Child’s Play – Translation
[Lucienne Hernández]: Hello.
[Daniel]: Hello, hi.
[Lucienne]: Hi. How are you?
[Daniel]: Very well, very well. How’s it going?
[Lucienne]: Fine. I’m here leaving my… you already know (laughs) this girl parked in front of the TV (laughs).
[Daniel]: Yeah, I hear her in the background.
Welcome to Radio Ambulante, from NPR. I’m Daniel Alarcón.
Hey, do you want to start by introducing yourself?
[Lucienne]: OK. My name is Lucienne Hernández.
[Lucienne]: And… (Laughs). I don’t… I don’t know what else to say.
[Lucienne]: Well, I’m Lucienne Hernández and I’m an actress in Puerto Rico.
[Daniel]: Lucienne —or Lucy as her friends call her— is Puerto Rican and an actor with a comedy troupe called Teatro Breve. Aside from that, she is also Luis Trelles’ partner; he’s our friend and a former producer for Radio Ambulante. I’m sure many of you remember him.
[Lucienne]: And besides that, well, I’m Jimena’s mom. She’s six, almost seven. So now, I’m more… I’m more focused on that role because we’re all and home, so it’s inevitable (laughs).
We spoke in early June when we had been in lockdown for four months. In New York, we had gone through eight weeks that felt like the end of the world. In Puerto Rico, not yet. But they had been in lockdown all the same.
And as it did for everyone, the pandemic changed Lucy, Luis, and Jimena’s life.
We’ve all had to adapt, but it hasn’t been the same for everyone. We’ve all experienced the quarantine in very different ways. Thousands of variations, millions of people in every country in the world. If you’re young or old, healthy or sick, rich or poor, it affects everyone. And it may be worth mentioning from the beginning that Lucy and I are —and understand we are— incredibly privileged. We haven’t had to go hungry; we haven’t lost our homes. We still haven’t gotten sick. So this whole episode comes with an asterisk, a huge asterisk. We’re very aware of how lucky we are.
But still, and I’m speaking for myself here, despite my privilege, day-to-day life is a strain.
And I think for people like us, who have kids, it feels even more challenging.
But in order to understand that, we need to look back nostalgically on how it was before. Beautiful normalcy.
[Lucienne]: Oh, wow, it feels so distant… (laughs) that reality from before. It’s like, “Wow, my life was pretty great.”
[Daniel]: Most of the week, Lucy worked at night. She has, or rather she had, her performances, her shows with Teatro Breve, and her other group, Noche de Jevas…
[Lucienne]: Thank you for coming to this group therapy, this group therapy that we’re hosting.
[Daniel]: It’s very good, by the way. And for that reason, Jimena was with Luis in the mornings.
[Lucienne]: He, well, took her to school, and then, from there, he did his own thing. Then, I would stay home, because I go into work much later, I almost never have a meeting before 10 a.m. And then, well, I would pick up some of the mess in the house. I tried to leave it all set to cook in the evening. I would get dressed in peace, have a coffee, work out, take a shower.
[Daniel]: A routine that was, as she said, pretty great. In the evening…
[Lucienne]: When she gets out of school at three, I would go get her, have a snack, and then we’d go to the park. I was with her from three, more or less, until six or around then.
[Daniel]: And then, back to the theater. Luis and a small army of babysitters were with Jimena for the rest of the day.
In the pandemic, in the quarantine, nothing is the same. There’s no theater for Lucy. There’s no school for Jimena. Luis is buried in work. And there aren’t any babysitters either.
When all this started, what did you think the challenges would be?
[Lucienne]: Well, since we were… I think that the fear was (nervous laughter) what the… the prevailing concern was, I mean, the challenge was to… was trying to make sure that none of the three of us got sick.
[Daniel]: And the best way not to get sick, as we know, is to not leave home. At first, the lockdown had a kind of novelty for everyone.
[Lucienne]: It was new, being at home and her being happy and I would get… I would be involved. “Well, we’re going to do…” It was like, this is going to be: “I’m going to make a kind of routine for you: you get up and you do reading and writing and then you play. And I have my meeting and…”.
[Daniel]: I can vouch that those first weeks of lockdown, although it was scary —in the case of New York, very scary— it also felt like an adventure. Like preparing for an odyssey.
But there was also a rough plan. We had the feeling, or maybe the hope, that this would end relatively soon.
[Lucienne]: It was more like… like, “Let me see. How long is this… how long is this going to be?” And like I didn’t… didn’t see it going on for so long.
[Daniel]: But little by little that initial enthusiasm was fading. In our case, when they announced that the kids weren’t going back to school, I think that was when I realized how far we were from going back to normal.
Something similar happened to Lucy. It was all weighing on her more and more. Especially what to do with Jimena. How to entertain her. The days were getting very long.
[Lucienne]: But I don’t know… lockdown in an apartment with a girl who can’t see her friends, who wants to go out. There are so many things that are: “No,” you know? It’s like, “Can we do this?” “No.” “Can we do this other thing?” “No.” “I want to watch TV.” “No.” “I want to eat chocolate for breakfast.” “No.” Then it’s like, “Can you play with me?” “Well, sure. OK, let’s go.”
[Daniel]: And this is the problem I think a lot of parents have faced: playing. Something all of us did naturally when we were kids, now that we’re grown up, with our own kids, it’s hard for us. Even more so in the middle of a pandemic, when we’re eaten up by anxiety and worry.
I mean, you do thousands of things with your kids, but playing, playing, well, that’s not for all parents. And Lucy is the first to admit that she’s never been Jimena’s best playmate. Legos, board games, those don’t bother her so much, but…
[Lucienne]: I don’t know. It gets really hard for me when it’s… especially when it’s role-playing.
[Daniel]: In other words, coming up with characters and adventures.
[Lucienne]: I feel like it’s so boring, like… I feel like, “Oh, God what is this nonsense. I’m here like…” I don’t know… like these games are really dumb.
[Daniel]: It’s not that Lucy doesn’t know how to play. Doing comedy theater is, in a certain sense, pure play. But it’s a game that she controls.
[Lucienne]: So I’m unfortunately accustomed to… to playing the games that I want to play.
[Daniel]: Perhaps, for that very reason, when Jimena gives Lucy a character, it feels like a burden.
[Lucienne]: “Oh God, now I have this character. I have to come up with a character and I have to give them a voice. I have to…” (laughs). I don’t know. It’s just crazy. It like I think of it as a job.
[Daniel]: And besides, Jimena has inherited from her mother a very clear creative vision. She knows what she’s looking for. She’s a very demanding director.
[Lucienne]: And so, it happens that… I start doing a voice. “No, no… but do a voice that’s more…” Then she gives me instructions on how I have to do the voice. And I’m like, “Oh my God, what is this?” (laughs).
[Daniel]: And unlike what happens at her work…
[Lucienne]: My daughter doesn’t let me have an opinion on her content —.
[Daniel]: One of Jimena’s favorite games to play is school. She, Jimena, is the teacher. Lucy is a student who the teacher is teaching to read.
[Lucienne]: And I’m like, “Oh, great. This is awesome because she’s practicing reading.” Then, I start doing it, but then she goes word by word.
I have to repeat every word.
[Jimena]: Little red…
[Lucienne]: Little red…
We spend a ton of time on a book.
[Jimena]: The great voyage of mister… The…
And then it’s like I’m already like… I start to… I get tired and I read it in my own voice. And then she’s like: “No, no, no, mom. Do the voice… Do her voice.”
[Jimena]: Uhm… Do it in Marinas voice. The…
[Lucienne]: Poop… heeheehee…
[Daniel]: My heart goes out to her. Maybe it’s obvious that an actor has a daughter who likes to play pretend. And for Jimena, even a board game turns into theater.
[Lucienne]: Alright, play with me, but, well, we’re going to play… I don’t know, we’re going to play checkers.
[Daniel]: Which in Spanish are called Ladies.
[Lucienne]: “Oh, no no no… but, uhm, we were…” Then quickly the role-playing starts. Then I’m stuck there because I thought we were just going to play a game, but then I have to do a character.
[Daniel]: And that character has rules.
[Lucienne]: What she doesn’t like is when I get silly. It’s like: “Don’t come here with your Teatro Breve jokes, no.” She’s like: “No, no, mom. Do it right” (laughs).
[Daniel]: Listen to what happens when Lucy tries to change her character’s name.
[Lucienne]: What’s my name.
[Lucienne]: Can I pick my name?
[Lucienne]: I want to be named Ketchup.
[Jimena]: That’s the name of a food. It can’t be that.
[Lucienne]: Miss Ketchup…
[Jimena] No… everyone’s going to think that’s gross.
[Daniel]: Gross, disgusting.
And here is one effect of the pandemic that perhaps no one saw coming.
Not having friends to play with, Jimena —and, well, so many other children— finds herself in an unexpected position: a position of power. With boys and girls their own age, a game is a negotiation. If their friend doesn’t like the game, they stop playing and leave. Parents, generally, don’t leave. They don’t have anywhere to go either. Jimena has them under her control.
[Lucienne]: Well, I, many times… I say, “I’m not going to start a fight, so OK.” It’s like, “What do you want me to be? The princess, OK.”
[Daniel]: Do you think., and I’m speaking from personal experience here since I have to play with Eliseo sometimes and it’s hard for me, but it’s a kind of powerlessness from not knowing what to do. But I wonder if… I think he doesn’t realize. That’s the thing. I mean, he doesn’t realize that this isn’t… this isn’t the most fun for me, right? I mean, I think that… I mean, it doesn’t occur to him, it doesn’t cross his mind that… that I’m not fully enjoying it because… because that’s illogical for him. I mean, how could it be, this is fun for me, how could this not be fun for my… for my dad? Do you think the same thing is happening with Jimena?
[Lucienne]: Sometimes I feel like (laughs)… Sometimes it feels like she doesn’t care (laughs). I think she’s very… like, very self-centered, right? This is a time in her life when her needs are very important.
And I think it’s the same with the games. Like… she wants to have me there; she wants to have company. I don’t feel like she really cares if I’m enjoying it or not. She, I don’t know if like… I don’t know. I don’t know if she cares if I’m having a good time.
And then it’s hard for me to think that there are parents who are happy and who have spent 80 days with their kids and play with them and are able to get into the game and have a good time.
[Daniel]: Or 100 days. Or 120 days. But those parents exist. If not in real life, at least on their social media.
I’ve been thinking about the memories I have from when I was the same age as Jimena or my son Eliseo, well I don’t really have any. It’s all very murky. Now, at 43, what kind of impact did the way I played when I was seven have on me? But at the same time, I’m losing sleep worrying about my son’s well-being, coming up with activities for him, playing, being creative. I spend hours laying on the floor while he explains to me for the nth time some esoteric detail of his made-up world. And so what? for what? If I think he won’t ever remember if I was there with him or not.
Lucy, for example, doesn’t remember…
[Lucienne]: I don’t remember my mom sitting and playing with me, and I was the youngest I don’t remember. Maybe she did. Maybe she’ll listen to this and say, “Good God! I played with her.” But (laughs) I don’t remember her playing with me.
[Daniel]: So, why do I do it? Why do we do it?
Well, if you’re a parent, you already know: it’s out of guilt. That same guilt almost all of us have.
[Lucienne]: I feel guilty about everything. Like… I feel really guilty about everything. And there’s a certain sense of guilt that… that she’s an only child, and at least on my end she’s going to stay an only child. I think that when I sit down to play with her, there’s a little… a little guilt. Like, “OK, the thing is… I have to play with her because, no… well, I didn’t have any other kids so that’s on me”. It’s like… I’m being punished for not having given her a sibling or something like that. I don’t know (laughs).
[Daniel]: There are varieties of guilt. Guilt for any occasion. Did you play with them enough? Did you laugh at their jokes? Were you short with them? Did you read to them today? Or did you let them watch too much TV or play on the iPad that at one point was yours, but obviously doesn’t belong to you anymore? Are they eating well, or are you fully exhausted one day and you’re incapable of doing anything more than giving them chips and a slice of avocado so they’ll let you work?
Guilt. Guilt. Guilt. While everyone reminds you how lucky you are, guilt is the only constant in being a parent.
[Lucienne]: People who don’t have children weigh in on kids —and in fact it’s a lot of people who don’t have kids, or not a lot of people but some—I see comments like, “Oh, girl, play with her. It’s nothing. Enjoy it. That’s great. It’s a blessing to have someone to… who’s healthy.” And in my head, well definitely, I’m thinking, “Well, yeah, I… I loved playing with my niece too because it was just for a little while.”
[Daniel]: After the break, we’ll speak with Jimena.
We’ll be right back.
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[Lucienne]: OK. We’re going to sit down here, well… Oh jeez, but I don’t fit in this little booth. Let me see if I fit (laughs). We came to dad’s office where there’s a booth and…
[Jimena]: We wanted to play a little.
[Lucienne]: We wanted to play a little bit.
[Daniel]: We’re back with Radio Ambulante. I’m Daniel Alarcón. Before the break, we were talking to Lucy about some of the challenges that have come with this pandemic. In particular, the challenge of playing with her daughter, Jimena.
But Lucy hasn’t spoken directly with Jimena about any of that. So we asked Lucy to talk to her. And she went straight to the point.
[Lucienne]: Well, I was telling Jimena that Daniel was… we were chatting the other day and we were talking about how difficult —well, I’m not going to speak for Daniel— but for me, it’s been a little hard during the quarantine —a little not too much either— It’s been hard for me to play with Jimena. And so, Daniel thought it was a good idea for us to interview Jimena and see if she could explain a few things to us.
So the first thing I think you should do, Jimena, is introduce yourself.
[Jimena]: Hi my name is Jimena Sofía Trelles Hernández, and I’m, uhm, here to say what… how much kids need, uhm, to play and explain a few things, and also to play with my mom and have fun.
[Lucienne]: How can we play better? What can we do, us parents who sometimes have a hard time getting in the mood to play.
[Jimena]: OK. I’ll just tell you, uh… a question that’s not on mommy or Daniel’s phone, but… For kids… I’m going to say how it is for kids. Kids need to grow up playing because playing is a skill that kids do so their brain particles join together and click.
Well, what more can I say? So… I also feel like playing with moms and dads has been good for kids in quarantine. I hope they keep doing it.
[Lucienne]: Hmmm, even if it’s hard we still have to keep trying?
[Jimena]: Uh-huh. Because if you don’t, your kid won’t be able to get those skills.
[Lucienne]: And why don’t you like playing by yourself very much, Jimena?
[Jimena]: Well, playing with other people is better because without… without another person the kid can’t have so much fun.
[Jimena]: And then it’s like… that’s why quarantine puts kids to the test. That’s why your kids start acting bad and start screaming. That’s why that happens. They need to see their friends because they need to play together.
[Daniel]: This point Jimena is making is key. She and Lucy kept talking about it at home while they played.
[Lucienne]: When you play alone…
[Jimena]: That happens with all kids.
[Lucienne]: I didn’t know Because I tell you all the time, “Jimena play by yourself, play by yourself.”
[Jimena]: That happens with all kids, all the kids in the world.
[Lucienne]: You don’t… don’t like to play by yourselves?
[Jimena]: They don’t like playing on their own, like… their hearts break into a thousand pieces. It really hurts… hurts and hurts. Kids hide their whining, but I don’t… I don’t do that anymore. I cry and cry. Until my heart and my brain, every part of my body is crying: my mouth, my nose, my eyes, my… my brain, my hair, every part of my body. Even the ones I don’t know, that are really inside. Bacteria, the bad ones and the good ones.
[Lucienne]: All from playing alone? Really?
[Jimena]: Uh-huh, it happens to all kids.
[Daniel]: And yes, she’s right, though maybe she’s being a little dramatic. Childhood is for playing, for being kept company. Kids need to be together.
We’re all, I think, debating between that vital need and the risk of getting sick. It’s not easy by any means. No one wants to get sick, and much less expose their children to unnecessary risks. But at the same time, everyone’s mental health, in part, depends on the kids’ being OK. On their not being alone day after day until who knows when.
So, a few weeks ago, Lucy set up a playdate with Jimena and her best friend. They hadn’t seen each other in two months. The plan was to be in the open air, at the beach, so it would be safer. The instructions were clear: play, but at a distance. Quickly, that rule was broken.
[Lucienne]: The girls ended up, I mean, on top of one another, playing. I said, “Look, I… for the amount of time I’m going to be here… honestly, I threw in the towel.” No, no, no, I couldn’t be like, “Don’t touch her. Don’t… don’t give her anything. Don’t share that.” Before the fights were “Share that with her” and “She’s your friend, give it to her” (laughs). And now it’s like, “Don’t touch her. No…” It was impossible.
[Daniel]: That was it. In that moment, the circle was opened. Even if it was for just one day.
When this is all over and Jimena is older, what do you think she’ll remember about this time?
[Lucienne]: Oh, well… Me or her?
[Daniel]: Both. Both.
[Lucienne]: Well I don’t know. I… I think that she’s going to look back, like, I think that… that even though she is going to remember because she is going to remember the pandemic, the virus, she knows —like I imagine Eliseo does— they know it all, like… right? Her routine changed: like if she goes out, she has to wear a mask, the hand sanitizer, the handwashing, don’t touch anyone. She’ll remember that, but I think she’s also going to… going to remember this phase of… of being with us all the time.
We, in Puerto Rico, have been in this like streak of the hurricane, the earthquakes, now the pandemic… Like they’re stages where everything is messed up, all normality has been disrupted. And she… kids are very resilient. Like as long as she’s with us… that’s like the greatest thing for her. Being with her mom and dad, that’s the best.
[Daniel]: In Eliseo’s case, I think he feels the same. That there’s nothing that makes him calmer or happier than being with us, his parents. And knowing that, understanding that, is a responsibility. I don’t want to let him down. And that has forced me to be a better dad, or at least it’s forced me to try. Maybe it’s the upside of so much guilt.
Besides, with all this, we’ve gotten to know our kids better. By the simple fact of spending more time with them. We’ve seen them up close doing their school lessons, playing by themselves, playing with us, fighting with themselves, in good moods, in bad moods, bored, tired, anxious. We’ve had to handle their fear while we hide ours. Feigning optimism, and seeing in their face that they believe us.
And if we make it through this without getting sick, maybe that’s the thing we’ll appreciate most about this damn pandemic. That we locked ourselves up with the people we love most, and we survived.
[Jimena]: This episode was produced by Camila Segura and Daniel Alarcón. The music and sound design are by Andrés Azpiri.
A version of this story was published in the Magazine Todas de Puerto Rico.
[Daniel]: The rest of the Radio Ambulante team includes Paola Alean, Lisette Arévalo, Jorge Caraballo, Aneris Casassus, Victoria Estrada, Xochitl Fabián, Rémy Lozano, Miranda Mazariegos, Patrick Moseley, Barbara Sawhill, David Trujillo, and Elsa Liliana Ulloa.
Fernanda Guzmán is our editorial intern.
Carolina Guerrero is the CEO.
[Lucienne]: Radio Ambulante is a podcast by Radio Ambulante Estudios, and it’s produced and mixed on the program Hindenburg PRO.
[Jimena]: Radio Ambulante tells the stories of Latin America.
[Lucienne]: We’re Lucienne Hernández
[Jimena]: And Jimena Trelles. Thanks for listening.
[Elisa Markhoff]: Hi, I’m Elisa Markhoff, from Uruguay, and I listen to Radio Ambulante from the United States. I’ve been part of the membership program since it started, because there are many more stories to discover from Latin America and I know that only Radio Ambulante knows how to tell them the way I like them. You can join too at radioambulante.org/donar
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