Sex education with Anne of Green Gables.
Updated: Feb 28
I have always loved Anne of Green Gables. She has only really been superseded by Pollyanna as my favourite, due to her endearing and sometimes annoyingly positive nature. I loved everything about Anne. Her ability to fuck up royally, but then say tomorrow is another day. Her love of nature and her ability to wax lyrical about the beauty of the tiniest things. Her potential for verbal diarrhea. Her love of books and the written word. I also loved her for her great endearing and enduring love of people. Even thinking about that moment when Matthew dies in the fields reduces me to a blubbering mess. When Anne cries and says that it would have been better if she had of been a boy, and Matthew replies that he only ever wanted a girl. When he utters those dying words, “I only wanted you,” I will generally have tears and snot rolling quite disgustingly down my face.
When Netflix announced that they were creating a new series of Anne of Green Gables, no one was more excited than me. Momma, the kids and I thought it would be good family viewing for the four of us. Something to keep our minds off things and I wanted the kids to fall in love with Anne as much as I had. Right from the start I knew this Anne was different. It had a very arty and quite beautiful beginning but the rest of it was a little darker than my memory of the books and that lovely television series from over 20 years ago.
Anne was a little plainer (Momma thought she was ugly), but her plainness grew on me and I found her increasingly beautiful and more like I had imagined when I first read the book. The whole series seemed to be a little darker and life a little harsher. Things weren’t quite as glossy or like a fairy-tale. Things seemed a little more real. Also, there were times when the Netflix version veered from the actual events of the book. That irked me a little as I am a born traditionalist when it comes to my stories, but I was willing to give it a go as we were all enjoying our late afternoon viewing sessions.
When things really went off the tracks though, was the day Anne got a tummy ache (poor little thing, I thought, they didn’t feed her enough in this harsh, dark world). Instead she woke up that night to find that she had bled all over her sheets. Oh, my fucking lord, Anne of Green Gables was menstruating. She of course thought she was dying and took the sheets downstairs to wash whilst Archie muttered to himself and to me, “Oh my god Mummy, it looks like a massacre. A Massacre.” I replied to Archie that she simply had got her period. “Oh”, he said and Archie and Rissie went suspiciously quiet. This was moving into embarrassing territory where they were inclined to giggle nervously.
Marilla explained to Anne that she was becoming a “woman”. That this would happen once a month and that this was her monthly “flowering.” For the next few days Anne was very moody, slamming things on the table, shouting at Marilla and generally being a cranky little shit. Bloody hell, I thought, maybe she really did have her period. This was really a new version of Anne for me.
The next day in their little schoolroom is when I thought it all got a bit much. Anne was telling Dianna, Ruby and the nasty one who I can never remember her name that she had got her period and they were all comparing notes. Then Anne really stepped out of bounds and started explaining about what she knew about sex from her awful time with the Hammond Family. The discussion touched on topics such as how men have mice in their pockets and when women touched those mice, they came out of their trousers, and then they played with them, then there would be all sorts of noises. Sometimes she thought that Mr Hammond was killing Mrs Hammond from all that noise. After the mouse had been played with there were always babies, generally twins. You could have heard a pin drop in the school room and in our television room. It was all very confronting and NOT a part of the book.
I have always been open with the kids. They know what tampons are for. They know that I get my period and vaguely what it involves. One day when I was particularly cranky Rissie had asked me if I was having my “monthly rewards”, I almost killed her for assuming that I had my period (which I did), and wondered where the hell she figured out that bleeding every month was some sort of fucking reward.
The only time I was not really open with them, was in terms of what I called their privates when they were babies. I have always had a loathing of the terms vagina and vulva – for some reason I imagine a big old fashioned ugly Volvo sedan or station wagon. Penis for some reason doesn’t sit well with me either. So, when the kids were babies, growing into little people I used to refer to Rissie’s privates as her Tinkerbell and Archie’s as his Winky. Such friendly happy names I thought.
I never really thought about it again until one of their lovely teachers in Kindergarten or Year One approached me and advised me in the gentlest of ways that perhaps it was time to let the kids know the proper names for their anatomy as ‘Tinkerbell’ had led to a little confusion in the classroom that day. I nodded in agreeance and said that I was onto it. I was too scared to clarify as to what the confusion might have been. That afternoon I told the kids what the proper names for their Tinkerbell and Winky were. It was sad, a bit like saying goodbye to childhood friends or Santa Claus.
The next morning after that Anne of Green Gables episode, as we were trudging through the frost in minus 2 degree temperatures, Archie, Rissie and I had a remarkably easy and civilised conversation about growing up and appropriate sex education. We discussed periods, I reassured Archie that it did not involve a massacre. We discussed the old-fashioned linen towels that Marilla had given to Anne and compared the pros and cons of tampons. Finally, we spoke about mice and noises and how babies were made. The kids knew most of it anyway, but now all was clarified and I felt rather mature and accomplished as a mother as I had not cringed or giggled nervously once.
That night Archie came bellowing down the hallway in his little old man voice saying, “I think Rissie has got her period. Does that mean there is going to be a massacre tonight mummy?” For fuck’s sake. I looked at Archie like he was an alien and told him to be quiet for just a moment and to stop bellowing like he was a wounded baby rhinoceros. Rissie was lying on her bed with her little hands on her tummy looking like a dying swan. I don’t know where she gets her sense of theatrics from. “I think I am flowering Mummy.” I looked at my 9-year-old angel of a drama queen and said to her, “I think it is more likely that you have eaten crap all day honey and I don’t think you are getting your period.”
She perked up immediately and lost her wan look. Archie barged in and said, “So has she got her period, she is acting like she has her period.” I looked at him sternly and said, “No Archie, she has not got her period. Also, Archie, a word of advice, it is not polite to assume that a female has got her period. Additionally, there is no massacre involved so please stop using that word.” He persisted, “She has been really cranky mummy.” I looked at him again. “Archie, I repeat, it is not polite to tell a female that she has her period just because she is cranky.” He looked at me, “Why not?”
“Because it isn’t polite and it might upset her.” I left it at that, muttering to myself, because I was feeling fractious and had a feeling that I was getting my period, “It also might mean you get smashed in the face. Then I will show you what a massacre is really about.”
So, thank you Anne of Green Gables. Sex Education is done. I am a little anxious about the second season, god only knows what it might contain, an addiction to the local still or a problem with how to make bongs in the barnyard. Anne of Green Gables has me a little bit on edge.