“Eat, play, love”: I first saw these words on a slide at a journalist workshop on early childhood development organised by the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma at Columbia University. It was Charles A. Nelson III, a neuroscientist at Harvard, who mentioned it, explaining how these three elements are fundamental for the growth and development of every human being at the very start of our lives. Nelson knows a lot about this because he dedicated his life to the study of children that had been deprived of some of these very basic inputs. His groundbreaking research on Romanian orphans who suffered neglect in their early days showed just how damaging the lack of love and play can have on a developing brain.

“Eat, play, love” is so evocative that it has become a common catchphrase in the early childhood development community. I use it as a quick checklist whenever my fears about being an inadequate mother come up. But I also apply it to my life more widely. If I add sleep to it, the phrase can pretty much summarise my most-needed pillars to get to the end of the day with a feeling of satisfaction.

As I started reflecting on the first six months of this newsletter, I realised that I can apply “eat, play, love” to our time together too.

“Eat” can be intended in the wider sense of nourishment. This community of you readers has nourished and supported me constantly. Figures don’t tell a whole story, but let me say that this newsletter is quite unique: it has open rates of over 70% among paying members and over 45% among non-paying subscribers. The average in the media industry is around 20%. This means that you care about what I write. I’m grateful for this, because it makes me feel that my work is worthwhile.

Such high interest in what I send out weekly is also the result of how much we communicate. You’re great at getting in touch and letting me know what you’re interested in and what you’d like me to research further. In this sense, you’ve also nourished me by sharing tips, ideas and suggestions.

For example, the story I wrote two weeks ago about the harassment of pregnant women in Japan is a result of such exchanges. Just after I wrote a newsletter about Breasts and Eggs, Claudia, a member, shared an article about a politician in Japan trying to understand what being pregnant feels like. That’s where I learnt that Japan has a word for maternity harassment (matahara). I got in touch with Yoshie Ichijo-Kawado, a Japanese journalist who is a member of this community, and she explained the issue further. The same is true for my stories on child falls and learning how to walk. They were the results of a chat with founding members we had months ago in which Maria, a yoga teacher working with children in Romania, said she was curious to learn more about children’s movement.

Your feedback has also helped me re-direct my focus: I am only one person behind this newsletter, and sometimes saying no to something opens up space to investigate something else further. Thanks to the survey you filled out, I realised that “my Greek word of the week” was the least-liked section and I decided to scrap it for now. (I still have in mind writing a story about hymens, as Stephen suggested, but that merits a proper newsletter on its own rather than just a small section).

I have felt the love too. You’ve told me that reading my writing has helped you in the first months as new parents to feel less lonely and unprepared, and that you have felt more empathy towards fellow human beings. Wow! I am putting together a folder of lovely messages you’ve sent me to read out loud to myself whenever I am feeling low. So, thank you! (By the way, if you’d like to read more about how important your love has been, I talked about it in this interview. Steady, the platform that I use to manage memberships, picked this newsletter in their magazine in June and interviewed me!)

And, maybe most importantly, I’ve also had fun! I’ve experimented with my writing. I’ve tried to keep myself playful, even when I was stuck and feeling low. I have explored the importance of play, trying to rediscover it as an adult. I have tried to keep positive even when things got very difficult for me from a personal perspective.

These have been an incredible first six months. Let’s keep building on these strong foundations together!

Before I go, I just want to mention a couple of things that you can look forward to in the coming months:

  • An interview with the great Tom Hobson, known as Teacher Tom, a US early childhood educator (thanks to Catherine, a member, for telling me about his courses!)
  • A monthly recap of every week’s story, in case you missed a newsletter or two
  • An audit of the diversity of the sources, interviews and links I use for my stories
  • A live virtual event!
  • A live in-real-life event!

I would love to hear what you’ve enjoyed most about these first six months. You can leave your thoughts below this story, on the website, or just hit reply. I look forward to hearing from you!

What I’ve been reading

I read this great essay by Blessing J. Christopher, a Nigerian writer, in Guernica magazine. It is about women’s bodies and how girls are taught to internalise what they should and should not look like from a very young age. I love the tone of the initial memories, the narration around the absurdity of beauty standards and how culturally imposed they are, as the title, May You Live Long Enough to Become the Standard of Beauty, suggests. Great read!

What I’ve been listening to

I got hooked to Mija, a podcast available in different languages about a young Latina in New York City. The first season is all about the narrator’s closest family, including her Colombian parents. It made me think a lot about the dreams of those who migrate, about national identities and growing up in between cultures. Highly recommended.

What I’ve been watching

This delightful 15-second video of children giggling in the rain under colourful umbrellas. It is a reminder for all the parents (read Southern European) who are afraid of how children will play in bad weather in winter. I will come back to it over and over again whenever I think that a rainy day is sad. This video is part of a piece written by Alex Smith, a member of this community, in the PlayGroundology blog.

Who’s been inspiring me

USA TODAY sports columnist Nancy Armour says it like it is in this column: if the Olympic Committee does not allow athletes who are mothers to bring their infants along to the upcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo, then they are really not doing much to support women in sport. Canadian basketball player Kim Gaucher is breastfeeding her baby, Sophie, who was born in March. Now she’s being told she has to leave her child in Canada, because no exceptions are being made by the Japanese and Olympic authorities due to the coronavirus. This impacts more athletes who are speaking out, like US marathoner Aliphine Tuliamuk; her daughter was born in January. “You cannot claim to value and respect women if you are not supporting and empowering them to make choices that are in the best interest of their families,“ writes Nancy Armour.

What members have been saying

Many of you wrote in response to my latest newsletter Fathers are not “helpers”Bonnie cracked me up with her story of how she started divvying up work with her husband soon after her honeymoon. I also loved how candidly Marina shared how difficult she found it to let go of control over the house, and how she now sets a timer for 30 minutes of housework daily and leaves the rest to her husband. There were many more comments in my inbox too, thanks! And keep them coming. 🙂

With love and care,
Irene

📣 Nabeelah Shabbir, a member of this community, edited and improved this newsletter with lots of love, logging in from Cerknica, Slovenia. Thanks, Nabeelah! (If there are mistakes, they are my fault, not hers!)

📷 Photo credits and alt-text: Shirota Yuri on Unsplash, child sitting on white cloth surrounded by toys.

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