Two weeks ago, I attended the 10th anniversary of "The Vagina Monologues" in New Orleans. The entire weekend was an anniversary celebration of the first performance of the show and was a vehicle to bring awareness to the issue of violence against women, raising money for charities that aid in this fight.
That sounds all well and good but actually attending "The Vagina Monologues" wasn't something I ever planned on doing. Attending "The Vagina Monologues" with my mother never even crossed my mind. As it was, my presence there only occurred because I "accidentally" said the word "vagina" the first time I ever did a radio show. My mother was so proud I pronounced it correctly and used it in proper context that she popped up four days later with two tickets and a hotel room on reserve. She's a good mom like that.
After several weeks of processing my experience, I came to understand that each woman has her own "monologue" of the day she became aware of actually owning a vagina and the best way to honor the show is to tell your own. And mine is just begging for a telling.
It happened in the bathtub. This "telling" was preceded by the 7-year-old me—blissfully unaware that she even had a vagina—being caught by the neighbor lady peeing in the bushes, stark naked beside four of the neighborhood boys and my brother. We were swimming away a lovely July day in the lake behind their house. And, while I'm still not sure why peeing in the lake was not the first option that came to mind, stripping off my bathing suit, standing beside the boys and peeing in the bushes seemed totally natural at first try.
Growing up I was never blessed with a large group of female playmates, resulting in my being a stubborn tomboy who wasn't really aware there was a difference between genders. That is, until Mom's intimation in the bathtub the night following the "Peeing In The Bushes Incident of 1983." This intimation included the suggestion that maybe I shouldn't pee outside naked anymore. I was properly incensed.
The liberty to pee outside without taking a break from a seven-hour summer play day was one I planned on keeping. I saw no good reason to give up this privilege until my mother used "the word." Although, I will admit she tried to start the conversation without actually saying it.
I believe she actually stuttered as she started: "S-see, you are a girl and … and, well, it's not proper for you to take your clothes off in front of the boys." This halting speech gave cause for immediate concern as my mother was the kind that always knew exactly what cream to put on scraped knees and the proper bottle-feeding of wild rabbits. I could tell that my questioning look told her that she was going to be forced to tell me why it wasn't proper to be naked outside, and how peeing in the bushes produced any feelings other than the normal ones of pure dizzying relief that usually accompany emptying an extra full bladder. I was 7 years old after all, and there must be a why, right?
"See, you have a vagina," she said, enunciating the word as she pointed to the crack between my legs.
"A waggina?!" I asked, immediately frightened. Good Lord, here I am dropping my pants in front of God and the whole neighborhood, obviously deformed, and this woman has never deemed it important enough to inform me that I have something called a waggina that other people shouldn't see, and that is quite possibly a life-threatening disease—from the sound of it.
My mother, recognizing I was upset, immediately clarified her statement: "No, you have a V-A-G-I-N-A. I have one, too. It is what makes you a girl. The boys have a penis. It is what makes them a boy."
I was very confused. Until this revelation, I thought boys were boys simply because of their penchant for killing ants and building forts. I never mused that it had something to do with the pointy thing they pulled out of their pants and used to water the bushes. That thing was simply funny. Now my mother was telling me this thing was important. In fact, it was so important that I couldn't show my waggina anymore because the boys were all walking around with a wenis.
Just another stroke of bad luck, I thought. Here I am with this crack I've been entertaining as normal all these years, and it only takes one bathroom break in a backyard down the street before all my hopes of running and screaming with the boys and their wenises are down the drain, and I'm stuck here with this waggina thing that obviously makes my mama extremely uncomfortable.
And, with that one dizzying thought, the 7-year-old me realized I couldn't play with the boys anymore—at least not like I used to. All that time spent free-wheeling on my bike would now be spent carrying a hyper-awareness of my waggina and hiding it from the world. In the fundamental biblical notion of Eve, I had just left the garden and been issued my first fig leaf.
It was, all in all, a very unsettling bath.
I don't know how this memory is one my brain decided to keep after 25 years of more complicated ideas and interactions. But, I do know that after seeing "The Vagina Monologues," I'm not as angry about having a vagina. I finally realized that my mother—after 25 years—was just excited I pronounced the word correctly. You see, she knows that one day I will have the "Vagina Conversation" with my own kid—the conversation that becomes the monologue of each woman; the monologue we should treasure and laugh about and tell to others because it is such an important part of who and what we are.
I'm much happier with my "waggina." In fact, I'm so much happier with it that I just might take up peeing outdoors once again.
Just don't tell my mother.
:) And since I don't get to talk to my friend since we are so busy! These two came to mind in our discussion of motherhood and wagginas:
I had the "birds and the bees" discussion with one of my foster kids yesterday. I said the word 'vagina' four times. She was totally grossed out.
I fully exect my mother to show up sometime soon and say, "I NEVER STUTTERED."
- Lori G
Hmmmm, very interesting. I can't remember not being fully aware of my "waggina". I don't think my mother ever had to explain to me what it was. But then I did have two older sisters who had many discussions about boys which probably gave me a heads up on the difference between us and them. What a relief if must have been to my mother to only have to endure that conversation once with my oldest sister.
Good one Lori!
That's a sweet story. When I was a kid, I couldn't pronouce the male genitalia correctly. I said "peener." Maybe because it rhymes with weiner? I'm not sure.