One day, when I was a child, and my older brother and sister were being especially mean to me, I decided that I’d had enough. I packed up a little suitcase and decided to run away from home.
As the local airport was near our house, I’d made my mind up to go there. I was certain there’d be a rich woman catching a plane who desperately wanted children.
I imagined that I would clutch at her hand and tell her about the cruelty I experienced at home and touched by my story, she would take me with her and we would fly away to a better life. After that I would be forever happy.
I think I may well have been influenced by one too many Shirley Temple movies.
When I was about seven or eight, I became convinced that my parents were going to marry me off to a stranger when I grew up. I’m not quite sure where I got that idea, though perhaps I was influenced by a movie with the theme of arranged marriages and assumed that it happened to all young women. Wherever the idea came from, it tormented me so much that I eventually made my younger brother promise to marry me. I think I chose my brother because he was one of the few boys I knew that I liked and didn’t want to throttle.
I also worried how I would live if I didn’t marry. The thought that I could work never crossed my mind. I was a child of the 60s and for many women in Australia, they were expected to quickly marry once they reached marriageable age. Married women during that decade and into the next were simply not allowed to work once they’d tied the knot. So for a couple of years I continued to be concerned about whether I was going to be forced into a marriage that I didn’t want, or doomed to wander the streets, begging people for money so that I could buy fish and chips.
Isn’t it funny how silly ideas can become fixed in a child’s mind?
As a youngster, a friend of mine wondered what it might be like to be a newspaper and the idea kind of filled her with awe. When she was about six, she also thought she was a character in a book and two girls she didn’t know were reading her life. At about the same time she began wondering what it would be like if she didn’t exist.
I listened to her strange imaginings with wonder, because my own concepts seemed so naively silly and hers seemed so incredibly adult and complex for a child.
At one time I read an article about some children’s curious ideas. One child (who was going to need some serious straightening out at some point) believed that a person could get pregnant by eating eighteen broccoli in a month.
The silent movie star Virginia Bradford had terrible pains in her legs when she was a young girl and was told she was experiencing growing pains. She went to bed one night convinced that she would wake up in the morning and be as tall as her grown-up aunt. When she awoke, she was thoroughly disgusted to find she hadn’t grown even a millimetre.
One young boy believed that before we’re born, we just float around in outer space. The same youngster also believed there was such a thing as land sharks that would hide under the bedroom rug, lying in wait for him when he got out of bed.
Another child tiptoed around large lumps in the ground or in the lawn because they believed it was a giant sleeping and didn’t want to wake the creature up.
Sometimes I think it might be nice to be able to go back to our simpler childish fears rather than fretting about the grown-up things we stress about now, though I could certainly do without worrying about being forced to marry a stranger or meeting the monster under my rug, especially if they both turned out to be one and the same.