The doll in the dumpster & what we leave behind in childhood

Swingset by the sea

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.


Filed under A deliberate life, A reflective life

4 responses to “The doll in the dumpster & what we leave behind in childhood

  1. I just love what you wrote here. That must have been difficult to lose Thumbie! I tended to anthropomorphise all my dolls and stuffed animals and imagined they had lives when I wasn’t around. You really captured the essence of childhood and letting things go. I, too, can remember some of my toys and dolls.

  2. The loss of a childhood friend cuts deep! I’m forever afraid that one day I’ll return home to find my parents have had a clear out and my old toys have been donated, or disposed of. Will it really matter if they have? In the long run, probably not but there’s always that desire to see them one last time.

  3. e

    Challenging and witty piece.

    Favorite line ” A shy child, apparently Thumbelina was my alter ego. I imbued her with all my six-year-old sarcasm, wit and cheek. ”

    Loved it


Leave a Reply to e Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s