Tuesday, January 1, 2013

From Diapers to Tampax

  The other day in Borneo I took my daughters to the grocery store, angling our little shopping cart toward the green produce section but detouring heavily into the Pringles and Oreo’s aisle, when this shrieking hyena of a cosmetics counter woman suddenly jumped in front of my cart. 
If it were a movie theater, I would have tossed my popcorn up in the air. 
The women grabbed my face in her two hands, studied me over quickly with one bulging mascara’d eye and told me in no uncertain terms that I was carrying too much dead skin.
That was the key, she explained, as she rubbed palms across my cheeks, then pinched my nose to comment on the state of my pores.  “You sir,” she cried aloud in stunted and broken English, “have one foot in the epi-der-mal grave!”
  Now, I would have dismissed her immediately as one of the random insane island people I meet on a daily basis here in Kota Kinabalu.  You would be surprised how often this sort of thing happens to a traveler outside his home country, but as the woman pounced on another unsuspecting customer, replaced by three poking, prodding, examining daughters corroborating completely the hyena’s assessment that I was in fact, “a mess,” and inquiries such as, “does it hurt being that old?” and finally that I should take care as, “not to be mistaken for a zombie.”  I decided to have a look for myself and see what all the fuss was about.
 Big Mistake. 
When a man becomes my age, we stop looking at our outward selves.  More to the point, we avoid mirrors in the way the Wicked Witch of the West runs from showers.  You know, why bother?  I’ve got no hair to comb, parenthetical citations around my eyes, and crow’s feet tapping dancing upon the sands of my ever widening forehead. 
  So at my daughter’s urgent behest, we pushed the shopping cart away from the Ruffles and LAYS and moved instead toward the cosmetic’s section.  Of course, this was even more of a disaster.

  Men have no natural intuition in this realm.  The typical male doesn’t know a Loofah brush from a pumice scrub.  The closest thing we primates ever have to a guide through the Dante’s Inferno labyrinth of woman’s health products is maybe an ex-girlfriend in the seventh grade who gave us cologne as a Christmas present. 
  So, as I was standing there, temporarily blinding by the infinite stacks of Panteen Body Washes, Balancing Lotions, and 3 in 1 Foundations, you can only imagine my surprise when my eldest daughter leans over, looks at me with the most earnest face and asks, “Dad, what is sperm?”
  Yep.  It was the final nail in my coffin.  She might as well have had lizards coming out of her ears or a chorus of magical dancing elves doing a jig over her head. I was stunned.  Flabbergasted, really.  I know she has left the Taiwan school and moved to an American one with American kids.  I know this means she’s now light years ahead of most Asian kids in self-discovery, but I had no idea it would come this fast.  I was just beginning to appreciate her coming home with colloquialisms like, “Bubble gum, bubble gum in a dish” and “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.”
But sperm?
The reproductive systems?
Is there a subject any red blooded American dad fears to talk to his daughter about more than jiz?
  So we stood there together.  Old dad and blossoming trio of daughters, bewildered by each other’s biology.  Afraid to look at our outward selves for what we might find and forced only to look within.  But what’s inside?  What does anyone discover when uncovering themselves? 
Sometimes this is even more a quandary.  Because how does one know how to do anything?  Fall in love?  When to fight?  Who to hate?  When to lie?  What constitutes truth?  I stepped back from my three daughters whose faces had turned from concern over the impossible task of making their father look human to absolute fear at the thought they wouldn’t be little girls much longer.
But then we laughed.
We still had time.
But I know, I'm going to need a bigger cart. 

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