by Sofía Aguilar, Inner Flower Child Intern
My cousin Jacob is one special kid. At seven years old, he enjoys singing “Happy Birthday” as though it were the opening piece of an opera performance, devours books as though they were after school snacks, and thinks his parents are the nicest grown-ups he knows. Yet these days, he shares the current experience of most kids throughout the country, where living in a COVID-centric world has turned the phrase “unprecedented times” into everyday language. His bedroom has become a classroom, the parties that united the different parts of our family from over six different cities in Southern California were replaced with Zoom calls on his iPad and drive-by celebrations, and the only people he regularly sees these days are the ones in his own house.
This past week, Jacob, our moms, and I met up over Zoom to catch up and work together on a fun activity based on “Besos de sol, abrazos de luna”, the Spanish-English translation of “Sun Kisses, Moon Hugs”, a children’s book about love written by Susan Schaefer Bernardo and illustrated by Courtenay Fletcher. It is a book I would recommend to any child going through separation anxiety, divorce, trauma, or even, as Jacob was, simply missing someone close to him. The poetry throughout is comforting without being cliché, beautiful in both Spanish and English, and moving and applicable to nearly any painful situation.
Jacob thought so, too. I had given the book to him a week or so beforehand and heard through my aunt - his grandmother - that he had called it a “nice story full of love” and eagerly read it aloud in his best Spanish, a feat of its own considering that, unfortunately, none of the younger generation of my family is fluent in any language but English, myself included. It is a strange phenomenon, certainly not unique to our family, that children would rather learn a language spoken by the majority of people where they live and turn away from anything contrary to that majority culture, only to regret it later in life. I work on my Spanish a little more everyday, and several of my other cousins around Jacob’s age have taken it upon themselves to take classes in school to become more fluent. What better way to reconnect with a language - and in the process, discover new and profound things about oneself - than through a beautiful picture book?
Before reading “Besos de sol, abrazos de luna” together with Jacob, I introduced the discussion questions from the “‘Love is Forever’ guided discussion” put together by Inner Flower Child as a companion piece and social emotional learning activity complimentary to the book. Designed to simplify complex ideas about emotions into child-friendly language, they were effective in allowing Jacob to express what he was experiencing and feeling in quarantine, and offering find ways to cope with being away from the person he missed the most. To my surprise, when I asked who this was, Jacob revealed that this person wasn’t that far from him at all the way I thought they would be. It wasn’t his grandmother or his great-grandmother or any of his cousins that I thought he’d say he missed the most in that moment, but his dad - my Uncle Andy who I knew lived in the same house as Jacob and his family, and only left the house to go to work. This moved and affected me profoundly; my own answer would have been my dad as well, who was away on a trip at the time of the Zoom meeting. I would also have said my study abroad friends who I had left behind in Oxford in late March when COVID truly began affecting every facet of our lives. The difference between me and Jacob could not be more clear - I see the world on a much larger scale. True, I have traveled more and formed more wide-spread connections. Yes, COVID, quarantining, and self-isolation limits his world to his room, his house, and his immediate family. Yet I cannot help but feel that Jacob could see the whole world and still only miss his dad. Of course, Jacob proceeded to explain that he misses his dad simply because “he’s nice and funny.” I laugh now as I write this, thinking how uncomplicated children naturally make everything seem.
It’s easy to see why he loves his dad so much. The entire time that Jacob and I discussed what they enjoy doing together, Jacob’s face was lit up with a toothy grin - “We like playing ball and watching Stranger Things” (he giggled and shook his head when I asked him if it was too scary), and watching his dad play the game Fishdom on the family tablet. Jacob also talked about how much he liked going to the beach and “going into the water and making sandcastles” with his dad - we’d soon discover after the reading of “Besos de sol, abrazos de luna” that this was why the picture of the girl on the beach and the rainbow was his favorite illustration.
I’m a reader and writer at heart, and I love sharing picture books with children - reading “Besos” with Jacob was the most fun I’ve ever had reading any book aloud. Since my mom was with us on the call and is the most fluent of us besides Jacob’s own mom, she read the Spanish while Jacob read aloud the original English. Together we admired the illustrations, pointed out all the Xs and Os hidden within the book, and even blew kisses to each other over Zoom when prompted to do so by the story. While it was not quite the same thing as blowing kisses in real life to the sun, I would argue that it was just as cute.
Throughout the reading, we also learned about and discussed all the ways the children in the story help themselves feel better through physical interactions with nature - hugging trees, laying under the stars, and allowing rain to leave droplets on their face - and it was with surprising maturity that Jacob, unprompted, told me about his own self-soothing techniques that he used when he missed his dad most. The concept of self-soothing is not new, harkening back to the 1970s when it was coined to mean an infant’s ability to fall asleep independently and without help from their guardians after a fit. Nowadays, however, it has since become a much broader term to include self-induced techniques that anyone can use to regulate emotion, calm anxiety, and lower stress levels. It ranges from meditation to counting objects, as well as any other techniques to physically ground oneself in a space. I was pleased to learn that one of Jacob’s techniques was spending time with his brothers and mom, and the other taking a deep breath to relax. Of course, he did not name them “self-soothing techniques”, but it was wonderful to see Jacob already begin to recognize that there are concrete steps one can take, and that he is taking everyday while his dad is away at work, to allow himself to feel better without completely burying his feelings. Perhaps I should not be so surprised. Children, despite what we are led to believe, are more in tune with the world around them and the place within themselves than we know.
Before logging off, I asked one final question: “What would you say to your dad if he was here right now, Jacob?”
“I’d say hello, and that I love him.”