Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Little Joy

My children love to hear Little Joy stories. Little Joy stories are when I tell a real story from my childhood. This is one of their favorites:

When I was about eight I received a pad of writing paper with matching envelopes as a Christmas present. On the first telling this opening line caused a spill of questions. Mostly related to how it must have been a long time ago in ye olde world of letter writing. "Did you have a quill?" Etc.

It was one of my most treasured gifts ("what, a pad of paper?") because it had Paddington Bear printed at the top of each sheet and his paw was embossed on the envelopes. I treasured it. It came in a folding plastic sleeve with the paper on one side and the envelopes stacked two high on the other side. I loved it so much, I wouldn't use it. Not even to write to my beloved German pen pal. I kept it in my bedside cabinet, storage for all things sacred - including my Scott Baio poster. I would take the set out and flick through the pages then return it with reverence to it's folder.

It drove my sister crazy that I wouldn't use it. Whenever she saw me writing a letter she would question my use of plain or airmail paper. She requested sheets for her own letter writing - but I was immovable. It was for admiring only.

My next birthday fell on a Sunday. Sunday meant church and I can still picture my mum, sister and I all getting ready in various parts of our classic two up, two down home. I was downstairs brushing my hair in front of the hall mirror and my mom was near me putting on her shoes. My sister was cleaning her teeth in the only bathroom upstairs. We had a small radio in there and it was usually on in the morning hustle. Suddenly, my sister squealed and cranked the volume.

"This next song goes out to Joy on her ninth birthday, Happy Birthday from your mum, dad and sister. Cute Paddington paper by the way!"

I swirled to look at my mum - she had a look of delight on her face and was watching me expectantly. I heard her praising my sister for her quick thinking in turning up the radio. My sister came down and they both waited for my reaction.

"Thank you so much for writing in! That was brilliant. They only mention a few birthdays - can't believe one was mine. That was really sweet of you. Wow!"

Those would have been appropriate responses. Instead, I turned petulantly to my sister and yelled "I can't believe you used my Paddington paper!"

The silence hung heavily while my mum and my sister's mood turned from excitement to disappointment and anger. Despite all that followed I couldn't change my point of view. I just couldn't recover from the fact that one sheet of my beautiful paper was lost and gone from me forever. The whole incident was a cloud that hung gray and foreboding and colored the precious Paddington paper.

I explain to my girls how it took me a long time to see my sisters point of view. How she had tried to do something nice for me and how I had crushed all the fun out of it. I explain my over attachment to that paper and all that it stood for in my Little Joy mind.

I'm sure they like this story because they understand the struggle of ownership between two sisters and a shared room. I'm sure they like the idea of one sister being soundly in the wrong and one being victoriously right. I'm sure I like telling it because it brings the world of my childhood bedside cabinet into visceral memory for me. I can picture the treasures within. I can see that pad of paper vividly (sadly google images could not.) I can remember the joy it brought me and I can wonder about where it is now. I can remember the look of disappointment and disbelief on my sister's face and I can know that all these things contributed to the person that is Big Joy.


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  2. I beg to differ - Little Joy was right to be upset by such an obvious and flagrant breaching of her clearly stated personal and physical boundaries.

    Your family clearly knew how important your Paddington paper was and that you kept it in your own private drawer. Not only your wishes but your private space was violated "to make you happy"!

    Little Joy's instincts were spot on. Sugar coating it with "but I did it all for you" is pure emotional manipulation and Little Joy knew it.

    I admire you for you ability as a grown up to see other points of view.

    As a therapist I see lots of folk unable to do this.

    Hopefully your family have also evolved to see that they also wronged you.

    A truly selfless & thoughtful act would have been for your sister to use HER own special paper to write your birthday message on.

    The lesson is that it is NEVER ok to breach someones personal boundaries, but that children make mistakes and we all learn from them and grow. We can reinterpret our childhoods for the rest of our lives and still never make sense of it.

    The best we can do is look at the adult relationships we have we these people now and assess if they're working for us or whether we are still stuck in the same family dramas.

    Grown up Joy sounds like a good person trying to come to terms with her past. Thanks for your sharing your story.

    I'm sure this will strike a chord with lots of your readers.

    Bless you


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