This morning Elli and I were talking about one of the books she is reading called The Miserable Mill. It is part of the Series of Unfortunate Events series wherein the villain, Count Olaf, repeatedly puts on ridiculous disguises in an attempt to steal the inheritance of three orphans. We were talking about how difficult it would be for Count Olaf to successfully convince people he was female for one of his alter egos and Elli was giggling about his pink nail polish when I mentioned that one of the things that might make this difficult is disguising his adam's apple. Mine is fairly prominent so it would definitely be a thing that would make this sort of disguise difficult for me... among the many other things that make a rail thin 6 foot 4 man look decidedly male.
Suddenly the conversation veered into more interesting territory as talk of adam's apples brought up the term puberty, and Elli asked me what puberty means. As is often the case with these kinds of questions the answers brought up more questions and suddenly I found myself flailing about trying to answer all of the things in just the right way.
It is really important to me to do this right. When I answer questions of this nature for Elli I want to give her accurate information and make sure that I give it in a way that she can understand. I have to tell her the truth so that she comes to understand the subject correctly, which sometimes involves swimming myself around in circles trying to find just the right phrasing.
At any rate I ended up explaining body hair, voice changes, and hips and breast development easily enough but then when I mentioned menstruation I realized I had another whole kettle of fish to deal with. Elli was aware that having a period is a thing but apparently didn't really get that it was something that will happen to her.
No problem. I can give the really fast 3 minute explanation of menstruation on the walk to school, sure! I have to make sure I cover both the reasons (eventual babymaking capacity), the changes that will happen, and also the basics of how you deal with it. Time being an issue, I decided that I would explain maxi pads but not other methods of dealing with menstrual blood - I really want her to understand that there are solutions for dealing with menstrual blood and that while it won't be a party it is a problem society has found tools to deal with. Elli in particular really just needs to know that practical solutions to the concrete problems have been worked out... the existential questions really don't seem to enter into it. (When talking about the remote possibility of Wendy and I dying, she really just wanted to know for sure that somebody would come pick her up and take her to her aunt and uncle's place to live; she wasn't especially fussed about the deaths themselves.)
Unfortunately for me the conversation kept unfolding and new angles continued to pop out. Elli said that she didn't want to menstruate... which I hadn't really mentally prepared for as an objection. I mean, sure, I don't want to menstruate either, but somehow that wasn't the thing I thought she would say!
My response was reasonable but uninspired, since I mostly just said that yeah, it can be a scary thing, it is a while off, it will end up being fine, but it is not something you can get out of. All of which is true, but perhaps I should have found a more elegant answer.
Before I dropped her off she came out with the final tangent, saying that she doesn't want to have her hips change because she wants to stay skinny.
Suddenly I needed to deal with the topics of body image and the pressure to be thin and coping with changes to one's own body and these aren't easily covered by one line answers! Unfortunately by this point we were already at school and she was off, lacking any particularly insightful answer to her final statement.
I have all these great speeches in my head, ready to give to her, and she just ends up packing so many questions into a tiny timeframe that I can't give all the speeches as the opportunities present themselves. Somehow in my brain when these learning moments happen I have lots of time to pontificate at length, to take my leisurely time in teaching her the things she needs to know.
But in real life she pops off a question without a thought, gets a response that is squeezed for time and space, and sometimes just doesn't even listen to it very much. She, after all, has much less of a sense about which of her many questions are the ones I deem important to get just right.