(Translation of the original text: “Os presentes que a vida nos dá”)
I have always liked metaphors. Actually, I think that sometimes it is very difficult to express some ideas and, at these moments, metaphors can be very descriptive.
I am also a very observing person. I grew up with my father showing me nature’s details and peculiarities in people’s behavior (he still does with his grandchildren, who amaze themselves at the ants marching up and down, with the fruits hanging down the trees…). I did not choose psychology by chance.
As my father says – “ life is very generous” – and I agree with him, although I think that life is generous to those who are open to embrace it, willing to see it, feeling it with all senses and devoting themselves to life itself and to others.
In the day by day life with my children I try to keep this attitude but, with kids, this is not a very easy task since they are curious and intense by nature.
In January of 2010 we decided to spend our vacation on the beach, after having dated this possibility for a long time. It is amazing how new things can fascinate us while the routine ends up becoming too familiar and not so enthusiastic. It’s too bad it happens that way.
During our first week on the beach everything was new and, thus, filled with enchantment. The soft and hot sand, the waves touching our legs, the sound of the ocean, the colorful shells: everything was a reason for: “Mommy, look at this. “, Daddy, come and see how cool this is”. It’s all very pleasing but also very tiresome because if we don’t pay attention, the children will think that what they are looking at is not that cool and then, little by little, the enchantment fades away (who are we to take away the sparkle of their eyes? It is us, grown-ups, who actually need to recover it).
One morning we decided to go “shell hunting” to start a new collection: The shells of our 2010 vacation. This is one of the human needs: to name things as if, through naming, we can possess them.
While my husband read under the sunshade, Dudu (8 years old) and Ricardo (4 years old) grabbed their bucket and off we went to that stream of sand where the ocean leaves its presents (and, on polluted beaches, the trash thrown by men, which is very upsetting). I call it the stream of presents because, when the oceans withdraws after a wave, it leaves shells, small crustaceans and, to me, one of the biggest presents of all, the drawings on the sand.
My boys and I kept walking, each one collecting their own shells while I would take turns helping them both. And then Ricardo found an enormous shell: purple, beautiful, different from all the others that were smaller, white and beige. We were mesmerized and placed it together with the others inside the bucket. Dudu, after his reaction of surprise with such a marvelous shell, immediately went into a crisis. He started crying; he wanted one of those! None of his shells were as beautiful as that one. At that moment, his brother’s collection became far more interesting than his own.
Obviously, as any mother who takes intensive care of her children, my first impulse was to become angry:
_“Are you crying for such a silly thing? Come here and I’ll give you a reason to cry for.”
How awful! It’s amazing how our first impulse is to repeat what we hear as a child, even though we swear we would never do this to our own children! I took a deep breath and focused on my mantra Quem ama, educa (“Those who love, educate.”). No, I am not doing any advertisement. But, how many times my attitudes were the reason for laughter or comments such as: “Oh, the daughter of the Quem ama, educa acting like this”. Ha, ha, ha.
After another deep breath I moved closer to Dudu and said:
-”Dudu, be patient, we still have lots of time to look for shells. I am sure you will find a shell that will make you very happy, a very special one.”
And he, 8 years old, replied:
– “But I will not find a shell JUST LIKE his!”
And, quite honestly, no shell is like the other. I do not understand of shells, but even the most similar ones always have a small detail that makes them unique. So, I had to agree with him:
-”It’s true, son, you will not find a shell JUST LIKE your brother’s, but you will find a very special one too. Let’s keep walking and looking for one.”
We kept walking, each one filling up their bucket. There were times when we had to gather together:
-”Let us analyze if this is really a shell…”
Sometimes they were stones others just small pieces of crabs. Oh, my, how the two of them analyzed these non-identified objects! It is hard to come across something we cannot classify in our repertory.
Although there were many people around, the beach was not crowded. There were some people walking, talking, listening to music, jogging. At some point I noticed Dudu a little far from me, near a gray-haired Japanese man wearing white clothes, who stopped by his side and put something inside his yellow bucket. I saw Dudu peaking inside the bucket, looking at the man, whispering something and then becoming static. The man continued his stroll with short but cadenced steps.
I was curious and walked towards Dudu, who put the bucket on the floor and, with both hands, took out an enoooormous (yes, enormous with more than one “o”) shell. It was white; one of those that make us think there is a pearl inside. It was tightly closed, locked, one might say, since it was impossible to open it. It was heavy and amazing. The three of us, speechless, kept looking at it, touching it, analyzing it.
The first sentence that came out was not very romantic, but indeed very educative:
-”Dudu, did you thank the man who gave you the shell?”
And, without taking his eyes off the shell, he replied:
-”Yes, but I think he didn’t hear me.”
After performing my educating-parenting role, then my metaphoric mom came out (it must not be easy to be the child of a psychologist):
– “See? Didn’t I tell you would find a very special shell too?
And then he corrected me:
-“But I didn’t find it, that man gave it to me.”
And I followed:
-”Yes, but he was walking on the beach and certainly did not find this shell here. He must have walked all the way from where the stones are, holding it in his hands. There were other children on his way and, by some reason he put it in your bucket. Isn’t this wonderful? Ricardo’s purple shell was a gift from the sea, but this was also from the sea, but brought to you by that man.”
It was a good “shell” day. We would continue our expedition on the next day and had a great deal to learn about life after that happening. We discussed about this while going back to our sunshade and told Dad, very enthusiastically, about what had just happened (I must confess that at times like these I get so excited that almost become a child myself, competing with them to tell the story.)
I sat under the sunshade. I had done my turn with the boys, now it was Daddy’s turn. But I kept thinking about what happened.
My father is right: “life is really very generous”. What a beautiful moment we experienced so Dudu would learn to wait for his moment (life’s timing), to respect the differences (that his brother’s collection was different from his own), to deal with frustration (for not finding a shell as beautiful as his brother’s). Then he had the opportunity to be dazzled by the shell given to him, to feel the unexpected, to learn with destiny that, by no apparent reason, put a marvelous shell in his bucket and a beautiful present into our hearts.
I am sure the children worked out what happened within their own capacity, one being 8 and the other 4 years old, but, to me, this situation was a great gift that will be kept in my heart as a metaphor of life.
Now that the situation has been recorded, you all have the possibility to interpret it as you wish and, in your own way, fit it into each of your individual stories.
Translator: Ana Paula C. Doherty
 Quem ama, educa: best-seller by Içami Tiba, a distinguished Brazilian psychiatrist and the author’s father.