The news have been scary and sad around us. For a week, the air here in the outskirts of Athens was awful, with terrible wildfires only 40 km away from where I live. The climate report left me anxious as we experienced an awful heat wave. I can’t even read much about the Delta variant and low vaccination rates, let alone try to get my head around the worsening situation in Afghanistan.
I’ve been unable to digest most of the news or do more than take it in or block it out. This is frustrating as a journalist because in order to produce stories, we usually need to take in a lot of stories as well. I will be honest with you: I began seeing myself spiralling into a lot of anxiety and frustration. And then I stopped and shifted my perspective instead.
One of the advantages of the journalism we do here is that it doesn’t have an expiry date. That’s also why I decided to go back to previous pieces I wrote to see whether I could find some useful takeaways that remain relevant today, and can maybe help us take our eyes off the 24-hour news cycle, which feels quite maddening to me at the moment. I don’t believe in not exposing myself to sad and distressing things, but I genuinely think collectively we gain much more when we concentrate on solutions and shifts that go beyond the surface and may potentially lead to lasting change.
So let me leave you with some of the stories I’ve written this year that I find particularly meaningful – especially right now. This will give you a chance to discover some more of my writing, if you’re new to this space, or to look back and catch up in case you’ve missed previous newsletters.
How do we talk to children about the news?
What kind of news can we share with our children when they’re still very young? This question remains always relevant: especially when there are big events that affect us, it’s hard not to loop children into current events. So, how do we do it? I loved writing this story because I realised that the earliest years (from birth up to the age of four) are usually left out of research. I have come back many times over the year to the tips I compiled for this story, and I hope you find them helpful too.
The first 1,000 days are my life’s mission. I want everyone to care as much as I do
I loved going back to a story I reported on ten years ago, when I lived in Ecuador. At the time, Marco was 17, curious, and a little shy. He was one of 2,000 Ecuadorian children who grew up working in a landfill and received scholarships to help them with their studies after a ban on children’s hazardous work. He was the poster child of resilience: a boy who was doing very well despite growing up in awful circumstances. Thinking back about his story helps me remember that no matter how tough the circumstances a child faces, things can still work out for them – as long as there are the right support mechanisms in place. This piece has become a sort of manifesto of why I write this newsletter.
Taking the first steps (Or: why I dislike milestones)
It was a question from a member that prompted me into researching how and when we start to walk. Through my reading, I realised why I dislike milestones so much. It turns out that the charts we use to check whether our children are on track when it comes to walking are inspired by the work of US clinical psychologist and paediatrician Arnold Gesell. His work dates back to the 1920s and is based on observations of 51 infants from middle-class families of Northern European origin living in Connecticut. This means that we measure our children’s progress against a narrow, Western and, frankly, old-fashioned norm … By what other antiquated standards do we measure ourselves and our children in other realms of life?!
Pregnant – and harassed – in Japan
This story started when I saw the picture of a male politician in Japan wearing a vest that simulated breasts and a bump. Masanobu Ogura, a Japanese member of parliament, was one of three politicians who took part in a scheme to “understand pregnancy”. But why does a male politician have to go through this weird experiment to get a sense of the potential difficulties of pregnancy? I called on Yoshie Ichijo-Kawado, a Japanese journalist and a member of this community, to understand why harassment towards pregnant women is so common. There is even a word for it: matahara. (By the way, Yoshie wrote how much she learnt from this experiment in this piece that is worth checking out!)
Teacher Tom: Putting children at the heart of society
“I think that’s why we devalue kids, because we don’t understand them; we’ve forgotten who they are. So why don’t we just put kids into real life, instead of keeping them walled up?” Talking to US educator Tom Hobson, best known as Teacher Tom, was a highlight of these past months. His reflections on how we interact with children as a society are worth going back to. Also, remember that you can ask him questions directly under the story, if you’re a paying member.
Nearly forty, going on four: why there’s no age limit on the benefits of play
I’ve been reflecting a lot on play, and I’ve written several articles about how important it is for children to develop and for adults to spark more creativity. But this piece came out of a genuine revelation that I had while playing. I witnessed first-hand the temptations of a stationery store, realised that I needed more play in my life, and bought myself a skipping rope. I still hope Muriel, one of the members who wrote below the piece, will share more of her insights into the best art supplies out there!
I won’t be sharing my weekly tips today because there is a lot already in here. My tips will be back as usual in next week’s newsletter.
But just in case you’ve already read all of the above, I will leave you with one more article I recently published in Australia’s literary magazine Griffith Review. This is how it starts:
IMAGINE A PARK made out of candy, with bridges featuring water cannons that shoot water onto kayakers below. Imagine huge climbing walls from which you can jump onto giant trampolines, or a place that allows you to skydive into your neighbourhood park. Imagine a treetop library with beanbags all around the grass below so that you can sit and read outside. Are these children’s dreams, a cartoon-like fantasy – or aspects of a utopia that could serve our entire society better? Could children’s imaginations point us towards a vision that could serve everyone well, assisting the design of more thoughtful and natural spaces that we can all enjoy more?
In the article you can find references to several advocates for child-friendly cities that are members of this community, including Taiwan’s Christine Lee and Mara Mintzer from Boulder, Colorado. But you can also find out why Tirana, Albania’s capital city, is slowly transforming itself into a city where children’s interests come first in the decision-making.
Now, I’d love to hear from you. Is there a story I’ve written so far that has resonated with you more, and why? I’d love to hear from you, as usual, below this story! And remember that I may be responding more slowly than usual because I’m trying to take some time off the screens this August.
With love and care,
📣 Catarina Fernandes Martins, a member of this community, edited and improved this newsletter with lots of love, logging in from Castelo Branco, Portugal. Thanks, Cata! (If there are mistakes, they are my fault, not hers!)