“Anne Shirley!” the normally measured Marilla Cuthbert exclaimed many, many times as she met the reality of the young orphan girl who had come to live at Green Gables. No doubt Marilla was dealing with the whirlwind of Anne, a young girl strong in every aspect of thinking, feeling and acting. Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables illuminated my understanding of the world as a young girl. it was Anne who turned a chance moment with a colleague into a connection that speaks to the depths of Montgomery’s work, and it is Anne whose relevance and inspiration I am hoping to impart to my young daughter, Alexis, along the journey of my reading Anne to Alexis.
The beautiful and complex relationship that evolves between Anne and Marilla, and beyond that, the adult/child dynamic in general, is one of the many themes explored by Montgomery. It is this theme I find myself reflecting on most often as I read Anne to Alexis, particularly when I stand back and think about the highly connected, technological and often superficial world our children must navigate. I reflect on how we, as adults, can respond to, and guide, the feeling and thinking child to do and live true to herself in a world that seems to want to influence, buy or own the imagination and very core of our children’s sense of self at every turn. And whilst they may come from a time long since passed, Marilla and her brother, Matthew, dear Miss Stacy and even Mrs Lynde are giving me insights I did not perceive the first time around about how adults can positively nurture a child’s sense of self.
As I read to Alexis − digging deep within myself to muster a convincing portrayal of the characters and context so as to appeal to a seven-year-old not terribly experienced with the rich and vivid prose of times gone by − my efforts are duly rewarded when I see that she too is benefiting from knowing Anne. I see Alexis connect with Anne, despite the contrasts in their young worlds, over a hundred years apart. Not only is she sporting plaits more and more these days (along with a desire for auburn, or as some may say, “splendid Titian” hair); I think what appeals the most to Alexis is that Anne makes her feel “normal” in a world run by adults, a world that can be confusing and frustrating for her at times. She is learning that it’s all right to struggle, to feel great heartbreak as well as great joy, to make mistakes, to learn how to fix them and to get back up again. And Anne, with a little help from Montgomery and the adult characters she created who care for and guide Anne, does this without sacrificing her self-possession or her lust to embrace all aspects of life and living.
It is this feeling of normalcy that I hope will underpin and guide Alexis to her authentic self. My wish for Alexis is that whatever she encounters on this great journey of life, she will know that it is with her authentic self that she can best respond.
I can read philosophy, psychology and parenting books till all the jersey cows in the world wander into Mr Harrison’s field and, to be fair, learn a great deal about myself and my relationship with my daughter from this academic exercise. But it’s nothing like the heartfelt experience of sharing this journey with my daughter, immersing ourselves in a story that appeals to us both, where Anne and her “Jonah days” become every day conversations for us, providing safe places to explore ourselves as individuals and our relationship as mother and daughter. And the icing on the Rollings Reliable Cake is two-fold: one, the very copy of Anne of Green Gables I read as a young girl is the copy I read now to Alexis; and two, three generations of Anne lovers came together to bring you this piece. Thank you, Tracey, my colleague and kindred spirit, and to Alexis, my love.
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