As ever, I’m not sure how a simple prompt of “trees” led me here today, but it did. So we have a little tableau of a bird, and a bee, in a tree. Which sounds like some sort of nursery rhyme, or that Jewel Akins song from the 60’s. I’ve no idea what style I’ve attempted here as I just sort of splashed paint around and played until this came out. As kids, many of us heard the phrase “birds and the bees” uttered by parents who didn’t want to use the word or indeed actually come close to explaining sex. It was often used to answer the terrifying question from curious youngsters of “where do babies come from?” The story, if parents dared to even tell it, explained nothing and raised more questions than it answered. Bees pollinating flowers apparently refers to men and birds laying eggs to women, but how the bee got the bird pregnant in the first place remains a complete mystery. I was intrigued as a young child to think I might have hatched out of an egg, but more than a little mortified to think about my mother actually laying them.
The real popularity of the phrase came in 1928 when Cole Porter wrote the song “Let’s Do It” which is just as suggestive as it sounds. The opening lyrics soften the edge a bit as it’s revealed that it’s actually masquerading as a love song:
Birds do it, bees do it
Even educated fleas do it
Let’s do it, let’s fall in love
The words are ridiculous and strange, and one has to pity the poor fleas who couldn’t afford a proper education and therefore forced to live a life of loneliness. If the idea of birds and bees was still too close to actual description, another option was to ditch the bee entirely and just talk about birds. I was first told that storks delivered babies, which if you think about it, is slightly more ludicrous than a bird and a bee making a baby. The original German tale said that the storks got the babies from caves and marshes, but how they got there in the first place is anyone’s guess.
Eventually, we all learned the secret and today, it’s advised to skip the storytelling and be more direct and honest with kids. Imagining my parents being direct when it comes to sex talk is absolutely terrifying so, I’m happy to have had these stories instead. Seriously, I feel like I really dodged a bullet there. But these stories that become part of our culture are a wonderful thing. I would hate to live in a world of simply facts as it sounds incredibly dull. I’ve never wanted everything to be black and white, but rich with glorious color. So, I’m happy that the facts of life involved so much fiction. The secret that parents never knew, was that kids didn’t care what the answer was, we just wanted a story. There was plenty of time left to learn about what really happens. But just that one special little time when the gift of life was just a simple case of the birds and the bees.
Creator of Doodlewash® and founder of World Watercolor Month™ (July) and World Watercolor Group™. Sharing daily watercolor illustrations and stories while proudly featuring talented artists from all over the world! If you’d like to be a guest artist on Doodlewash.com, contact me!