“What’s this?” my seven-year-old son Evan asked, holding up a tampon.
“Can I have some crackers?” my four-year-old son Zack asked at the same time. Like a politician at a press conference, I chose the easier question.
“No, no snacks. We’re just about to eat dinner,” I said.
“What’s this?” Evan repeated, pointing the tampon wrapper at me like he was Harry Potter casting a spell with his absorbent, unscented wand. Expectum answeris!
Of course, their mother was out-of-town for work, so I couldn’t pawn off the question on her. Before she left, though, she’d apparently skipped around the house, tossing feminine hygiene products onto various household surfaces from her woman basket.
Something in the way Evan stood there, pointing the tampon at me in an almost accusatory way, like he knew he was on the verge of discovery and I was stonewalling him, gave me a flashback to when I was a teenager, standing in my parents’ kitchen.
“What’s this?” my mom asked, holding up a tube of K-Y Jelly. I recognized the tube from the glove compartment of my car. As far as I knew, the tube came with the car, like an owner’s manual. I hadn’t put it there, and I’d never really given its origins or intended applications too much thought.
“Oh, that’s the tube from my glove box. I don’t know who put that there. I assumed it had some kind of automotive purpose,” I said. I didn’t know exactly what went on inside a Jiffy Lube, but it seemed plausible they might need some personal lubricant in there somewhere.
“It doesn’t have an automotive purpose,” Dad said, looking at me sideways, with an “I wasn’t born yesterday” look. I think my parents thought I was much better at being a teenager than I actually was.
I never did get to the bottom of what was going on with that K-Y Jelly, but I’m pretty sure my parents never entirely believed me, and I still got tainted with a squirt of suspicion by the whole thing. Stonehenge, what happened to D.B. Cooper, how that K-Y Jelly got in my glove compartment: the great mysteries of our time.
Over twenty years later, another member of my family eyed me suspiciously, sensing that I was weaseling out of giving a straight answer. In retrospect, he might have thought that the tampon was candy, which would explain why he cared so much. The wrapper looked a lot like the wrapper of the good kind of after-dinner mint. He may have thought he’d just hit the jackpot.
“It’s, uh, it’s a thing that women use,” I said, pausing to take a bite of my Oreo, waiting to see if the conversation was over.
“Hey! You said no snacks! You’re eatin’ Oreos!” Zack yelled.
“I’m about to make you dinner, it’s been a long day, and I need the energy. I’m doing you a favor by eating Oreos. The energy from this Oreo is going right back into caring for you. You’re welcome,” I said.
“What do women use them for?” Evan asked.
My brain ran through several possible responses, and it couldn’t come up with a single one that wouldn’t make his head explode.
“It’s a hygiene thing, like soap,” I said, trying to say the most boring possible thing so that the conversation could end, to be resumed in a few years, whenever his health teacher got around to resuming it. That’s why I pay taxes.
“How much time until dinner?” he asked, setting the tampon down and walking toward his Legos. Success!
“It’s not fair that you get to eat Oreos before dinner,” Zack correctly noted.
“You’re right. I shouldn’t have done that. We’ll all have cookies after dinner,” I replied.
As a parent, it’s important to be forthright and fair. But it’s also important to try obfuscating and sneaking cookies first.
You can cast a spell at Mike Todd with the feminine hygiene product of your choice at firstname.lastname@example.org.