If I had to classify these brief vignettes as humor or pathos, I would be hard put to do so! Exchanges like these over my ten years in the Price Laboratory School Health office were always memorable. I have chosen just a few to share, so you might experience with me the bittersweet moments of childhood concern over changing bodies.
Steven, a small-for-his-age eighth grader, closed my office door and quietly asked, “I don’t have any hair under my arms and my best friend has three hairs under one arm. Do I need hormones or something?”
Jenny, a quiet fourth grader, asked if she could have a diet to lose weight because she weighed four pounds more than any other girl in her class. She was 2” taller than the tallest classmate, but hadn’t made that connection. She told me “I just can’t be fat, nurse.” Jenny was just the youngest of many kids who came in worried about the need to lose weight.
Karen sobbed behind my closed office door as she told me that she was the only girl in sixth grade not wearing a bra. “Could you please call my Mom and tell her I need a bra, even though I really don’t?”
There was the fifth grade boy who was still wetting his bed and asked if I had medicine that he could take to stop it.
And, the tenth grade girl who was the only girl in her class who had not begun to menstruate—and she was embarrassed to have friends know this.
The fourth grade boy who vomited every time there was a math test to take and told me he was sure it was something that “numbers did to his brain.” (Our great counselor worked with us on this problem!)
The ninth grade girl who thought she had a sexually transmitted disease because she had burning when she went to the bathroom. A friend told her that was a symptom of STD. She asked, “Could I have gotten it from a toilet? I have never had sex. I don’t even have a boyfriend.” (It turned out she had a urinary tract infection)
Incidents that still make me smile—with a simultaneous aching heart as I remember the pain—the emotional pain of kids as they compare their bodies with others, or attempt to figure out the functions or malfunctions of those bodies.
You and I each know that pain, don’t we?