Thumbelina was one of those dolls that had a plastic head attached to a soft fabric body and looked like she was wearing a jumpsuit or onesie. When I was six we lived in Michigan for the year and spent all our holidays travelling around the USA. A shy child, apparently Thumbelina was my alter ego. I imbued her with all my six-year-old sarcasm, wit and cheek. They tell me she was quite rude and disrespectful to my Grandmother. After a year of travel, Thumbie was looking a bit dirty and shabby and my mother put her in a dumpster. I remember she told me that some other little girl would probably find her and take her out and only years later did I realise how improbable that would have been. When we returned to Australia my parents bought me a new, bigger doll: Susan. She was all plastic and wore a blue frilly dress but to me she was just a doll. Plastic Susan could never replace the sass of Thumbelina.
Sometimes it is only decades later that you realise the losses you suffered in childhood – toys, books, homes and significant people that you never got to know, got to revisit, as an adult. The things that were lost or left behind or stolen. And you can’t even trust your memories of them. Why is it that all the good experiences have faded, but the losses and shocks are still strong? One of the losses of a reasonably happy childhood can be a loss of trust in your parents. When you were young you thought they were all the world, infallible. As an adult you realise their failings. And what do you do with that? Blame them or hold it against them? I know I have done that at times. But for most reasonably functional parents, they did the best they could coming out of their own backgrounds, losses, immaturity. Learning to let go of the past and grieve losses and move on is a constant life challenge.
For many life events there are ceremonies, celebrations of new beginnings or closure on endings. I think we need to create our own rituals for the things our society doesn’t recognise. There is something about a formal occasion that focuses grief and signals to us that there is ‘a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance’. Whether it’s burning something or gathering together with others for a meal, or visiting a museum of childhood, sometimes making your own ritual, and sharing it with others, moves you on emotionally. Yes, your doll was left in a dumpster, but there are new changes and challenges to face today, so grieve what you never grieved and then travel lighter.