Category Archives: Father

Girl Talk!

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Let’s go back for a moment to my 6th grade class. It’s in one of those bungalows set high above the asphalt so no one but the principal can see inside. If he’s riding a horse.

Thirty six sweaty kids hurry to finish their spelling assignments so the boys can go out for a rousing game of basketball. The girls will stay inside for “Girl Talk!”

When the teacher got her brainstorm and started Girl Talk!, everybody had to get permission slips signed. The boys so they could have an extra hour of PE every week, the girls so they could discuss the mysteries of poo-ber-tee. That’s what Mrs. Forrest called it, anyway. With her face screwed up like she’d got lemons in her mouth.

When she makes the announcement that Tuesday will be Girl Talk! day, the class explodes–boys guffaw, arms flail, they fall off their chairs, and girls giggle themselves to tears.

From This...

From this…

The whole thing was sparked by the observation that some girls were wearing heels far too high for health (it was the go-go boot era), and some had gotten bras. Whether they needed them or not.

This did not describe most of us. Or me. The worst of it was that the girls who talked to the cutest boys (the ones with Donny Osmond hair), were the ones already beginning to “develop.” Like Polaroid film, I guessed. The kind my dad used to shoot pictures of naked ladies before he painted them. I knew all about that. They had breasts, but then they weren’t in sixth grade. The rest of us were. Goofy. With braces and headgear.

The boys elbow and snicker their way through the door as the teacher’s pet, a little thing not four feet tall (she didn’t have go-go boots), stands on a chair and reaches high to write our topic on the blackboard in big, embarrassing letters: Girl Talk! Every third boy in line bends over as he passes, miming a look under her skirt. Thankfully, she had no idea.

The permission slips were bad enough. Everybody saw those, from old Mrs. Ross in the office where they got mimeographed, to the hippie janitor, Fred. And I just knew Mom would tell my dad about “Girl Talk!” No mother-daughter secrets here. No implicit understanding that some things are simply too embarrassing to be borne. And what if she said puberty? To my father?

I was mortified. But utterly fascinated, if truth be told.

What was this business about seeing whether or not a No. 7 pencil would stick under your breast to prove you deserved a bra? What the heck was a cup size? Why, in this upside down world, was it suddenly better to have a “C” than an “A” in anything? And when would I get a waist? I sometimes fiddled with a tape measure, but it just slid down my seat when I followed the directions on a sewing pattern to get a “high hip” measurement.

So far as periods went (I refused to even think men-stroo-a-shun), the idea was frightening. Tentative explorations down there hadn’t yet yielded a vagina. Oh god. Maybe I didn’t have one. Could I ask when we talked about tampons? Would we talk about tampons? And what if I didn’t have one? That would be fine with me, but would Mrs. Forrest send my mother one of her famous notes? Only this time it’s not about refusing to play tetherball, but: “Mrs. Boyle, I’m sorry to say your daughter has no vagina. She is dismissed from class until she gets one.” It’s no surprise we all awaited puberty with angst. Especially me. My mom was going to tell my dad I had no vagina. I suffered agonies.

But waited breathlessly for breasts and bras. Mom insisted I didn’t need a brassiere, and that was the end of that. Of course I didn’t. I was twelve years old and built for speed. And for awhile I was on a swim team. Which only enhanced my metabolism to the point I’d probably never need one. If I’d known then what I know now about the dampening effect of athletics on female development I’d have quit in a minute. I was so desperate I wouldn’t even have minded one of those goofy training bras. They were kind of pretty, though universally sneered at because their cups weren’t sized A through C, but were simple flat discs of stretchy lace.

To this in one semester.

To this in one semester.

I learned later my best friend (whom my mother chose because she got straight A’s and would be a good influence), found the whole discussion so distasteful she decided to divorce herself from it. She stopped eating to get rid of her breasts (Mom was right–my friend was a helluva lot smarter than me). No bras for her, thank you very much. And none of the misery of modeling one in front of her mother. She’d just reverse the process and not be bothered. I saw her years later when she was little more than a shadow, having reversed herself right back to 72 lbs.

I was thirteen when my grandmother came to the rescue. We were shopping and passed a rack of training bras. The flat, cup-less, lacy kind. I couldn’t help but look. Mom didn’t notice, but Nana pulled me back and started thumbing through them. “What about this one?” she asked. “So dainty. And much more modest than being all bare under a shirt.” In a single moment my mother became a convert. Without realizing it–or maybe she did, being a teacher (one of the good ones) from way back–Nana helped the two of us breach a wall that had existed for years.

I don’t know what happened to the friend who was so put off by puberty that she figured a way around it, but her specter haunts me. While I was anxious but enthralled, she was utterly disgusted. A deadly brew when combined with control issues and shame. It’s something I try, try, try, to keep in mind when dealing with women. The younger ones, the ones in the middle, and the ones after that. Each one is a unique individual with her own fears and anxieties, realistic or not.

So I get new breasts (today, September 11, yay!) And when I’m all healed up, I’ll get new bras. Doctor’s orders. And I don’t have to do chemo. I won’t wear underwires ever again. I am one lucky gal. As a fellow blogger said: “See you on the other side!”

(Love and kisses to all of you.)

Empowered Blogger

Treat your children well…

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I don’t know what I was expecting going into this Angelina Jolie-breast-preservation-mastectomy thing. Or maybe I do, if I get honest. I think I was expecting to look and feel pretty much like I did before the two, Two, TWO surgeries in one. Yeah, the Wrigley’s gum commercial dates me. I’m speaking of mastectomy followed immediately by “reconstruction.”

I’m feeling stupid because I let myself believe reconstruction meant restoration. They’re not the same. I’ve got what pass for breasts (very nicely, under clothes), but are really nothing but foobs (fake boobs, previously discussed). Kinda awful to look at without the clothes. They’re shaped by triangular-ish plastic inserts with a port for sequential infusions of saline. They could be made really, really big if I was into that sort of thing and wanted to lose the use of my right arm. More on that in another post.

And you know how they find the port to do the infusions? (Boy, what an education this has been.) With a stud-finder. Now that got my husband’s attention. He has mostly averted his eyes from the foobs, but pull out that stud-finder and he’s Johnny on the spot. It is kind of interesting. The expanders can shift, and they do, so the ports have metal in them to help with detection. Out comes the stud finder, for every infusion. First to “X” the spot, and again to check right before they stick the needle in. My doctor’s stud-finder is blue.  Hmmm.

Wall sculpture

Does she, or doesn’t she?

Weird as it is, the process works, even if the result doesn’t look quite right and the “foreign body sensation” means they’re always on my mind. Always. It’s like having something in my eye. I feel them moving against my chest wall, and I can’t keep my hands off them. I’ve had to tell my husband to poke me if he sees me holding my chest in public. The edges of the expanders wrinkle and flex just like an IV bag. Or a flattened beach ball. The ports feel exactly like the squeaker in a dog toy, only harder, and the right one hurts from the inside when I lift something and my pecs flex. You wouldn’t believe all the little things we do without thinking that require pectoral muscles. Opening a mayonnaise jar, for one.

In the mirror (and I’m always looking in the mirror), I’ve got mounds. And that’s what they’re called in surgical parlance. “Breast mounds”. Don’t know how I feel about that. I get the mental image of a bunch of men in lab coats thoughtfully considering the desirability (in one way or another) of various breast shapes and how to achieve them. I joke with the nurses that in terms of shape, my left one is Mt. Ranier and the right one, the one that gives me trouble pain-wise, is Sugarloaf. I actually like Sugarloaf better when I look down and compare the two, but they’re certainly not the breasts I’d grown to know over time. The ones the surgeon frowned at for their degree of ptosis (read sagging).

I was never taught to appreciate what I had while I had it, as I imagine many of us find, plodding through life. In the words of that gawdawful song, “you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone.” I’ve got old photos that catch half of me sitting naked on our porch in California (because that’s what we did in California), and wonder why the hell I ever hated my little booblets. Or my not-quite-flat stomach. Or my skin that wouldn’t tan. They were fine. They were lovely. But nobody told me so because that’s not what’s done in our world.

In our world–the world of women anyhow–there’s always room for a lot of improvement. And when I was  kid, I was one of the many victims of the depression-era hangover that said children shouldn’t be encouraged. Certainly not about body-related stuff. The closest I ever got to a compliment from my mother was, “there’s nothing wrong with you–you’re not deformed.” This in response to my teenaged despair about never finding pants long enough outside the boys’ section of the store.

My dad was better, always ready with a “don’t you look nice” at odd times and when I got dressed up. Much of his life was spent around female models, and he did them the favor of always being professional, never making comparisons, and as I mentioned in another post, never “improving” on them in paint or bronze. He also didn’t make the mistake of being afraid to include me in his life or touch me once I reached puberty.

I’m glad I took photos of myself before surgery, because even at 53, even with “ptosis,” my breasts were still lovely. Not because they met media criteria, but because they were mine, they were intact, and I was used to them. And for most of my life they weren’t diseased.

These new things, these foobs, aren’t mine yet. I’m reminded every time I lift something that they aren’t breasts, they’re pectoral muscles. They clench. They spasm. They can be seen doing so under the skin. My skin is stuck to them. But only just. Skin without fat under it is thin. Transparent, really. Foobs are a constant reminder that man cannot improve on divine intent, evolution, or whatever it was that got us here.

But I’m going to have to develop some affection for these poor, benighted things, as they’re being asked to do what muscles were never meant to do–masquerade as fat. And I’m going to have to do all the exercises the physical therapist prescribed if I hope to get strong enough to stay up all night and catch babies.

The plastic surgeon tells me I’m not a “high needs” patient–the kind we health care providers all know and dread because they can’t be helped–yet I certainly feel like one. I’d kind of like to be one. I have no reason to keep going to his office,  but the support from the nurses there makes me miss having an appointment every week. What a catch-22. Something helps, yet availing myself of it feels wrong, or weak, or…well, just weak.

Foobs aren’t exactly trouble-free. I still have pain when I first wake up and the continental plates shift across my chest. Then there’s the end of the day when I just can’t stand myself any more. Fatigue hits like a ton of bricks when I’ve simply pushed a cart around the grocery store. My brain functions like Swiss cheese. Honestly, NOBODY would want me delivering their baby right now. But I feel like I should be better than this. I just know my friends would be stronger–they’d be done with it all and probably back at work again, ignoring the fatigue. Like midwives always do. Like women always do.

It scares the hell out of me, but I’m going to do the polar opposite of what my work ethic wants. I’m staying home until all this is over with. You’re all invited to join me.