The child I was is the person I have become 106



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Adorable boy on a railway station, waiting for the train with suitcase and teddy bear

If you ever have the good fortune of hearing Dolly Parton speak about her childhood, you won’t be left with a sense of despair over how little her family had, how basic their Smokey Mountains life was, or how food and money were scarce. Like Dolly, you’ll take away images of family, love and, of course, music.

Dolly likes to talk about her childhood because although it was harsh, it was happy – and not having TV means she learned to play just about any instrument that makes a noise. Coming from such a poor family has made her a shrewd businesswoman and a top-notch professional, too.

“If there’s one positive thing to say about being poor, it’s that it makes a person more creative,” she says.

On Australian Story recently was another tale of a young man overcoming a rough childhood. Corey White is a comedian whose stand-up act is taking the world by storm. It is both hilarious and heartbreaking, being based on his brutal childhood with a heroin addict for a mother and a “jack of all crimes” father.

White spent his youth in and out of foster care as his parents spent stints in jail. He survived that by being smart, funny and a bookworm, but fell into the tragic pattern of life and wound up addicted to ice.

White is clean now and recently made his mark at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. He says his addiction to comedy saved him, and audiences are lapping up his real-life story, delivered with humour.

“They’re the kind of laughs I like giving people more than anything else, the ones where you fully acknowledge the absolute horror of this world and somehow when people laugh you feel better,” he says.

I’ve been thinking about childhoods lately because I recently learned the story of a friend, sadly at her funeral. This warm, kind and faithful woman had a terrible time in her early life, losing her mother, with her father’s kindness lost to the horrors of war. Mary was left largely in the care of a brutal nanny who locked her in the cupboard for hours on end and withheld food as punishment for minor “crimes”.

The woman I knew was forever pressing a biscuit into your hand and asking, “have you eaten?” No wonder, considering her early years. And she was tough, God was she tough. She raised five children on her own and taught hundreds more.

It seems to me that there is an awful lot of pressure on parents these days to ensure their children have a “happy childhood”. And while that’s great, and we only want the best for our grandkids, I guess it’s important for parents to know that, if things don’t go perfectly, sometimes it’s okay.

Not that I’m suggesting anyone lock their kids in a cupboard or leave them in foster care, but it doesn’t have to be all trips to Disneyland and ice-cream after dinner, does it?

Baby boomers grew up in a time of prosperity and hope – I guess that makes us the lucky ones. We all bear our scars, and have memories we’d rather leave behind, but whether it was happy or hard, our childhoods certainly shape the person we have become.

Was yours a happy childhood? Or did hard times shape your character? 

Starts at 60 Writers

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  1. My childhood was a very unhappy one and it made me determined that my children not experience the same unhappiness. I think I tried too hard to protect them and found that they had to go through their own trials and tribulations to become the special people they have become.

  2. I was lucky, I had a happy childhood with sister who was 13 months younger than I was. We were always close. Well except when we were arguing.

  3. I had a very happy childhood. I always knew my mum would be at home when I got home from school, there was always something cooking on the stove. Life was very much simpler I think.

  4. I saw Australian story and was so touched by Corey’s story, he is a wonderful young man. I worry about the life my grandchildren have now with social media, they spend their life playing these games and have no conversation.

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  5. My childhood was fraught with problems from my birth. I was the 7th child born to a working class family. I was just 4lb when l was born and subsequently was not imunized. At 10 months l contracted polio and the effects still live on as l enter my 63 rd year. At age four myself and 6 of my siblings were removed from our family and placed in the care if the State. Twenty five years would pass before l found my parents. My early life in care consisted of a number of institutional placements and foster homes. I was sexually , physically and emotionally abused in my 4 th foster home , a home l was forced to live in for six long years. My abuser in this home was my foster mother. The final time l was abused l decided l was going to get out of this home so l began running away . Thankfully l was removed at age 13 , no one ever found out what happened to me behind closed doors in the home of a pillar of the community. I would continue to be a State Ward untill 21 yrs of age. In order to marry my husband of 42 yrs l had to get permission from the attorney general as the State was my legal guardian. The effects of my removal from my family and the subsequent abuse at the hands of those entrusted with my care has left me with PTSD which results in me having bouts of severe depression and anxiety attacks. I have three beautiful children and 7 grandchildren. I have risen above my beggining to fullfil a lifelong dream that of becomung a registered welfare worker. I graduate from Central Queensland University in 1998 with a degree in Sociology and Welfare studies as a mature age student, preferring to be a full time mother until my youngest son began high school. I now live in Ballina NSW and l am a full time carer for my husband who has multiple health problems. My life though a struggle at times has made me who l am today. Cheers.

    17 REPLY
    • Thank you Rob, my life has been a struggle, however l have always looked at myself as being a survivor not a victim. Some time ago l decided to write a book about my life entitled “In The Hands Of The State”. The first draft is finished andvasxa full time carer for my husband l now just need to find the time to finish my project. I can’t change it but the only thing that really annoys me is that my foster mother died before l could have charges bought against her for what she did. Its clear l have a lot more to work through. Cheers and thanks for your kind words.

    • Well done Pat on rising above all that happened to you, other people would have fallen by the wayside.

    • It’s hard for some children …..but we have choices…we do not have to copy our parents or carers who are supposed to look after us…..well done and wish you well….

    • Pat, a book would be so good for you to write, often it is a good therapy for oneself & good for your family to know what you have lived through. Those were hard enduring years for you indeed. I wish your remaining years some happiness & admire your enduring human strength.

    • Same age as you and I applaud you for your strength of character. Many others would have used your experiences as an excuse not to lead a meaningful life as you have done.

    • Mine was a walk in the park compared to yours. I hope for more cheer now in your life

    • You are an inspiration,, shows what inner strength and motivation can do, you ard a true role model…

    • Oh Pat. What a beautiful lady you are and so brave to share your story. We were in Balina beginning of te month. Its our favourite holiday spot. I would have loved to have met you abd given you a big hug. Xx

    • To endure what you have for so many years, and to come out the other side a sane and productive lady is just amazing, I hope your remaining years on this earth bring you happiness, and yes you are certainly the right person to help others, your life experiences give you far more experience than a 23 year old uni graduate…all the best x

  6. Not a happy childhood and it did shape my character ! It make me someone who didn’t trust anybody, poor self-steam, reckless and confused. However by a dim light inside of me , strong spiritual make up, my children and a good friend I survive and now I am loving, independent, happy and compassionate but a painful journey I don’t wish it onto anyone and could it gone very wrong.

  7. There are some sad stories and some happy ones I was one of the fortunate ones and had a loving Mum and Dad so I feel blessed reading what some others had to endue,

  8. Mine was not happy. My father was always giving up jobs and we were hungry a lot of the time. There were five kids and my mother was always sick. My father was.a Horrible man who moved us around and drank and gambled among other things. I learned at an early age how to stretch a dollar. As the eldest child I was responsible for the younger ones and grew up being the helper and babysitter and taking the blame for everything. I tried to give my children a better life. I think I made a rod for my own back and now I am paying. Has it made me a stronger person? I don’t know.

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    • Your childhood sounds similar to mine Fran, my little Mum wasn’t sick, but was belted regularly by my rotten father, of course it affects us, how could it not, but we just pull up our socks and get on with it…

  9. I think I had a happy childhood, but as my father was in WWII at 18 years of age and wasn’t demobbed straight away at the end, his childhood also shaped by the Great Depression, he was a very strict man who worked hard, didn’t enjoy anything really but camping, fishing and hunting when we were little. It was a bit limiting for a girl, but my younger brothers loved it. He was honest as the day was long, he didn’t like liars or thieves and would be prepared to bring the strap out if he thought we were doing either. But he did silly things like put a firework that was as big as a stick of dynamite under mum’s new plastic bucket on the back verandah one wet Guy Fawkes night and blew the bottom out of it. He liked to talk and laugh a lot when we were older, but when he got old he suddenly started talking and crying about the War and remembering everyone and thing about it. My mother who gave birth to five children, was hard working and an angel. My children loved him and always remember when he caught a banjo shark and pretended to play it before returning it to the sea. We got clothes and shoes for birthdays and Xmas and one inexpensive toy or a book at Xmas as well. Mum used to knit our jumpers, and dad had a last and re-soled and heeled our shoes. He grew our vegetables and fruit and they would bottle fruit and make jam. Life was uncomplicated and slower in those days. Long gone now.

  10. I had a very happy childhood. Three brothers and one sister. Caring parents ,holidays every thing a child could want in those much more simple days.

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