones that say "ultrathin" -- these are seriously thin and imperceptible under clothing, but still have good capacity. Ones just called "thin" can be a bit thick, and the ones that are called "maxi" are godawful, like 1/4" thick.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:49 PM on February 1, 2008

And yeah - I do think it would be nice to treat it like a normal "you can ask me questions and I will be low-key about it" kind of thing. Not like a Big Deal Not to be Discussed. My mom, who is wonderful, was always very reserved about it, and I always really wished I had an older female relative I felt I could ask candid questions of. (Like, I desperately wished this. If you have a chance to be that relative, definitely keep that channel open by being cool and treating it like a normal thing, giving her secret period tips like the black underwear etc.)

I do think I would have been embarrassed if my dad had talked to me about it. (Sorry, dads reading this! I adore my dad, and adored him then too, but it's just a temporary awkward time+subject.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:58 PM on February 1, 2008

As an explanation for the ick, does anyone celebrate their son's first wet dream? I've never heard of it. I should ask my boy if he's come on his sheets, and if he has, we can go have a glass of red wine together to celebrate his manhood. Yes, I know menstruation is not the same as nocturnal emission but both are evidence of puberty / sexual maturity.

I know some places celebrate a girl's virginity by having a Daddy/daughter dance where the girl pledges to her father to remain pure until marriage. I find this distasteful because it's almost as if her parents own a girl's right to sexuality.

In this circumstance, the most appropriate thing, I think, is to play it by ear. If the girl is all talkative and excited about, celebrate, sure, why not? If she's the private type, provide her with the information and supplies she needs, let her know you're willing to answer any questions, and leave it alone. It's all about what suits HER, not what most people at metafilter would do. (Oh, and I repeat my plea, to please not medicalise menstruation unless necessary).
posted by b33j at 12:09 AM on February 2, 2008

I would've died of mortification if my mom had acknowledged this "event" in any way. Do fathers take their sons out for a special male bonding meal when their sons' voices first start cracking, or when that first chin hair sprouts?
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:20 AM on February 2, 2008

The day I got my period, I recall that I was proud of taking care of things as Mom had told me where the pads were. Then, I went out riding my bike. It sure wasn't bad that first time. I told Mom when she got home from work and she was proud of me for handling it. She had already embarrassed me about my first bra. She told almost everyone about my first bra and I wanted to just die.

She also understood when my periods did get more difficult for me a couple years later. I would have been totally mortified if we had repeated the bra experience.

I decided on my own to use tampons, for my own convenience. I could read the instructions, after all, and follow them.

As of several months ago, I'm a huge fan of menstrual cups, especially the Diva, so I've talked to my pseudo-nieces about it already with not much luck. Their mom isn't ok with dealing with her own period, so it's an odd thing to deal with.

I guess we all figure out what we're most comfortable with on a month to month basis. It does last for decades, after all.
posted by lilywing13 at 12:34 AM on February 2, 2008

I got my first period while over at a friend's house. My mom picked me up and all I remember is she was pissed because I waited until we were almost home to tell her so we had to turn around and go back to the store for pads because all she had in the house was tampons. *shrug* Personally I didn't use tampons until a few yrs later. I think tampons right off the bat is a bit overwhelming.

Yes, I know that age is difficult but I don't think you have to ignore it. Yeah, periods are a definite pain in the ass but that's part of what makes us women. The blessing and the curse of it. Keep it low-key and let her know if she ever feels uncomfortable talking about things with her mom, you're there for her. And take her out for a nice dinner, just the girls. It doesn't have to be declared a "YAY PERIOD!" party, just an (undeclared, if needed) good excuse for a girls night out.
posted by CwgrlUp at 6:52 AM on February 2, 2008

My mother gave me a cheap little watch that I loved. I was mortified that I started my period and am still glad she didn't make a big deal about it.
posted by whatideserve at 8:45 AM on February 2, 2008

The Cosby Show actually did a realy nice episode about this issue. Here's a thumbnail, but I can't find the video of it-- might be worth searching. It's episode #159, for what it's worth.
posted by nax at 9:11 AM on February 2, 2008

My mom got me a rose and this butterfly thing that hung in my room for years. (A symbol of metamorphosis, she said.)
I was hideously mortified at the time (I could barely even look at the card) but I'm really glad she did it. I also made her PROMISE not to tell my dad, and while I'm sure she did he never let on.

I don't quite know why I was so embarrassed about it--no one ever said it was something to be ashamed of, but I remember reading Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, and being completely unable to understand why they were so excited about getting their periods.

I think the idea of commemorating the occasion in a discreet way is lovely. I would say just make sure you don't tell anyone who will mention it to her--let her decide who knows. At that age it's so easy to get embarrassed!
posted by exceptinsects at 10:39 AM on February 2, 2008

Do fathers take their sons out for a special male bonding meal when their sons' voices first start cracking, or when that first chin hair sprouts?

More like a punch on the arm and a shaving lesson, but yeah, kinda.
posted by desuetude at 10:46 AM on February 2, 2008

Exactly. Sure these things are celebrated. Why not? They only happen once.
posted by stinkycheese at 11:56 AM on February 2, 2008

If your niece seems comfortable with discussing it, why not celebrate a little? I remember the echoing silence in my own big family around topics like this, and I remember how lonely I felt knowing that there was no one who would answer my questions.

If I were making a first period kit, I would include several items mentioned in other responses:
- black or dark-colored undies, yes. During a laundry run with some friends not many years ago, I was amazed to hear that none of them had ever realized what a godsend dark undies are during one's period. Save your niece the learning curve.
- an assortment of pads, minis and such, since many young girls won't want to start using tampons right away. Some brands come in little individually-wrapped packets, which is not environmentally great, but they are mighty discreet and she can toss them in a pocket more easily.
- a small heating pad, maybe a nice reuseable rice-filled one to heat in the microwave.
- maybe a small bottle of non-aspirin pain reliever.
- a non-descript zipper bag with a little handle. You can often find small utility bags in art supply stores, btw, if she would prefer something plain over something frilly.
- definitely a posh box of chocolates, or some other treat that she especially likes.
- an off-hand mention that she can ask you about, y'know, stuff. Knowing there's someone around she can trust to take her questions in stride --- that's the best gift.

Your planned outing to the sundae bar sounds perfect --- a special, slightly adult event, but not so very adult and sophisticated that she feels she isn't allowed to be a kid anymore.

It sounds like you two have a good relationship. Congratulations on that.
posted by Elsa at 6:20 PM on February 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

If I ate unlimited ice cream in the two or three days prior to my period or in the bleeding time itself, my already intense and terrible cramps would be much, much worse. In fact, dairy and meat are things I have to restrain myself around for about a week each month. I can't even begin to imagine an appropriate way to talk about this. I always want cheese on my period, but it's bad news if I do it.

Also, my cycle is 23 days, instead of 28. So might be good to get her a chart right now. Make it clear that it's perfectly ok for her cycle to be irregular, but if she happens to be one of the lucky few who are predictable right off the bat, well, she can know when to plan her beach outings in the summer. With the caveat that the predictability can go right out the window and so she should go to the beach as if she were expecting her period to stroll up and give her a hug in 20 minutes.

Also, one period fact I wish someone had taught me, but in retrospect would have been impossible to broach...Don't jump off high bridges into water with a tampon in. It causes much embarassment! You shouldn't tell her that one now, but if you live in a place where the crazy teenagers celebrate things by jumping off bridges...there it is.
posted by bilabial at 8:12 AM on February 3, 2008

As a father with a young daughter, this thread is a very depressing read. I always thought it would be the perfect time to let her have a first (small) glass of wine at dinner, just to sort of say, "you're a grown-up now".

I would have really liked that. I was sad to learn other girls' parents would actually celebrate it like that. My mom helped me deal with the practical points, no big deal, but my dad's reaction was quiet panic and kind of a weird sense of alienation. He made a remark years later to the effect of, "I'm so glad I'm not a woman, I feel bad for you, having to deal with those periods." You sound like you are different. Please don't let the responses here scare you away from doing something quietly supportive. You know your own daughter best.

My suggestion to parilous is to do something celebratory but not publicly so. Something like going out to a special dinner sounds ideal-- you know what you're celebrating but no one else does. Maybe go shopping afterward somewhere she likes and let her pick out a small gift. I also wasn't very girly and I'm still not fond of shopping for clothes and such but I would have loved going to a bookstore or something.
posted by Tehanu at 10:44 AM on February 3, 2008

Stinkycheese, I totally understand how you feel, and looking back on it now I'm sure my dad would have loved to do the same thing. We have always had a very close relationship and still do, and I'm sure he felt left out.

However, I don't know if I can express to you just how incredibly, amazingly embarrassing I thought all of this stuff was (first period, bra, deodorant, leg shaving, everything). I would have loved to go out for a special meal or be allowed a glass of wine, but the idea that my DAD would even be aware of the EXISTENCE of my vagina was just mortifying. I could hardly even stand my mom knowing.

I hope that your daughter has a better attitude about all this, but lord knows my parents did try--they were very honest and open about everything and never made me feel ashamed. I just managed to do it on my own, somehow.

Anyway, if she does turn out to be the easily-embarrassed type, I think you could still do the commemoration bit, just maybe make it for her 13th birthday or something. I always loved "milestone" celebrations like that, and since we weren't religious we didn't really do them much. If I ever have kids (which is not the plan, but you never know) I would love to invent some ceremonies for them at various ages.
posted by exceptinsects at 5:16 PM on February 3, 2008

its wonderful being a girl an informative video straight from the 70s....
posted by meeshell at 4:38 PM on February 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

Wow. Lots of experience in this thread.

My own father (with three daughters who all got their periods rather late, around 13-14) brought us roses when he came home from work the night of "the event" and it was mortifying. Mostly because he knew and it was obvious that he knew and we were already feeling irritable and crampy.

And his celebration of these events led to one of the most embarrassing moments of my middle sister's life. She got her first period the same day as her first date to the cool jock guy in high school. The roses are there, in a vase near the front door. We all gather around when he shows up to get her, of course, because we want to check him out. The polite young man notices the roses and asks, "Hey is it a special occasion?" Silence. Uncomfortable silence. Until my youngest sister piped up, "Oh, those are for [middle sister's name here]. She became a woman today."

Mortification ensued.
posted by jeanmari at 7:08 AM on February 7, 2008

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