The Babushka Doll

The other day I was sitting around a table with some family members and we found ourselves discussing “What was your oldest memory”. Most people recited scenes that seemed vivid but also faded and hazed, similar to remembering a dream from the night before. It was an interesting exercise as most childhood memories become so distant as time slips by that even seemingly major events can melt into the passage of time like the morning fog clearing as the sunrises to greet the day. 

The Babushka Doll – Felt pen and water colour on paper

However one of our party confessed a memory that was still keenly felt today as if it happened yesterday. The gentleman speaking explained that his oldest memory was as a little boy of 4 or 5 watching his father drive off in the family truck, breaking a promise that was made to the boy of a final ride before his father sold the vehicle. As the excited boy ran out of the house to hop in the cabin, his devastation was realised as he saw the tray of the truck disappearing as it turned the corner, leaving the little boy all alone realising his father had left him behind and that he would never be able to ride in the truck ever again. 

As this event was being retold the whole table gasped in horror, as we all saw a vivid image of the devastated little boy left standing on the side of the road with tears in his eyes. After the story teller fell silent, the one question that everyone had was why didn’t the father wait? However there was no answer to this, he simply shrugged and suggested that “I must have been too slow”. Even though this reasoning was suggested with a faint smile, you could sense that the emotions still involved with this incident was still keenly felt as if the man at the table had suddenly shrunk down to that little 5 year old boys disappointment. This broke my heart to know that this happened to someone I deeply care about. I mean, I would have waited, wouldn’t have you?

After this story I started thinking about all the complex layers that childhood can drape over you, forming the person that you eventually become. In contemplating this, I recalled a mental health discussion I listened to at work. A college was describing quite succinctly, our life’s’ journey into adulthood as akin to the sections of a Babushka Doll, to which this struck me as incredibly fascinating. 

For people not familiar with this European children’s toy, it is a doll that breaks apart and divides into a series of smaller components that look exactly identical to the one before. The only difference is, that the doll gets smaller and smaller until it ends or begins. Usually with these toys there are about 6 or 7 dolls that fit into each other, sitting snuggly as the bigger one fits over the smaller one. Now what was described in this conversation was that in order to fit one doll inside the other, there has to be a slight gap to allow for the smaller doll to fit inside the larger one. It was suggest that between these spaces, inside the doll or rather the individual, trauma can be”collected” and can remain hidden as the larger doll is placed over the smaller one, or as the individual grows and matures. This can leave the individual still attached to this trauma unmanaged or healed, leaving it to sit inside the gaps of the doll as the layers form around it, in other words “out of site out of mind”. 

As a result of this “covering” the adult individual can move forward from the trauma seemingly unharmed, because outwardly a new layer or doll forms around the child to protect the individual from that particular event. This is the body/minds way of helping the person survive and move forward, however since the event has now been covered, and not acknowledged, this individual will now move through their life silently still being effected by the experience contained with in that particular layer. This can lead the adult responding to this hidden and unhealed trauma in various ways, extending from harmless little quirks to addictive malicious behaviours that can result in affecting the person or even hurting others around that particular individual.

This train of thought has inspired my latest illustration, simply called “The Babushka Doll” Felt pen and water colour on paper.

With this I was thinking about how many people can move about their daily lives and not even know what is or could be buried deep with in their psyche, but when the doll is pulled apart and past events are looked at closely, certain behaviours can start to make sense as each layer is removed to reveal a hidden event/trauma lost in time.   

So thinking back to the retelling of this memory, it can explain this particular individuals enthusiasm of taking my siblings and I out in the car to the rubbish tip or sitting on his lap and pretending to drive the car around the local reserve. As a child this activity was seen as a special treat and something fun to do, however now in this new light of the 5 year old left on the side of the road, it all makes sense as those trips around the bush and to the tip become even more special than first originally remembered. Because not only was he taking us out for a ride, he was also giving his 5 year old self the trip that never happened. This thought makes me realise how lucky I am to have such a patient caring parent who will always wait for you know matter how long you take. 

I hope you are all keeping safe and well and may you find yourself being kind to your soul and each layer it holds. 

Published by allihoward123

Allison Howard main passion has always been story telling works predominantly with illustration and completed her MFA at Monash University, Melbourne 2012. Graduating with the Chancellors award for best Thesis. Allison Has worked and collaborated with many artists and exhibitions, in both Australia and New Zealand. To be kept up to date with Allison's latest activity and to view her current and archived works please visit Instagram @alli.howard123 and hit the follow button.

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