Alfonsina y el mar
“Por la blanda arena que lame el mar
Su pequeña huella no vuelve mas
Un sendero solo de pena y silencio llego
Hasta el agua profunda
Un sendero solo de penas mudas leggo
Hasta la espuma”
“From the soft sand lapped by the sea
Her little footprint will never come back
A lonely path full of suffering and silence came
Reaching the deep water
A lonely path full of silenced suffering came
To the sea-foam”
As a mother, you are faced with unexpected requests to explain the most difficult aspects of life to your children. My 6 year-old daughter and I attended a concert with music from South America. It was a wonderful event with awe inspiring tangos and poetic renditions of traditional music. In the middle of the concert, the artists took a minute to explain the song they were about to perform, “Alfonsina y el Mar”, about a woman who walked into the sea to never come back. My daughter turned to me and asked, “Why would anyone want to kill themselves?”
My answer was the following: “Sometimes people carry very heavy rocks in their life’s backpack. These rocks are made of sadness and grief and they don’t know how to put them down. Some people get too tired to keep on carrying them and when they can’t hear their hearts, they feel completely alone and decide to stop living.”
My daughter turned to her cousin sitting next to her, explained what she had just heard, and proceeded to listen to the artists perform the song. I turned to her and saw tears streaming down her face as she listened to every word. She had learned earlier in the performance that when people really liked a part of the show they would stand up. At the end of the song, she sprang up and clapped.
I may have brushed off her question for a later time were it not for the fact that I have taught Mia to touch me when she needs my full attention. Therefore, when she reached out to hold my hand when she asked the question, I was brought from the performance to her.
Children only ask about things they are ready to hear, but some parents may have hesitated to answer such a question fearing making their son or daughter sad or afraid to burst the bubble of their innocence. I follow the policy of answering every question, paying close attention to her reaction. When she has reached the limit of her spiritual or emotional capacity to process the information, she loses interest and focuses on something different. These little beings have a built-in gauge and as long as you listen and are self-disciplined to stop when they give you that clear signal, there is never the danger of sharing too much.
When those moments present themselves, be aware that it is a one-time chance. Kids are like an ever evolving puzzle and when they are so arranged to want to know something, you have to take the opportunity to answer and share your insight. How many times do we try to go back to a conversation from earlier in the day or the week and they are no longer interested in having that conversation? The pieces of the puzzle have been rearranged and it is no longer relevant to their personal evolution. They may come back to it at a different moment, but that will be completely up to them. Don’t miss your opportunities, they present themselves on a daily basis.
The conversation with Mia about death left me humbled with the gravity of being ever-present with my daughter. She asked about death with the practical simplicity of innocence, without judgment or unrelated layers of meaning. Answering with the same clarity required going to the core of the question.
The core of that answer made me wonder if this was a call to action for myself, or for other parents. How can I develop and keep the connection with my daughter so that I can lend her the voice of my own heart if the sorrows of existence deafened the song of her own soul? It put into perspective the importance of valuing our relationship and trust above all else.
While we haven’t talked about the topic again, it is possible the seed of knowledge is still germinating and will come back with the next set of questions about life. It is also possible that the answer I provided gave her everything she needed to process a 6 year-old desire to understand suicide. Either way, I am grateful that I was with her the moment her path bumped into one of the hardest questions we all have about life and untimely death.
As a parent, you can’t plan or prepare for the events that will prompt such conversations. What you can do to be ready is to take the time to think and clarify for yourself your own set of beliefs. At 6 years old, we have already covered death, drugs, and self-love. It is a journey and I have barely scratched the surface. Being a parent, a sibling, and a mentor is the greatest gift somebody can present to you. It requires your thoughtful, deliberate, and personal journey of listening to your inner voice, thoughts, and wisdom to present answers to the hungry questions of those traveling their path beside you.
Te amo chiquita.