In the context of the ongoing pandemic, distance has become relative. It doesn’t matter how far we are from one another—a block or a continent away—the presence of our loved ones has been replaced with the flat image of our screens. This new virtual reality leaves us with a difficult void to fill and confronts us with feelings of longing and nostalgia. I tried to explain those concepts to young children in my book From Here to There (De aquí para allá), in a chapter entitled “Longing.” The protagonist, Andrés, who misses his grandparents and his friend Martín who live in his country of birth, discusses longing with his mom, who is also a new immigrant confronting her own sentiments of homesickness. Here is an excerpt intended to help children understand their own feelings of nostalgia. Can this passage help adults? Perhaps. You tell me.
Excerpts from the book De aqui para alla. Translation by Andres Cruciani
Andrés hurried to take his place and, without looking at Mom in the eye, asked: “What does miss mean?”
Mom stroked his hair and took a little time to answer.
“To miss someone is . . . to love someone who is far away.”
“I miss Grandpa and Grandma,” Andrés said.
“Me too,” said Mom.
“And Martín,” Andrés added.
“I also miss my friends,” Mom said pensively.
“Is it sad to miss someone? Andrés asked.
“A little bit,” Mom answered. “But when we miss someone, we remember them, and that way we know how much we love them.”
Andrés looked at Mom with a confused expression.
Mom, smiling, added: “When we love someone very much, this person is in our thoughts forever, so it makes us very happy when we meet them again.”
“That’s true!” Andrés exclaimed. “And we also can call them on the phone or see them on the internet!”
“Of course,” Mom said.
Andrés remained quiet and, after a pause, asked another question.
“Can you miss a country?”
“Of course,” Mom said, “and a language also, a way of talking, a perfume . . .”
“And food,” Andrés added with enthusiasm, “like Grandma’s cookies.”
Andrés and Mom looked at each other and started to laugh because both their mouths were watering as the two of them thought about Grandma’s delicious cookies.
“I have an idea,” Mom said, smiling. “I have Grandma’s recipe. What if we try to make her cookies together?”
Andrés and Mom (and Marina, Andrés’ little sister, a little bit too) mixed, kneaded, stretched, cut, and baked.
Later, while the cookies were still baking, Andrés realized that he was missing his dad. But he quickly turned happy because he knew that his dad would soon arrive from work. And then, like almost every evening, his dad would play with him for a while, they would sing together, and before Andrés went to bed, Dad would read him a story.
Andrés thought it was lucky that he wouldn’t have to miss Mom or Dad for a long time.