(Short Story) Afternoon of the Horses, The by: Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo
(Reaction) Life Lessons by: Teacher Kitty
The Afternoon of the Horses is one of the stories narrated by the character Patriciang Payatot or Trissy in Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo's Catch a Falling Star. Through Trissy's memories, the writer shows the difficulty of a child to understand the concept of the
birds and the bees because of her parents' refusal to explain and her mother's
belief that children should be protected from the darker side of life.
It all began with a quarrel between the cousins Trissy and Aurorita after the former insulted the latter's speed in reading in an attempt to be left alone with her book. Trying to defend her pride, Aurorita declared,
You don't know anything except what you read in books. Her revenge came a few days later, rubbing on Trissy's weakness towards practical things, knowing that her cousin was mostly left alone with her books and imagination. She dropped the bomb when she asked,
Trissy, do you know how babies get here?
Trissy was dumbfounded, realizing she has not given much thought to the matter. She resolved to answer Aurorita with her mother's explanation that
There's a beautiful garden where mothers go when they want to have new babies.
Aurorita's triumph was complete, as she burst into laughter but offered to liberate Trissy from her innocence. First, she asked if Trissy have seen dogs doing
it which revealed that she didn't even know what
it is. What confused her even more is when Aurorita took a sharp stone and began drawing on the ground and explained,
That's the mother's thing and that's the father's thing. And that's what happens at night.
We can note from this event how innocent Trissy is at the age of ten. Aurorita tried to make her understand the
birds and the bees in varied ways to no avail. Trissy clearly has never been exposed to the concept of making babies or parents' love making. Even the movies she was allowed to watch are only those with chaste kissing scenes. Her parents were successful in sheltering her; but not for long.
On the day of her mother's birthday celebration, one of the neighbor's horses appeared to have broken loose and seemed to be attacking another horse; in Trissy's eyes at least. Everyone from the party who had seen what had happened understood that the horses have started mating. She had never seen horses or any other animal fight before, which brought her into a panic. She called Aurorita's attention, but was shrugged off with
Oh, don't be silly. She resolved running to the men thinking they can better handle a situation like this, to which her father replied,
It's alright hija, don't pay any attention She also ran to the women who also gave her similar responses.
The family elders who are expected to educate Trissy about delicate matters fell into indifference instead of taking the teaching opportunity. They could have taught her that love making was a special form of intimacy between married couples. Instead, Trissy was left confused more than ever,
bewilderment had overtaken fright. She just couldn't understand why no one wanted to drop what they were doing and referee the
Trissy turned to the house help in a desperate attempt to understand,
What are they doing Carmela! Carmela! Why won't you answer me? What's wrong with... everyone? I suppose what I really mean to ask was: what's wrong with me. The last statement shows how helpless Trissy felt as she struggled to understand. It must've felt like everyone was ganging up on her. Each of their glances to the horses was enough to understand and they wouldn't even bother to share it with her.
It now struck her that Carmela's reluctance to answer the question was connected with the relatives' discomfort and Aurorita's impatience. Realizing that Trissy wouldn't stop until she gets an answer, Carmela explained,
They're just going to have a baby horse sometime later.
We see from this short conversation the irony of having learned something important from a house help instead of from one's parents. Though Carmela figured Trissy was too young to understand, and her explanation might have been too brief, she still paused to explain. Her answer was very short and didn't explain much but she told the plain truth. It was something that none of the other elders did to help the young Trissy.
Combining these words with Aurorita's drawing on the dirt helped her at least guess how babies are made but still couldn't tie up her parents' having cute babies with that afternoon of the horses. She couldn't probe more but a dark feeling pushed her to recognize that Carmela like Aurorita told her the stark truth.
Years later, Trissy as a mother herself came to understand her mother's belief of protecting children as long as possible, and was tempted to do so as well, yet concluded,
But this is sheerest vanity. Having experienced firsthand the problem of being sheltered gave Trissy a better understanding of how children feel when their questions are left unanswered which gives us the picture of her motherhood. Trissy may have undone at least some of the parenthood mistakes her parents made with her.
A lot of parents have failed to teach their children many important realities like saving money, time management, relationship issues, and in Trissy's case,
the birds and the bees. The usual thinking of adults is that kids are too young to understand' which Trissy countered with her statement:
That's why I'm asking. What don't I understand?
Children can never fully understand these things if their parents refuse to explain. We hear from many psychologists and teachers' that the mind of a child is like a sponge. That's why parents and teachers collaborate to develop their literacy, mathematical skills, and body development beginning from a very young age. They don't want to miss the opportunity. But if they believe this
mind is like a sponge then why don't parents teach their kids about the
birds and the bees?
As a professional teacher, I'm confident to say that children are capable of understanding. The problem is how parents explain. Children ask how babies are made out of curiosity and not malice. Only adults give malice to the matter. Many adults lack the appropriate language to positively address this kind of concern. Vague responses or no response at all can leave a child more confused like Trissy felt.
Through the years, I've ventured to ask some students how they think babies are made. One gave me the usual answer of cranes carrying babies around the world. Another gave me a drawing that shows a factory like structure where mommies pick one out. Yet another said
Mommies grow bellies and then they go to the hospital to choose one baby. My stories can go on from acceptable to bizarre but the issue is: we aren't doing them any favor if we hold back the answer.
Like Trissy who was left to guess how babies are made, children who are left uneducated in this manner may try to understand through different devices like the media, internet, or from their very own friends who may have insufficient explanations or inappropriate answers for their age. All of which may breed dangers like abuse, promiscuity, premarital sex and diseases.
Each of these dangers can be conquered right at home if the parents choose the hard way of properly educating their children. Lacking the appropriate language for addressing needs is no longer an excuse due to the many parenting books available or the help provided by teachers, pediatricians, or parenting groups in answering some of the delicate or difficult questions children ask. Help is found when one looks for it but in the end, it all boils down to a choice of properly educating a child. For sheltering a child
is sheerest vanity as Trissy puts it.