A war on children

Since October, I have been writing an essay about Gaza. About the children, the pregnant women, about how the world is failing thousands of children every day.

None of my words make sense. I am stuck. Unlike in the past, where the urgency of writing every week got me to move from topic to topic, this time I just stood still.

I told myself that words would come.

But as the weeks go by, my words make less and less sense. I feel that I am failing in my job responsibility as a journalist — to stress how important it is that media offer an early childhood lens on the news.

This is a war on children, so why can’t I say anything about it? I beat myself up about it.

I also feel like I am failing you, my readers. I have not been well. My burnout has affected my writing and ability to be vocal more than I thought. Whenever deadlines approach, I get anxious.

What is the point of adding another confused perspective to the cacophony of voices that surround us?

There is a lesson my body first really understood through yoga, which then deepened when I became a mother: things are very transient. The hardest position you can hold will only hurt you for a few more seconds. Even the worst weeks without sleep will pass. Even the most desperate nights will be over.

There is a famous Neapolitan play, by Eduardo de Filippo, Napoli Milionaria (which was eventually turned into a film known as Side Street Story, featuring De Filippo himself). The story takes place during the Second World War, with a family that struggles to get food on the table and eventually gets greedy when it starts profiting from selling things on the black market. At the end, there is a sick child, who desperately needs a shot of penicillin to get better. When the penicillin miraculously makes it into the family’s hands, the doctor advises the parents to wait for the night to pass to see how the child reacts. And while the mother frets about the future, Eduardo repeats the doctor’s words: “Ha da passà ‘a nuttata.” The night must pass.

It is a saying that has always stayed with me, but that I find hard to apply to things that go beyond the personal realm.

The war in Gaza will not end if we simply wait to see the night through. We need political pressure for that to change — and awareness is the first step. As a journalist in the West, I try to have uncomfortable conversations with friends and sources about the current situation, and I try to amplify the voices of journalists on the ground. For example, freelance photojournalist Samar Abu Elouf has been putting faces and names to many of those 12,000 children who have been killed. It is heartbreaking, but necessary to see those faces of children while they were still alive.

I have little to offer in terms of hope. But I believe that naming the discomfort we feel is the first step towards awareness. Continuing to put pressure on our media outlets and governments is what follows.

Thanks for sticking around.

What I’ve been reading

So much information coming from Gaza touches on the lives of babies and mothers, and on the impossible conditions that life under continuous attack poses. This harrowing piece in Undark was published two months ago—and conditions have worsened since. It writes about a newborn without a family, something I keep seeing in reports. Among the stories I read of babies left without family, this one caught my attention most. Originally published by independent Lebanon-based platform Daraj, this piece talks about the case of one such baby who was taken by an Israeli soldier. Was the baby kidnapped or rescued? And what will she grow up to speak— Hebrew or Arabic? “Will she remember who killed her family when she grows up?” the article asks.

What I’ve been listening to

As a storyteller, born and raised in a Neapolitan household where every minute of our days was narrated aloud by my mother and arranged according to specific narratives, I know that how you tell a story is as powerful as the story itself. But this episode of the brilliant podcast Hidden Brain pushed my thinking even further. Shankar Vedantam interviews U.S. psychologist Jonathan Adler, who has researched how to tell stories about ourselves in ways that can enhance our wellbeing. His research also involves parents caring for children with disabilities, and the findings are quite surprising.

What I’ve been watching

Según Roxi (According to Roxi) is a 2015 Argentine comedy series about a mother of a toddler. In times of sad news and relentless days, it offered a much-needed break to laugh and reflect. Roxi lives in Buenos Aires and she overthinks everything (oh, hello!). She doesn’t fit in with the other mamis from her daughter’s daycare, and doesn’t seem to understand how they go about their lives so sure about their convictions. She divides them up (hippy mommy, perfect mommy), and tries to keep out of their orbit but to no avail. She narrates her psychological and marital problems, as well as her difficulties juggling motherhood with a profession. I don’t know how it’ll fare in translation, but the first series is definitely worth your time!

Who’s been inspiring me

Mess and beauty. Mundane and extraordinary. Humour and despair. Tender and disgusting. The details of life as a new mother are portrayed beautifully by Hungarian photographer Andi Gáldi Vinkó, who won the 2023 Kraszna-Krausz photography book award for her exploration of the early months of new motherhood in Sorry I Gave Birth I Disappeared But Now I’m Back. “I love being a mother. I also loved being an artist,” she says, summing up the double-sided feeling that many other mothers also have.

With love and care, 

📣 The First 1,000 Days is edited by community member and friend, Shaun Lavelle.

📹 Photo credits and alt-text: Антон Дмитриев on Unsplash, barbed wire over a sunset.

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