Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Post Colonial Menstrual Syndrome: A Period in my Life

Post Colonial Menstrual Syndrome: A Period in my Life
A Short Essay By : Me

" I didn't know, no one ever talked to me about that" 

It clicked. A few months ago when I was having a conversation with my mother and her girlfriends about my generation of Nigerian Black Americans. We were discussing relationships and gender roles and dating. I realized at that moment how much alike yet how much different my mother and I were. I wanted so bad in that moment to travel back in time and be with the younger her: 20 something, size 4, flat-chested, teeny weeny fro, high yellow young woman. Sometimes I become so wrapped in what I did not get, what I did not learn, what I did not know that I never ever take the opportunity to ponder on what it was like for her. 

" No one ever talked to me about sex" My mom repeated. " So how was I to talk to you about dating/relationships/your body". I gave you the knowledge I had. This is the story of an immigrant woman in a foreign land trying to get by. There were just certain topics that were never discussed in most Nigerian households and this was one of them. I know 30 year olds who have never once talked to their parents about " it". And I wondered if our parents were too ashamed or just didn't have the dialogue to discuss things like this. I wondered if it had always been this way or if this mindset was a byproduct of Eurocentric sexuality and shame. I had wondered how did my mother's great-grandmother discuss these things. 

As I get older, I discover more and more about my mother. I wonder if she's happy. I wonder if she's content. I wonder if she's satisfied with the life she has lived. I am an outspoken black woman and there isn't a day that goes by that I don't experience a micro-aggression. There isn't a day that goes by and I don't question my existence. There isn’t a day that goes by that my sanity is not rocked. And I wondered how it was for her to experience so many different things and never have the dialogue or space to discuss it. I wondered if she and her girlfriends ever discussed the trauma they experienced traveling to foreign country and starting all over. I wondered if they talked about it, laughed about it, or just prayed through it. I just wondered if she ever felt isolated in her thoughts but felt pressure from her family and community to just " push through it". 

My mother is the eldest of over 15 children. She is the rock of her family. She was the first person in her family to immigrate to America and she was able to bring all her siblings over after some years. I cannot phantom the level of strength she had/has to continue to exist and thrive. 

I remember when I was 9. Yes 9. I was in the fifth grade. Usually, girls get " sex education" in the 4th grade because that is the time some girls begin puberty. I remember being so nervous and so embarrassed to have my parents sign the permission slip for me to attend. But I am glad they did because I don't know how else I would understand the things that were happening to my body and the thoughts that were running through my brain. 

So back to when I was 9 in the 5th grade. Because of sex education in 4th grade, I knew all about pads, tampons, cramps, acne, deodorant, etc, etc, etc. I had read " Are you there God, it is me Margaret” by Judy Blume. That was my favorite book for almost all my life. I remember doing the " I must, I must, I must increase my bust" exercises before bed. I remember reading the whole baby-sitters club series and wondering when I would fall in love and be able to charge money for baby-sitting. This was my entrance into white America. My parents were immigrants from one of the most colonial washed countries, Nigeria. 

I am very much like my father also. He loved history. He loved culture. He loved tradition. But there was always something more exciting to him and my mom about education according to " white people standards". I am sure they did not realize it and I am sure they did not know. After all, they were doing the best they could with what they knew. And what they knew was that all you have to do is go to school, get good grades, and go to college and you'll fulfill the American dream. They even moved us out of the "hood". South- Central LA to the suburbs. Here, we would be safe and we would compete against the best of the best of the best. Because they made it and so could their children. The American Dream. Funny because my parents had been in America for over 25 years before they even thought to get their citizenship. I could tell they struggled with their identity just as much as I do. I could tell that they were frustrated with the fact that they never went " back". Nigerians love to convince themselves that one day. One day. That big house they built in their village would be occupied with them and their children. But we all know that isn't the case. 

I still don't know how they completely feel about leaving everything behind and being in a foreign country for over 35 years now. I am not sure they talk about it often. Or maybe they do amongst themselves or with their friends when I am away at school. But I just wonder if they feel any type of way that certain conditions were imposed on their country that made them value western education and pushed them to come to America to fulfill the “American dream”. 

Anyway back to 5th grade. I remember I was nine-years-old. Yes 9. And I had finally gotten my period. You know my period. With a big dot. Not a small dot. The way they talk about it at school and books, a young black girl would think she should get a celebratory party. It was that thing that all the girls would talk about. Constantly going to the bathroom checking their cotton underwear for something...anything. Drops or puddles. A sign of womanhood. And here I was at 9 and I had finally gotten it. The dot. Not the small dot. The big dot. 

I was a shy kid. I am still very shy, contrary to popular opinion. Or rather I am an introvert. I deal with things internally. So it takes a lot for me to express myself in words that make sense. I am so much better at expressing myself on paper than I am vocally. I just get so much anxiety talking about personal things with other people face to face. To add on top of that, my hands are naturally sweaty. I get massive puddles of sweat in my palms when I experience anxiety. As I get older, I am finally coming to terms with my introversion. So at 9, to tell my mother I got my period was kind of a big deal. I mean I was 9. Who on God's green earth got their period at nine? I mean I had armpit hairs and pubs but I was 9. 

One day ( maybe a day or two after I started) , I gathered enough courage to go to my mom and tell her what was happening. Mind you, I was a momma’s girl. I was always at my mom’s hip sucking on my thumb and pulling on my ear in silence. I followed her everywhere. So it wasn't that we didn't have an open relationship. It was just... I was young and for lack of better words, I was living in a Nigerian Household and we don’t talk about things like " that". There are just certain things you don't discuss. 

Weirdly enough, I have a sister who's 7 years older than me. I shared a room with her for most of my childhood and I don't know why I didn't think to tell her. Anyway so I walked to the " big room" which is the big extra room upstairs in my house where we hang out. And I told my mom I started my period. Now Nigerians or probably most of the world do not use the term "period". They say menstruating. So off top, my mom was confused. I told her, I have blood on my underwear. I am bleeding. She was in awe/shock. I mean I was 9, how else would a mother react. 

She didn't believe me. She told me to wait a day or two and if it persist that I should come and tell her. 

I came back and told her a day or two later, I cant remember. I think by that time she had already talked to my sister and my sister explained to her that the hormones and everything in our food is causing girls to get their period earlier. She told me to bring my underwear and show her. I showed her. I was clear in the red. I don't think she said anything after that. I don't think she understood what was happened. Nor do I think she knew what to say. I don't remember exactly what happened as this is one of my most suppressed memories. 

My expectations did not match up with my reality. In the books, the little white girls always had big celebrations and parties with big cakes. It was like a secret society. I did not get that. Now that I am older I don't care. I think it’s completely ridiculous what those books teach you about girlhood and womanhood. Or maybe it’s only ridiculous because I read little to no books about little black girls navigating through life. 

I remember that night my mom came to my room before I was about to go to bed. She started to say something. I remember a little. She said, " You are now becoming a woman. Menstruation means you can now have babies. " I screamed and covered by ears, " I know I know I know mommy" " Leave me alone, get out! " I had to be the most awkward person on this earth. I don't know why I did that. Maybe I was just so embarrassed, awkward, and shy. I just didn't want to talk about it especially with my mom. After all, I had an older sister who I could ask questions to anytime. 

To this day, I wonder what my mom would have said to me if I had let her talk. Maybe I would be a different person. Maybe I would have gotten over my awkwardness and my inability to talk about personal things with my mom and others sooner. I have no idea and I don't think I will ever know. I don't think my mom had in her head any type of " birds and the bees" talk. Nigerians don't do that. I am sure she would've given me some generic run down of what I had already learned at school. But how great would it have been if I heard it from her. Maybe her talk would've been ten times better than all of Judy Blume's books. Nothing about Judy Blume's books was my reality. Nothing about the Baby-sitters club series was my reality. It is no wonder young Nigerian girls have such a distorted view of reality. These are one of the mysteries of my childhood that I feel had a great impact on me. 

Weird I know. Small I know. But I know my mom was just doing the best she could with whatever she knew. After all, nobody told her about some of the things I was able to learn about at school and on the web. Next time I talk to my mom I am going to ask her if she remembers this incident. I want so badly to get in her head and know what she's thinking at all times. I think my mom is a very interesting person and there are so many stories she has not told me. I wonder a lot about my mom and so many other Nigerian women who immigrated here. I wonder about all the things that run through their head. I wonder how they feel about always being taxed to be strong and hold it together. I wonder how many tears of frustration and fear they have had to held in and swallow. I wonder so much about them and I know they sometimes wonder about us. Their young daughters navigating through the world fiercely. They created monsters. Unapologetic Nigerian girls that are defying every societal norm and I think it frightens them sometimes. To the point of resentment, for most of them didn't get the freedom to think and rebel like we do. 

One day I will write a Book of Rose. Stories dedicated to and of my mother. 

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