Still haunted by the image two years before of the Syrian child washed up on the beach, when I returned to the Citizen in 2017 following my second maternity leave, I began to write a good news column.
While I got to go home every evening to a warm home, a loving husband, and a healthy toddler and baby, that child’s family had no other option but to flee all they’d ever known in search of a better life and it cost at least one of them that very thing. That child’s hope was ultimately taken away by the unrelenting power of the sea.
As a parent it struck my deeply. All the bad news around the world was weighing heavily on me.
“It’s crazy how having children changes your perspective,” I wrote back in July of 2017. “Before kids, I was the hard news writer: the political, fire, death, taxes, crime, and general doom and gloom reporter. Anything sad or controversial was likely assigned to me and I wrote most of it without much emotion or attachment. Then kids happened. My thick skin thinned.
“I know I’m not the only one who is sick of bad news — parents and non-parents alike. The internet has now made it possible to be bombarded with the world’s horrors with the click of a button — even when we try to avoid it. While I acknowledge those stories are still important to share, I don’t care to be the one consistently writing them. “
Instead I turned my focus to sharing the happier stories that people would send in tips about.
I loved writing about the man who has a flag collection and the guy who grew a giant cucumber and the couple who dresses up their massive front-yard skeleton for each season and holiday. Do you remember Lucy the leucistic hummingbird I wrote about years ago? That was cool, too.
And, on weeks nobody sent me tips, or I couldn’t dig up a good news story about the community on my own, I supplemented my Bright Side column with stories about my own family, particularly our adventures with our children as they grew.
It’s been six years of that formula and, for the most part, it’s been a successful one.
The other day, though, I got an email that’s given me pause.
“Your children are getting old enough that they deserve some privacy in their lives,” was one of the two sentences the author wrote to me.
I assume the author, too, wanted privacy because she didn’t sign her name.
At first that annoyed me. I put myself out there each and every week with my writing. Sometimes funny opinions, sometimes controversial news stories, but always with my name attached because as a professional I have to stand behind my work — errors, omissions, and all.
To write me an email without attaching your name, to me, packs less of a punch. How can I respect your opinion if I don’t know who you are?
Even so, the message behind the email was one I’d been thinking of for some time. It’s been five years or so since this column began. My children have grown.
Being a reporter I like to think I’m pretty decent at internet research. So, I pulled up my critic’s email address, searched just enough online to link it to a phone number, and with the phone number I found out who the author was. It took me three minutes.
In satisfying my curiosity, I also proved her point. Her attempt to remain somewhat anonymous was ultimately thwarted by a classified ad she put in a community newspaper nearly a decade ago. Now I know a lot about this woman. Likely more than she’d like me, a stranger working at the local paper, to know.
What gets put on the internet stays there forever.
I don’t want my children teased at school as they get older for the stories their mom told about them as small children.
Do I think that will happen? No. Could it? Absolutely.
Now, I don’t regret for a second the stories written about my family. I treasure them and I know by and large you have enjoyed reading them, too. But those stories aren’t mine to tell anymore.
As a result, you’ll be seeing much less of my family anecdotes in the paper moving forward. And to be honest, perhaps a less frequent Bright Side column if I don’t get a little help from the community when it comes to tipping me off about good-news stories to share.
So it’s up to you, Cowichan. Help me keep writing good news stories. The tales of my children’s lives may be fading into the background and into relative privacy, but I’m still here, ready, willing, and able to spread a little cheer.