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Jul 16, 2014

Lonely Childhood

Little Janie cropped

This is a work in progress. Names have been changed to protect the truly innocent from my childhood opinions.

Even though there were four of us kids, I felt alone.

It helped when my brother Jay was born, because I had my own real Betsy Wetsy to take care of and nurture. A terrible thing I remember doing when he was old enough to hug was smacking him to make him cry, then soothing him with hugs and kisses.

I remember my very negative feelings around my relationship with my older sister Ellen. How we played Ginny dolls and how she arranged everything to suit her needs and wants. She was super-creative. Play began and ended with her say-so. She’d name the game, claim that her doll’s father was the richest, smartest, etc., leaving second and third best to me and Beth. Ellen would set the stage with a scenario for us to act out and play would continue for hours.

I remember saving up my quarter allowances each week so I could go to County Book and Toy store and buy outfits for the Ginny dolls that came in those pink boxes with cellophane panels so you could see hwat was inside. One ball gown with elasticized puff sleeves cost $2.00–eight weeks worth of saved quarters. And Ellen traded some crappy outfit of hers for it. She sweet-talked me out of it.

I remember Beth’s heavy breathing, but not much else.

I remember being alone in my room and teaching myself how to knit.

I remember sitting at the dinner table waiting to be seen or heard without much luck.

I remember being in the car with Mommy and having her all to myself on occasion. I loved that.

I don’t remember a best friend until Amy Wills introduced the idea to me in fourth grade when she claimed me. I remember going to her house and seeing her family photos on the wall. One included a sister who’d died before Amy was born. I remember that being a very scary concept to me. At least a brand new one.

I remember crying myself to sleep at night, having nightmares and wanting to be in bed with Mommy. But getting kicked out because it wasn’t okay with Daddy.

Even when Daddy and I were alone together I was lonely because he never talked. It felt doubly lonely. I wasn’t lonely with Mommy because she always talked.

I don’t remember Mommy tucking me in much. Rather, a good night kiss from downstairs. When she did come up to put me to bed, she would say, “Sand in the right eye. Sand in the left eye. And fairy dust all around.” That was my favorite way to go to sleep.

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  1. Elizabeth H Cottrell (@ElizCottrell)

    Jane, you might enjoy Eileen Rockefeller’s new memoir “Being a Rockefeller…Becoming Myself.” She recounts the sibling dynamics of being the youngest of six and the odd family dynamics involved when a mother and father have the pressures imposed by things that distract them from their children (in that case, the unique responsibilities of international jobs and enormous wealth). She, too, had a lonely childhood, even when she wasn’t alone.

  2. janepollak

    @ElizCottrell – Thank you for this recommendation. I love reading autobiographies and memoirs. I’m currently reading Fortune’s Children about the Vanderbilt family.

  3. Catherine Onyemelukwe

    I like the reading recommendations from your other readers. Are you thinking of writing a memoir yourself?

    • janepollak

      @Catherine – Yes! Scary prospect, but it feels like I’m being called to tell some of my story to a wider audience.

  4. Sas Carey

    Hard stuff, being a kid. You have used it well in your work.

  5. janepollak

    Thank you!


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