Yesterday, I heard that once-monthly command from my Chinese husband. “Think of it as a forced vacation. It’s time for you to xiuxi,” he soothed me, putting a pillow on the couch and coaxing me over to sit down and put my feet up.
“But I have all of these things I haven’t done yet!” I pleaded.
John shook his head. “You need to rest,” he urged me, pointing to the couch.
Eventually, I did go to couch, settling into my usual spot, even as my mind was anything but settled about the idea of resting. You should be writing. You should be answering all of those e-mails. You should be…
If there’s anything I should be, it’s used to this whole routine. John and I have been together through years — and therefore, many, many months of me doing what every woman naturally does once a month. I get the kind of cramps that could drive perfectly normal women to light up their tampons and smoke them, so I should be thinking period equals rest. But right on schedule, just as I begin, so my mind begins the once-monthly protest every time John mentions “rest.”
But what I didn’t understand was, John would have urged me to take a break, even if I didn’t have the cramps.
“We call it lijia,” he explained to me, which roughly translates to “regular break.” “In China, when girls would get their period in middle school, they would be excused from PE class for lijia.”
“But why?” I wondered.
“Because the period is challenging, and exhausting. They need a break to replenish their energy,” John explained, wearing an embarrassed grin.
I suddenly thought of the regular absence of these middle school girls, and the likely regular sniggering from the boys as to the cause of their absence. “But isn’t that embarrassing, since everyone knows why they’re gone?”
My question made him burst out in an uncomfortable giggle, before he brought it back to a smile to answer me. “There are jokes. But I never made them.”
While I wasn’t sure if John had been guilty of having a little fun at the expense of a female classmate, I mentally breathed a sigh of relief for never having to take “regular breaks” from gym class in middle school or high school — and get singled out.
But then I thought of the many times I insisted on going to school (including gym) and later work, despite being doubled over in pain when I woke up that day. How I used to buy things like Pamprin and other pain killers to get through the day. And even the way the commercial feminine hygiene world seemed to sell me this idea of it all being “just another day” — certainly, nothing worth taking time off for. Maybe the story I’ve been told about this just wasn’t meant for a woman with my kind of monthly situation.
Well, as my Chinese husband would say, God is fair. He may have cursed me with debilitating cramps. But he also blessed me with a husband who is helping me to re-learn the idea of a monthly rest.
Have you been surprised about the Chinese perspective on a woman’s menstrual cycle, and what she should do to get through it?