As the Big 3-0 draws near, I find myself reflecting on the past, and ways in which I have grown.
Some of my favorite reflections are of the "Awkward Years." Flipping through old photo albums, I hear the Wonder Years theme song playing in my head, and memories flash back....
At age 10, I had become a cereal box-toy-ordering-junkie. I had obviously graduated from finding joy in the actual toys inside the box, but as I had not yet graduated from Frosted Flakes (and still to this day haven't), I was mature and old enough to read the directions, collect the UPC codes necessary, and fill out the order forms for many a free miniature 35 mm camera, t-shirts, digital watches, talking pens, etc. I loved getting packages in the mail. I became addicted to the adrenaline rush I got each time I would open the mailbox and find a small, cardboard box with MY name on it. I would run up the hill and go straight to my desk, to open and discover the new prize. All by myself, as if I had found treasure, I didn't want my much too immature younger sisters, who were only seven and could never appreciate all the hard work and dedication it took-- eating bowl after bowl strictly of General Mills cereals-- to spoil my fun.
Soon, as with all addictions, it took more and more to feed my brown paper package addiction. Cereal boxes were no longer the only thing I would order from. One day, while watching tv, I noticed a mattress commercial that stated, "Call for your free sample." So, I did. Sure enough, I got some enjoyment out of ripping the paper off the teeny-tiny piece of foam. I was left unsure how anyone was supposed to know if they would like sleeping on such a tiny mattress, but was happy to have gotten my brown paper package fix. I moved on to bigger, more frequent deliveries, when I opened up the world of catalogs. That phase didn't last too long, as most of the catalogs were a bore, and had no wrapping to rip off. I began to watch all commercials closely, calling each and every number with a free offer. I got free samples for lip balm, Advil, Dr. Shoals shoe inserts, travel size deodorants... I was nearly coming to an end of my package addiction, after racking up on freebies for almost two straight years, and finding that I wasn't getting quite the same feelings anymore.
The final package to be delivered during this binge phase was one that made me a little nervous. My parents were happy for me to order and receive the other items. But this one... this one was different. The summer between sixth and seventh grade, in one of the many free catalogs that I was now on the monthly mailing list for, I saw an ad for Playtex tampons. In the bottom corner, in tiny print were the words I liked to read most, "For a free sample..." I quickly jotted the address down on an envelope and ran to the mailbox. Six short weeks later, my risque package arrived, thankfully in a plain box. To my relief, my Momma assumed it was just an ordinary freebie... just another travel size toothpaste. Whew!
What my Mom didn't know was, the contents of that package were giving me an in to the sisterhood of womanhood. I just knew I was now a mature woman, but I had no clue as to why. I had no need for tampons yet, and to be quite honest, I had no idea how they were even to be used. I decided that careful inspection was necessary.
Disappointed that only two, individually wrapped tampons came in this sample box, I immediately hid one under my bed, behind the purple pair of Sam and Libby's. The other, I examined and became quite confused as to how that was going anywhere down there. Yes, my Mom and I had already had "the talk." But, I was still worried about this cotton exploding plastic cannon that was a regular staple of my mother's. Thoughts raced through my head.... "Maybe you only need these if you're a MOM. Like after having a bunch of kids. Yeah, that's got to be it."
Nervous about the future, and relieved I didn't have to deal with figuring all of that out just yet, I threw all of the contents away, forgetting about the other tampon, hidden behind the purple pair of Sam and Libby's. Fall rolled around, and I began to notice many of the girls had returned to 7th grade with a "need" to carry their purse to the bathroom. All too quickly, some of those same girls noticed that I didn't have that same "need" and questioned my lack of purse toting, when the hall pass was requested. I couldn't let them know that I, though only 12 years old, weighing in at 90lbs, was still a BABY. That afternoon, I retrieved the hidden sample, strategically placing it at the very top of my purse.
I was thrilled the next day, when one of my fellow co-eds asked to borrow a pen. "Here, it's in the bottom of my purse." I said, casually tossing my knock-off red pleather Liz Claiborne bag her way. I flipped my hair over my shoulder, as she unzipped the purse, and saw the Playtex tampon on top. She raised her eyebrows and said, "Really?" sounding half-way impressed that I wasn't just a bony kid, and half-way disappointed, probably because she too had been lying the entire time about the need to carry her purse to the bathroom. Nonchalantly I nodded, as if to say, "What's the big deal."
For the rest of seventh grade, and a short part of eighth, I carried that sample around, at the top of my purse. Even when I got a new knock-off bag, I would carefully re-locate all of the contents, including my little lie.
The day I FINALLY needed that sample, I regretted the year and half of toting it around everywhere. Which was just exactly what my Momma said would happen, when she caught a glimpse of the tampon, and inquired about it's strategic placement. "Honey, enjoy being a kid while you can. You'll catch up to the other girls soon enough, and you'll see it's not as big of a deal as they're making it. You're not a baby. Your body is just slower because you weigh less than they do! Enjoy it."
Sigh. One of the many times I would live to regret not taking her advice.