When Drama Girl was six, we were visiting my parents in Tennessee, and had stopped at a diner that paid homage to Elvis.
"Who's that," she asked, pointing to one of several pictures of Elvis, this particular one being in our bathroom stall.
"That," I said, "Is the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley."
I may have been a bit dramatic, but we were in Tennessee after all. And who doesn't love Elvis?
She was entranced. Riveted by his looks, as so many women were. His eyes twinkled from the picture. So, I ruined the moment. I'm a mom. It's what I do.
"He's dead now," I said. "He died a long time ago."
Drama Girl looked visibly sad. She'd never heard his music, but seemed to sense from one picture in a bathroom stall the magic that he was in life, those years ago.
"How'd he die?"
Well, this was the tricky thing, really. She's six. I could lie. I could tell her he had an accident. I mean, she was ONLY six. But one of my fears in life is that I would be one of those moms that never talked to their kid about anything, or worse, one of those moms who sit their kid down at 13 and tell them EVERYTHING. Too much too fast is as useless as not at all.
"Well, he died from DRUGS. He had a problem, he took drugs he didn't need and one day, he took too many by accident, and he died." I looked at the picture in our stall. "In his bathroom."
Drama Girl looked at me with wide eyes.
"In his bathroom?"
"Yes, he passed out, because the drugs had made him sick."
"Drugs killed him?"
"Drugs are bad for you?"
"VERY bad for you, except the ones your doctor tells you to take, for medicine, but you only take medicine the right way. But yes, drugs are bad for you."
"Yeah, because they KILLED Elvis."
"Yes, they did."
And thus began the dialogue between Drama Girl and I about drugs. It was light, really, drugs was a word that represented something 'bad' and 'dangerous' at first, and as she became older, the talks became a bit more specific. You can smoke it. Your friends might try it. It's bad for you like smoking. It looks harmless, sometimes like an asprin, but it's really not. Never take medicine from your friends, you know the talk. It's the talks the parent moms and dads on television have with their kids. Always in casual moments, never out of the blue, just consistent reinforcement of the same message.
I believe in these talks. I believe they are her best defense against drugs and peer pressure. We'll have more talks, too, and I hate them, I really hate having them. I hate telling her about the darker side of life. But I have to. We've talked about stranger danger. I've even gone through scenarios with her, based on her 'what if...' questions. And I challenge her with my own... 'what if someone asks you for directions, to help find a puppy, the way to the school, knows your name...' It's not fun, I hate that the world isn't safe enough for her to go out without having to be somewhat savvy, but it's not, and she must be prepared as much as she can.
Our latest talks were on the changes she was going through. Drama Girl is going to be eleven soon, and we had to buy her, well, bras. At first she was excited, but then the constant necessity of wearing either a bra or a thick camisole, depending on the shirt, has begun to annoy her. I have to remind her every other day. We talked about 'periods' because I know soon she'll either learn it in school or well, have it. I had the mental image of my daughter beginning for the first time, not knowing what it was because I never told her, screaming in the bathroom. She'd then hold a grudge against me for months, after the horror and tears faded. She's not called Drama Girl for nothing. I remember my first time. I thought I had a cut. Yeah, I wasn't really bright back then.
All of the time I talk to my daughter, she's responding, talking, asking questions, and I hide my twitchiness, my innate desire to have her magically become a woman without having to tell her the hard things, by cooking, cleaning, playing with my hair, playing with her hair, anything, and all the while, I'm watching her, listening to her, because I don't want to tell her too much, too fast. From her reaction I can tell she isn't ready to talk about sex, which is fine with me, but I did tell her the biology of it. Frankly, I'm surprised one of her friends already hasn't. But then I dropped it. She thinks kissing is gross. I'm good with that. However, she kept going back to drugs and bras. Those were the things I focused on. How to say no. Why she should say no. How hard it can be. The tough choices she would have to make.
Man, I hope she listens.
I wondered then, what do other moms do? How and when do they talk to their kids? I know I'm not the only one. I know I come from a generation of women who either were told nothing or too much, a generation of women who now want to get it right. We don't want our daughters to stumble into the unknown unprepared. We've been to the unknown. We have the ability to map it out for them, give them a compass and a guide. Avoid this, stay close to this, don't stray here, if you get lost, head this way... How do others help their kids navigate these years?
And, will they listen?