It’s early morning on Mother’s Day and Stevie Nicks’ Landslide is playing on the radio as I drive toward LAX to get on a flight home. This moment, punctuated by Nicks’ apt lyrics “Well, I’ve been afraid of changes” provides the perfect capstone to a wild ride of a weekend that culminated in our first LA Dynamo Girl Puberty Workshop. The lyrics inspire me to reflect on the hilarious mistakes, minor humiliations and ultimately, total euphoria, of the past three days. The poignancy of the song calls to mind all the people (strangers and friends) who over the weekend have helped me, supported me and championed me in ways big and small.
I arrived in LA in a haze on Thursday morning and got on the rental car shuttle lugging my overstuffed suitcase filled with scientific diagrams of female genitalia. I picked up my snazzy, free-upgrade rental car and feeling slightly more together, started driving to my first meeting, only to realize that I didn’t have my suitcase in the trunk. And more than that, I couldn’t even recall the last time I’d seen it. Eventually, I remembered that I put my suitcase on the rental car shuttle but did not take it off the shuttle. Doubling back to Avis, I found a bus driver who exclaimed “Oh, you’re that lady!” and promptly radioed to locate my bag, which was cooling it’s heels at lost and found. Suitcase finally and safely ensconced in the trunk of the car, I was back on my way, relieved and totally embarrassed.
At my next stop, not wanting to give up a coveted parking space but needing to pick up two cases of water, I made the mortal mistake of walking to Trader Joe’s and carrying the water back. Accustomed to Fresh Direct deliveries, I TOTALLY misjudged how hard it would be to carry 48 bottles of water a few blocks and was struggling just to make it out of the store. The first person who saw me outside Trader Joe’s offered to help, but in my desire to exude total competence all on my own, I politely declined. With renewed resolve to appear totally in control, I staggered across the street and made it one block with the water. At my next crossing attempt, arms shaking from the weight, I paused to change my grip only to drop both cases of water in the middle of the block against oncoming traffic. A second stranger offered to help me and at that point I realized I couldn’t do it alone. I sheepishly accepted his offer before we both got hit by a car and we made it back to my car unscathed.
When I finally met up with my friend Cara that afternoon I was exhausted and humiliated by my run of mishaps, so of course I had to confess it all to her! She was measured, reassuring and kind, helping me move past my mistakes faster than I would have on my own. Feeling my shame wash away in the presence of Cara’s empathy, I was able to focus and get down to work. The next 24 hours passed in a flash of giddy excitement (and slight nausea) as Mary Pat and I prepared for our workshop, punctuated by my occasional outbursts: Are we crazy to be doing this? And Mary Pat’s consistent: No, we’re not. Over dinner the night before the workshop, I asked my brother: Where does this all lead? And he said: It’s leading somewhere special, it’s just not clear yet.
The morning of the workshop dawned and quite calmly we waited for everyone to arrive. I was thinking back to what had gotten us to this point, 40 parents and girls soon to fill a private women’s club in LA. I felt overwhelmed by my gratitude for the people who had helped make the workshop happen, had vouched for Dynamo Girl, had encouraged their friends to register, had advocated for us to use this beautiful space. Gratitude soon turned to adrenaline as the workshop began and three and a half hours passed in a flash while we joyfully guided the families through the many aspects of girls’ puberty.
All of us accomplished what we set out to do that day: normalize female puberty, find the humor in big life changes and discover the power in knowing our own bodies. At some point during the workshop, I had put an enormous pair of pink underwear on over my jeans to demonstrate to the girls how to put on a sanitary pad and use a tampon. The girls were adamant that I keep the underwear on over my jeans throughout the entire day and who am I to deny them the pleasure of seeing an adult look totally ridiculous? In the closing moments of the workshop, still wearing the underwear, I felt euphoric, like a puberty superhero who was endowed with her superpower by the girls’ excitement and laughter.
For someone who fears making mistakes, who doesn’t like asking for help, who prefers appearing strong and competent at all times, this weekend was a lesson in humility, humor and gratitude. From the rental car staff who found my bag, to the stranger who carried my water, to my friend Cara who told me it would be fine, to Naomi, Katie and Junko who gathered their communities, to Mary Pat who patiently encouraged me, to my brother who lent me a hand in my uncertainty and finally, to the girls who offered up limitless joy, I felt like the luckiest person in LA.
Rather than wearing my mishaps as badges of shame as I originally had, rather than feeling embarrassed that I needed help from strangers and friends alike, rather than hiding my self-doubt about the path ahead, I wore all of those hard feelings like badges of honor. Ultimately, all of those mishaps along the way had given me the courage to stand in front of a room of people I barely knew, wearing enormous pink underwear over my pants. I could convey to the girls, in my willingness to be ridiculous and fallible and full of hope, that they were going to do great on their own bumpy paths. I offered up my mistakes and my self-doubt because God knows they will have their own share of those on the complicated and astounding journey toward adulthood. And I thought maybe, in those turbulent days ahead, when they might feel alone and a little unsure, picturing a woman talking about puberty and cracking them up, will make them feel a little less alone and a little less unsure. And then they will also remember what their parents told them that day: there is no judgment; you can always talk to us; we love you.
Landslide has come to an end and I pull into the rental car return. I triple check that I have my suitcase in hand as I reboard the rental car shuttle to head to the terminal. Secretly, I imagine that I am a puberty superhero wearing my enormous pink underwear, my badge of honor and courage, the girls’ joyous laughter still echoing in my mind.