Yesterday evening my older daughter was fidgeting at the dinner table. "What's up?" asked my wife.
"No! I don't want to talk about it!" was our daughter's uncharacteristic response.
We asked a few friendly questions, and she quickly revealed that while she was visiting a friend they'd spent some time exploring one of those "Oh, The Changes You're About To Go Through" books. I was grateful for my wife's presence; I've handled some of those questions in the past, but the girls take greater comfort from her answers than they do mine. And so they should.
My daughter was duly freaked out by the spectre of the menstrual cycle and the various apparatuses associated with its accommodation. She was less than thrilled to be facing this change from little girl to young woman. And after she and her friend had looked at the book, she said, "We wrapped it in a blanket and threw it in a corner of the room!"
I can certainly sympathize. Hell, I can empathize: I'm reluctant to see her change, too. I remember holding her just a few days after her birth, staring at this new creature and thinking, "She's already changed! This is all happening too fast!!"
This is all happening too fast. Even the changes occurring in my own body are taking place at a faster rate than I care to acknowledge. And where can we turn for a little perspective? People my age don't get reading material that's as revolutionary as what our children are reading; we get pre-digested bulletins. You're body is changing, but you can slow it down a bit if you go for a daily walk and maintain a high-fibre diet, buttressed by fish-oil and green tea. Hardly the sort of clarion call my daughter is hearing: Get Ready For Puberty!
I can remember reading those books at roughly her age. I felt some of that same mixture of fear and anticipation, but mostly I remained confused. Forewarned is forearmed, but information is a far cry from actual experience and the latter eventually brings some degree of ability if not actual comfort.
But when it comes to adulthood, can experience alone generate this familiarity and comfort? I'm not so sure. This year, aside from receiving the usual updates about the Disappearing Generation (now almost gone) I experienced the loss of two friends. I've watched my daughters grow silent as they grow up, cultivating their inner life and acquiring the necessary secrets. I want to believe I'm not growing strange myself, but of course I am changing, too. As I've hobbled around this house and yard, occasionally putting a hand to my bowing gut or disappearing chin, I've been forced to admit that acquiring a sense of humour about this particular phase in life is proving to be more elusive than I'd anticipated. You'd think spending my birthday ingesting antibiotics while sick in bed might help me get some perspective. Indeed I'd say I received, to quote David St. Hubbins, "Too much!! Too much @*%#ing perspective!"
So what's my next Book of Secrets — the book I don't just push away, but actually try to hide from myself? Does it even exist, or is it up to me to write it?
Do I even want to write such a thing? Or is that even a choice that any of us faces? Our lives are bracketed by circumstances and events. We write what we can in the spaces between. We write with fear and laughter ... or we don't write at all.
Is that it? Or is there some element lurking here that I'm deliberately avoiding because I've already wrapped it up in a blanket and stowed it away?