What Do Boys Get?
May 15, 2011
When I was about ten years old my breasts started to develop. They were tender lumps on my chest. When I told Mama that I had sore lumps on my chest she marched me right up to Jo Voller’s house.
Jo was the oldest mom on the street. She had five children, four of them girls. She was a breast cancer survivor and she was menopausal. I stood in her kitchen, a kitchen I visited frequently while playing with the two youngest girls, Terri & Debbie; but this time I was alone with Jo and Mama. Jo asked me to lift my shirt and she gently, yet firmly, touched my growing buds and in a quick moment assured Mama that I was developing normally.
As my breasts grew Mama avoided buying me a bra and I avoided asking for one. Terri, who was two years older, had a training bra. I suppose she was training herself to wear one because there was nothing there to support.
I always knew my parents were growing up along side us kids – they were kids themselves when my brother was born. Mom was straightforward and honest with us, forging new territory in honest discussions of human development. She checked out a book from the library with collaged illustrations for our talk about where babies come from.
When I got my period she gave me a pearl ring – my birthstone is a pearl. When my period came I was so excited and proud. For the year before, every time I got a stomachache I wondered if my period was coming. There was no stomachache or cramps, it just showed up in 7th grade following my first teen party and my first slow dance.
As a single woman in New York I worked at a small location scouting agency. Cece and I forged a close friendship over the years at work sitting next to and across from each other in the small office. We dissected our lives, compared and contrasted our development, our relationships. Cece and I are both middle children – she has two brothers. I have an older brother and a younger sister.
When Cece’s mom told her about where babies come from she briefly described the unfortunate circumstances that would make appearances monthly and devastate most of her life. She took it in and asked her mother “What do the boys get? If I have to have this, what do the boys get?” She was distraught.
Several years later, pregnant with my third baby, I am having dinner with my two girls, Phoebe, nearly ten years old and Chloe, 4. Rob is out for a business dinner. It is a girl’s night. Phoebe tells me her breasts are feeling tender and lumpy. I go to the bookshelf and whip out my latest copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves. There is a lovely illustration of the different stages of breast development. We discuss the development of girls and women’s bodies. They have watched my belly grow, they have both been nurtured at my breasts.
It is a school night, dinner is over and it is shower time. We go together to the bathroom. I turn on the shower, the girls get undressed and Phoebe looks at her nude body in the mirror and says “It is so cool! We get to feed babies with our breasts. We get to grow babies on our bodies. What do boys get? They don’t get to do that!”
The girls get into the shower and I “Yes!” myself for doing a good job. Then I weep that Mama is no longer around for me to call and tell her what I learned from her.